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‘Crazy Rich Asians’ lets Asian Americans from the San Gabriel Valley take pride in their identity

Photo courtesy of Sarah Wang.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

Summer 2018 started off a so-called “Asian Wave” in Hollywood. Movies like “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” “Searching” and of course, “Crazy Rich Asians,” which has broken box office records since its premiere on Aug. 8. Arcadia High School senior Sarah Wang writes about what “Crazy Rich Asians” means to her and other San Gabriel Valley-area high school students.

In elementary school, I substituted my father’s handmade pork dumplings for PB&J sandwiches. Placing tradition childhood Chinese toys in a bin, I asked for American Girl Dolls instead. Rather than embracing my culture, I learned that it branded me as different. That feeling became synonymous with peers taunting my father’s broken English and his construction truck that took me to school every day but took him to labor. When he picked me up, I could see the ache in his back and the dry blood on his hands from cuts. Yet my father never faltered in greeting me with a warm smile.

If only my peers saw him the same way I did.

But I can’t blame them. They were rarely exposed to the diverse lifestyles and stories that showcased the struggle of immigrants. Instead, they were presented with a distorted sense of what constitutes the model American on their television screens. Shame and embarrassment only resulted from watching characters that never reflected the Asian experience.

Growing up, I struggled my entire life balancing being both Asian, but also American. The lack of Asian American representation in film and media only propelled my need to conform. I never saw anyone who looked like me, spoke like me or even celebrated holidays or traditions the same way my family did. When I did come upon an Asian American in film, their character was a product of prejudicial beliefs that I never identified with and knew did not represent Asian Americans holistically.

When I finished watching “Crazy Rich Asians,” my face was drowned in tears. I never watched a movie that openly accepted Asian American culture and struggle.

Out of all the scenes, the mahjong scene personally left the biggest impression. When I heard Rachel’s line, ”It will be because of me. A poor, raised-by-a-single-mother, low class, immigrant nobody,” I immediately began reminiscing about my childhood and my father’s construction truck. Rather than having her character be embarrassed, the filmmakers  made Rachel a strong female lead who embraces the struggle of first and second generation immigrants, inspiring them to take pride in who they are.

Coco Zhao, a senior at Arcadia High School, said, ”This movie really helped me embrace my Asian culture, especially since so many parts of the movie hit so close to home as they contained traditions that I constantly do at home.” Annie Ou, a senior at Arcadia High School, said she resonated with the same aspects of the movie.

Samantha Loc, a junior at Gabrielino High School, stated that this movie is important to Asian American communities because it symbolizes a message that regardless of the odds stacked against them, they can still strive for their dream.

“Growing up, we had Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan representing us and the only times Asians were cast as the leads were in martial arts movies,” Jasmine Oang, a junior at Arcadia High School, said. “Seeing Asians cast in lead roles proves the phrase ‘You can be anything you want to be,’ to be true not just for me but for Asian Americans everywhere.”

Lianna Long, a senior at Gabrielino High School said, ”I hope that this [movie] will propel future projects with more Asian leads.”

A little more than a month after its premiere,  “Crazy Rich Asians” continues to instill inspiration, hope and pride within the hearts of Asian Americans across the nation.

Sarah Wang is a student at Arcadia High School. She’s a contributor to the Los Angeles Times’ HS Insider.

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