When I watched episodes of Fresh Off the Boat, I related to the duality of being both Asian and American.
When I walked into the movie theater to watch “Crazy Rich Asians” this summer, I didn’t expect to be so emotional, alternating between crying and laughing throughout the entire movie.
When I watched “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” I felt nostalgic and craved the Yakult yogurt drinks that were a staple of my childhood.
The importance of Fresh Off the Boat, “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” extends beyond the increased representation of Asians and Asian Americans in film and television. In 2008, I was embarrassed of my dumplings and fried rice; I had wished that my parents would stop speaking Chinese and making me go to Chinese school. Now, in 2018, I crave authentic Chinese food, and I take pride in the fact that I can speak Chinese. An indirect, but arguably more important, effect of increased representation is that Asian Americans embrace their identities and take pride in it. Asian American media representation is a celebration of culture, heritage, and language rather than a mockery of it. Beyond just the Asian American community, this also promotes diversity, acceptance, and understanding across different cultures, making America the multicultural society it claims to be. It sparks dialogue about the Asian American identity and their status in America. This type of dialogue is what paves the way for change and more representation in politics and other traditionally white-dominated fields.
It wasn’t until I watched “Crazy Rich Asians” that it really hit me that historically, Asian Americans weren’t very well represented, if at all. In most Hollywood movies, Asian Americans are portrayed as a nerd, a karate kid, or highly sexualized. For the first time, I saw people who look like me and share my experiences portrayed on the big screen in a way that wasn’t negatively reinforcing Asian stereotypes. Television and film give kids and adolescents their role models, so it’s important that there are Asian characters on screen. The positive traits embodied by these characters teach Asian American kids that they too can be like the characters they see on the silver screen and aren’t limited to the restraints society seemingly imposes on them. Seeing themselves portrayed on screen, these kids gain the confidence that other kids have when they watch Spiderman. Similar to how African American kids were empowered by “Black Panther” and how young girls were empowered by “Wonder Woman,” the representation of Asian Americans empowers us and tells us that, yes, we are worth it.
Evidently, not all Asians are Singapore’s most eligible bachelor, rich, or even have a stable job. Asian Americans are a diverse group of people who have different experiences and come from different backgrounds. I want to know the story of the Vietnamese immigrant, the Indonesian adolescent trying to make it in the art industry, or the Thai hero. These stories are all worth being told, and “Crazy Rich Asians” provided the first step to making it happen.