Crazy, Rich, and Asian
I am unusually a relatively unemotional person. I rarely, if ever cry while watching TV or movies, and I tend to restrain my emotion and move past it when upsetting things happen to me personally. This is why I was so shocked when I burst into tears while watching the movie Crazy Rich Asians. My family had seen it in theaters while I was away with friends and had been raving about it ever since. They urged me repeatedly to watch it, but I was hesitant. I knew there was a buzz around the movie, in the Asian-American community and in pop culture in general, but I was nevertheless reluctant to watch it. For some reason, I thought that the comedy of the movie would play on overused Asian stereotypes that are simply not funny to me anymore. This is probably because in almost any movie or show that features Asians, they are 2-dimensional characters which rely heavily on stereotypes rather than punchlines. Because of all this, I couldn’t understand where my flood of emotion and tears came from after watching the beginning scene of the movie. It felt so foreign to me, as if someone had just unlocked a dam of frustration and unexplainably powerful feeling inside of me. I never expected to find myself alone in my basement, bawling my eyes out over a rom-com. But to me, it wasn’t just a rom-com. In fact, the plotline of the main characters’ romance was far less relevant to me than the fact that I was watching a movie with well-developed Asian characters, that was a hit with audiences, and that I actually found entertaining. I began to dwell less on the movie itself than on the title, and the topic of being Asian-American in general. I felt a personal connection to each aspect of the movie’s title, and oddly enough, just reading it caused me to start thinking of parts of my life that I almost never dwell on. It may seem like the most trivial of catalysts, but just watching that movie sent me spiraling into flashbacks of my childhood and an intense internal discussion of how my ethnicity has built many of the core facets of my identity.
I would consider myself to have an extremely outgoing personality. I am relatively sociable, and have been told that I come off as outspoken and blunt. These are characteristics which I love about myself, as I believe that being unafraid to speak one’s mind and reach out to new people is a beautiful form of freedom. However, I distinctly remember a time when I was not nearly as loud, outgoing, and perhaps obnoxious as I am now. Throughout elementary and much of middle school, I was far more reserved. I wasn’t afraid to talk to people, I just had a generally quiet personality and made little effort to reach out to my peers. I suppose you could describe me as antisocial. However, over the course of middle school, I began to dislike that, in my opinion, I was falling into the “model minority” stereotype. I was naturally studious and quiet, and I hated that I fit perfectly into what most of my peers expected of me. I couldn’t stand feeling like I was predictable and stereotypical. My mother always said that we get rid of stereotypes by actively defying them, and I felt like I was reinforcing them instead. After developing this mindset, I set to work to change it. Though I didn’t force an entire personality turnaround on myself, I did actively push myself out of my comfort zone to become more vocal and more social in general. This, in short, is how I became the “crazy,” outspoken, loud, extroverted person I am today. I wanted to become someone who would go against the grain of the common Asian stereotype of being shy, 2-dimensional, and studious. Though I genuinely love the person I am today, and am grateful that I was able to come out of my shell, the way it came about still saddens me. I should not have felt pressure to change any part of myself in order to defy stereotypes that were forced on me. In this way, stereotypes are a double-edged sword, because on the opposite side I have Asian-American friends who feel embarrassed about not fitting into the model minority mold enough (by not having high grades, trying to act “white”). After going over my own experiences and the experiences of others, I came to the conclusion that nobody should feel obligated to alter themselves in order to disprove or fit into a stereotype. If there is any hope of eliminating this form of prejudice, it lies in being unapologetic in all aspects of one’s identity, and in teaching others that any certain qualities, such as being studious, quiet, etc., are innate to specific people, not communities as a whole.
As I have stated, I don’t get emotional often. This being said, talking, writing, and even sometimes just thinking about my parents’ and grandparents’ journey in America is enough to bring me to tears. My grandparents (on my mother’s side) came to America with less than $100 between them. They worked grueling minimum wage jobs for several years until they had saved enough to settle in Tampa Bay and open their own shoe repair shop. Even then, life for my mother’s family was far from comfortable. My grandparents rose in the grey hours of the morning before even the sun did, typically 4am. They worked all day stitching leather and re-glueing rubber soles until 7pm when the store closed. Twice the store was robbed and my grandmother left shaken and terrified. My grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in order to make a better life for my mother and aunt (and their brother, who died at 5 of heart disease), but if anything their life was just as hard as my grandparents’. My mother, since she was in middle school, has filed all of my grandparents’ taxes and legal forms for them because of their poor english. When we vacationed in Tampa near my mother’s childhood home, she took me to a corner in front of her old house where she said she witnessed drug deals on a weekly basis. My aunt and mother took turns making dinner for the family since they were ten, because when my grandparents came home from their 15 hour work day they were far too tired to cook anything for themselves. Knowing all this, I have great respect for my mother, who has been through struggles I can’t begin to imagine (and will never have to endure thanks solely to her ambition and drive), yet is still the most optimistic and generous person I know. To suffer greatly but maintain such joy and love for the world shows phenomenal strength and grace. My mother was able to put herself through a top college and law school, and now has been working as an attorney for over 20 years. She was able to provide for herself and for her children the comforts and securities that she never had the privilege of growing up. The title of this section is “Rich” not because my family’s financial situation makes me feel superior to anyone. It is “Rich” not because I take pride in wealth, but because I take pride in all my mother has overcome and the level of motivation and perseverance she had to have in order to secure herself the career and lifestyle she has always dreamed of. Whenever I think of everything my mother has endured and overcome, it lights a fire within me to try to achieve my full potential in anything I do, so that she can be as proud of me as I am of her.
After watching Crazy Rich Asians, I thought about what being Asian-American means for me specifically, and how that reality has shaped my identity. While I tried to distance myself from Asian culture and stereotypes when I was younger, I have since then regained curiosity for my culture and pride in my heritage. After watching the movie, I fully realized how huge a part of my identity I was ignoring in avoiding thinking about my ethnicity. Had my background been truly irrelevant to me, I certainly would not have been reduced to a sobbing mess after watching only ten minutes of the movie. Though my race has surely helped form many aspects of my identity and contributes to the way I currently view the world, it does not define me. Who I am extends way past my ethnicity, though I do take great pride and interest in it. I am still learning about myself, and thus my relationship with my ethnicity will grow with me.
About the author: Rachel is a 16 year old writer from central Pennsylvania. She has been previously published in a poetry anthology and in a Mount Saint Mary’s literary magazine. She enjoys writing and literature as a form of self-expression and as a way to share and communicate her experiences being a first-generation Asian American.