Life

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Meant Very Different Things To Me And My Mom

My immigrant mom didn't feel the same warm, fuzzy fullness the movie left me with.

Note: This blog contains spoilers.

I wasn't sure what to expect from "Crazy Rich Asians."

In case you haven't read up on the hype, the movie is kind of a big deal as far as diverse representation goes (and a big deal, full stop, given how it smashed box office expectations on its opening weekend). It's the first mainstream Hollywood feature film with an all-Asian cast in 25 years.

On Sunday, I went to my hometown of Markham, Ont. to watch it with my mom, you know, for the culture. Despite the hype, I didn't really expect to love it as much as I did.

The experience of watching it was a bit surreal. I almost forgot the cast was all Asian. Rather than searching for the faintest glimmer of representation — the Asian sidekick, the nerd, or some other stereotype or trope — all of the main and supporting characters were Asians from different backgrounds. It was the first time in my life where I watched a movie and wasn't searching for the token Asian character and how they may or may not be a trope or stereotype.

Although my mom definitely liked it too, and teared up about three or four times while watching, she essentially admitted she didn't feel the same elated, warm, fuzzy fullness the movie left me with.

Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Young perfectly embodies the harsh but protective mother figure.
Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Young perfectly embodies the harsh but protective mother figure.

My mom and I are blood, but our experiences as youth resulted in our differences. I'm from Markham, Ont.— a city of 330,000 just north of Toronto with no racial majority, but a massive East Asian population. I grew up with many other Chinese classmates, but none who shared my particular heritage: Hakka Chinese, with parents who were born and raised in Jamaica, not China or Hong Kong. I was often told I was "not real Chinese" because I spoke English at home and didn't speak Cantonese.

That rejection from my peers made me embarrassed by my culture, and I shunned cultural (read: delicious) foods and opportunities to learn more about my lineage. Until I was in my early twenties, I desperately want to be "Canadian." Despite my family owning a Jamaican restaurant and maintaining deep ties to the Jamaican-Chinese community, I only sought out books, media and pop culture that was Western and overwhelmingly white.

For many second-gens, our lives are made up of blended ideas.

As I've gotten older, I've developed a greater appreciation for my heritage. Moving to Ottawa — a wonderful city, but far less diverse than my Toronto-area suburb — and being forced into the cultural isolation made me wish I knew more about myself, especially when I was asked to share with others.

The beautiful thing about "Crazy Rich Asians" is how well the movie illustrates the experiences of second-gens like me. For many second-gens, our lives are made up of blended ideas; the ones we choose to keep from our parents and those we accept from the country in which we are born and raised.

The author (right) and her mother.
The author (right) and her mother.

My mom, on the other hand, grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. While she was hardly one of a majority, Jamaica in the 1960s had a sizeable Chinese population, many of them Hakka. My mom, her brothers and their first cousins are only one generation removed from China and Hong Kong, where their parents are from. My mother understands Hakka Chinese, grew up eating the foods whose names I don't know in English, and had (and still has) many Hakka friends.

My parents came to Canada as teenagers, and both have a lot of Western cultural references from their youth. My mom, for example, was a mullet-sporting punk in the 80s who listened to Billy Idol and went to regular showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show when she attended the University of Western Ontario.

But both my parents, whether by circumstance or choice, maintained stronger ties to their culture than I ever did. It was presumably less important to them to see themselves reflected on screen. They assimilated without losing their culture, which remained a pervasive force in their lives even after they immigrated.

The movie does have a lot of appeal for different generations, and I'd recommend seeing it with your mom too, if you can. Even though I'd argue it had more impact for me, the jokes and tear-jerking moments are commentaries on the family life we have together. And for those who don't share the same experiences of making dumplings or playing mahjong, it's a poignant, much-needed glimpse into aspects of a culture that are sometimes hard to describe.

Born And Raised is an ongoing series by HuffPost Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories — join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at bornandraised@huffpost.com.

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