Our pride in our identities is tied to positive representation and presence in the public eye. Crazy Rich Asians is damn good representation in my books.
In thinking about my relationship with my Asian identity, I find myself, much like famous Chinese-American chef Eddie Huang has, thinking back to school lunches.
I remember my lunchbox with salted fish fried rice and fragrant bok choy with garlic, in a sea of ham-and-cheese and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. I recall the upturn of noses and faces painted with disgust at the potent scent of my lunch. I remember a deep shame and a desire for the approval of my peers. I remember begging my parents to just pack me “normal” lunches from then on. So for years moving forward, I had traded in the labour-intensive and flavorful food of my ethnic identity for ham and cheese on Wonder Bread.
This transaction was the first of many during my childhood and high school days — transactions where I traded in my Asian identity in an attempt to posit myself as “normal” in this Western context. I tried to mimic the accents and vernacular of the English speakers in the different countries I had lived in. I ate what was considered normal. Even at points I even tried to avoid introducing my parents to some of my friends because they had slight accents in their English.
I changed myself and what I did so much so that I eventually traded who I was away.
At some point in my high school days, someone mentioned to me “you really are basically white,” and this changed my life. I realized that moving forward, I needed to take back and claim who I am as a person, and not deny myself of that expression.
The sociologist in me sees now that “normal” is only normal because it’s what we see and experience as important in our contexts. What seems normal is simply what is represented the most. This leads me to why I am ever grateful that a movie like Crazy Rich Asians has injected itself in Hollywood and onto movie screens all over the world.
Let’s clear the air on something: Asian actors and actresses rarely ever land starring roles, let alone romantic leads. In our status quo, Asian features and people are often not considered attractive or sexy much in the way different ethnic identities are. As of right now, I’m immensely pleased there is a movie with a bunch of ridiculously attractive Asian people (of which many have law or economics or even medical degrees). The representation in Crazy Rich Asians fills a void that I and many other people of Asian descent have been missing. We need Asian representation in our media in order to normalize Asian identities.
Crazy Rich Asians is a really good movie to boot — with a lovable and hateable group of characters, a critique on excess wealth, and a love story all wrapped in a package of an all Asian cast. Constance Wu, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Michelle Yeoh, and Lisa Lu portray incredibly strong women and strong matriarchs. Basically, every man in the movie is eye candy. It’s great.
Representation matters. Seeing my identity on the big screen matters. I hope that movies like this will make who I am more ‘normal,’ and a kid will worry a bit less about their school lunches.