I’m unexpectedly emotional when it comes to Crazy Rich Asians. The last time I could see even a reflection of myself in a movie’s main character was Mulan, 20 years ago. And now! Here is Rachel Chu: an ABC who grew up in the Bay Area, went to Stanford, now lives in New York City, and is professionally ambitious and accomplished. Asian-American, too Asian to be American and too American to be Asian. Every one of these things something that is true of me as well.
I love who I am and that I have lived at the intersection of cultures, but I also feel a sense of rootlessness, that I don’t belong anywhere. Like every other Asian-American, I’ve been asked countless times: “Where are you from?” “But where are you really from?” I don’t know. There is no answer that is satisfactory. I’ve never truly felt at home anywhere. I don’t “look” American, and even in the Asian-dense Bay Area, I’ve alternately been praised, “Your English is really good!” and disparaged with, “Do you even speak English?”
The rallying cry of “Representation matters!” has been loud enough that I at least intellectually knew it would be powerful for me to see someone like me on screen. I didn’t realize how much more powerful it would be for me to feel seen, to feel mainstream American acknowledgment and validation of the stories and experiences of people like me.
(Even the funny bits, like Peik Lin’s dad trying to set Rachel up with her brother, dismissing the fact that Rachel has a boyfriend; I’ve 100% been at that dining room table before, with a friend’s dad voicing aloud his strong approval of my physical appearance, Taiwanese heritage, and Stanford degree and how I would be very good for my friend’s brother, despite my friend’s protestations that I already had a boyfriend. “Well, when you break up!”)
I was so afraid that a box office flop for this movie might be another repudiation of Asians in Western society, culture, and media, another reminder that we don’t belong and might never belong. Instead, I’m crying happy, grateful tears of relief for a #GoldOpen and a breakthrough moment in the form of a crazy rich fantastically-set love story that also happens to be the coming-of-age story of an Asian-American woman who reminds me of me. As director Jon Chu writes, “It’s a lavish, fun, romantic romp but underneath it all, there’s an intimate story of a girl becoming a woman. Learning that she’s good enough and deserves the world, no matter what she’s been taught or how she’s been treated, and ultimately that she can be proud of her mixed heritage.”
Maybe someday I’ll meet my Nick Young, too 😉