For the first time since “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993, a film focusing on the hardships of Asian-Americans with an all Asian cast made its way to the big screen with summer rom-com “Crazy Rich Asians.”
I remember watching the movie in theaters with popcorn in hand and tears running down my face. This wasn’t due to the rom-com tropes or the love sparked between two social classes, but the fact that I felt connected to the hardships of being an Asian-American.
Growing up as an Asian-American, I was accused of being a “banana,” meaning I was Asian on the outside, but white on the inside. Growing up as a first generation Filipino-American posed many challenges for not only myself but my parents as well. My parents raised me while learning westernized ways, it confused me because I was unable to determine my identity. I certainly looked Filipino, but I only spoke English to my family and others. The confusion grew as my parents threw me into elementary school, where children jeered and laughed ignorantly at me. They would squint their eyes at me, mocking my looks. I felt so out of place in school when peers would tell me that I was different. I would eat exotic foods, my parents spoke funny and most of all, I did not look like my peers. It made me distance myself from my roots.
I would watch sitcoms and movies and wondered why I did not have the typical blonde hair and blue eyes that everyone else did —and like any other adolescent all I wanted was to fit in. In an attempt to meet societal standards, my lunches changed from rice to sandwiches and my black hair became ash-brown. Somedays, I would despise the way I look, wishing I resembled the lighter eyed models in magazines or movies. I would see that Asians would have stereotypical roles in movies such as being a math geek or a Chinese restaurant owner, and I always felt it to be unfair that we had such limited roles.
It wasn’t until 2015 when I realized that we had reached a stepping stone when the sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat” was released.
The sitcom revolved around comedic first-generation Asian-Americans in everyday life. The main actress was Constance Wu, who also starred in “Crazy Rich Asians” as Rachel Chu. She claimed that the release of the blockbuster hit was a historic moment in American history via Twitter and that it reflects the hard work of our immigrant parents who had such courage, love and strength in coming here for better opportunities.
The impact of her words continues to inspire others and I, that one day the media will become equal in representation for not just Asian-Americans but for all minorities. Seeing a movie that I could identify with on a cultural level and a personal level helped me embrace my culture and realize that there is hope in overcoming our adversity. “It’s okay to be different,” I tell myself. The color of our skin does not define our potential for greatness.