I recently attended a party where I found myself chatting with two lovely caucasian ladies. Another couple joined the conversation, and we went through the usual “what do you do?” and “what’s next?”. One of the ladies had worked at the same company as I did for a number of years. Both go to church a few blocks from our previous home. It’s a small world.
Then, I happened to mention that I’m considering a move to Nashville. I fell in love with the city the day I first set foot there. There is no other place like it. Music is just everywhere. It’s not pretentious, it’s reasonably priced. There’s only a few drawbacks: not a huge variety of Asian food, the weather, and… once you get outside of Nashville, it’s a different demographic. I mentioned that the couple of times I’ve been there, I was often the only Asian person in the room, and it felt a little weird. I felt like an outsider, and I felt that my experience didn’t matter. And that was in Nashville. I’m not sure how welcome I would be outside of Nashville as a progressive, Asian, artistic immigrant.
At that point, my fellow alum interjected. “Wait a minute, I’m from Tennessee…”
Oops. I hope I didn’t offend the lady.
I invited her to tell me more about how it is to live in Tennessee. She said I’m right about Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville being very different from the small towns in between. Then, she whispered something to her friend and they promptly turned their backs and left without another word to the rest of us. So much for God’s word on tolerance? The couple and I gave each other a baffled look, and could only shrug and laugh. I felt bad but also incredulous. I would have apologized for the offense given the chance, but it seemed my interlocutor had no interest in breathing the same air if it could at all be avoided. Oh well.
But here’s the point.
These ladies were offended by the fact that I dared to say I felt uncomfortable as a minority, thereby reinforcing the feeling that my experience as a minority doesn’t matter. Especially if it doesn’t make the “majority” feel good about themselves. They don’t have to acknowledge it. They can simply dismiss it and go on with their lives.
For so long, the Asian American community has struggled both to fit in and to stand out. I have been told since I was a little girl that I will never, ever make it in western pop music because I’m Asian. It doesn’t matter how talented I am or how hard I work at it. I just don’t look like the rest of them. My own family told me this!
Now, before you judge them for not being supportive, consider this: Caucasians in America never have to say to their kids “your dreams will never come true because you’re white, and that’s just the sad truth”. These parents might have 99 other reasons to discourage kids from an artistic career path but “race” isn’t one of them.
And this is why Crazy Rich Asians means so much for Asian Americans, especially Asian American creatives:
- It has broken the glass ceiling for future generations of Asian American actors. It is a big budget, big studio rom-com. The success of the movie shows that, contrary to Hollywood lore, there is in fact demand for ethnic leads telling ethnic stories.
- It’s hard to explain why but it makes me feel at least acknowledged. Before this, I’ve never gone to a movie theater and seen people who look like me on the screen. Not in lead roles in a Hollywood romantic comedy. Definitely not telling our stories as Asian Americans, trying to balance fitting in and preserving our cultural heritage. It always felt like we weren’t an important enough demographic to accurately represent in American media.
- It humanized us in a way that only movies can. The Asian cast was not there just to play stereotypical roles. It showed that we’re not just kung fu masters, or tiger moms, or math nerds. We’re people, with dreams, heartaches, and the universal apprehension of in-laws :)
- It gives me hope that perhaps my family was wrong about needing a different skin tone, eye color, and face shape to succeed in music nowadays. Personally, one of my favorite parts of the movie was Kina Grannis’ cameo. I’ve been watching her videos since the early days on YouTube and I was just happy to see how far she’s gone.
- May I point out that the music was amazing? Loved all the Mandarin covers of jazz standards and pop classics. It helped reinforce the fact that we are really a diverse bunch with different personalities, tastes and talents. I did not understand a word, but I really enjoyed the music. Hats of to music supervisor Gabe Hilfer for that.
- Last but not least, it was really cool to find out that the director (Jon M. Chu) is none other than the son of our favorite Chinese restaurant owner and chef. Chef Chu must be very, very proud.
Have you seen the movie? What did you think?
Also, in your opinion, what would have been the most appropriate response to the ladies I encountered at the party? Was I wrong to say how I felt?
Let me know in the comments below!