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The Farewell: The First Time I Heard Mostly Chinese in an American Movie

When I sat down in the movie theater for this, I still didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I cried. Especially since I am practically the main character, Billi, played by Awkwafina. It was equal parts funny and emotional. Spoiler alert: the family goes to China in the guise of a fake wedding to see Grandma since she was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. My grandma’s cancer recently relapsed, and my Mother flew to China immediately. I, on the other hand, stuck in college, will have to wait until the end of the term. I wish I had as much courage as Billi to just fly there, without any doubts about how she will be received in China. The scene around a huge table in the restaurant is very distinct of Chinese culture. I am afraid that will happen when I go back. Although I have a smaller family than Billi’s, I still face the scrutinizing eyes of relatives. They will ask me so many questions: about my love life, why I’m dressed like a boy, my studies, what will I do with a useless English major? I don’t know. On the one hand, I don’t want to disappoint any of them, but on the other hand, I’m doing what I love, even if it takes me nowhere. Billi’s family dynamic is characteristic of most Chinese families. The parents tell the kids nothing because these are “adult matters.” I’m super glad that my mom tells me almost everything because as their kid I deserve to know. The grandma’s depiction is also very characteristic of Chinese grandmas. They do not want anyone else to worry about their illness or anything; they never want to burden anyone with themselves, which causes so many things to be hidden. What if my grandma never told me about her relapse? What if mom never told me? Will I get to see my grandma one last time? This also comes with a lot of guilt. Have I made her proud? Am I doing what she wants me to? I do not know.

Karen Zheng

Dartmouth '22

I am an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College majoring in English and Creative Writing. I am a poet, but I'm trying to expand into prose a little bit more. Aside from writing and reading, I love watching movies, Asian TV shows, and fashion modeling. I am a Lesbian, Chinese-American, first-generation college student, so talk to me about any of the above! E-mail: karenzheng99@gmail.com IG: __k.z or mx_zheng
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