My Asian face, American spirit, and Crazy Rich Asians

“You may have the face of a Chinese person. You may sound like a Chinese person. But in your mind and in your heart, you will never be the same as a Chinese person from China.”

 

This is a line from the first-generation immigrant mother, Kerry Chu, to her Chinese American daughter, Rachel Chu, from the rom-com that literally everyone is talking about; Crazy Rich Asians.

 

Though this quote may seem a bit harsh to some, not only did it really hit home when I was watching the movie with my fellow Asian American friends, but it also made me remember once when my mom told me the same thing.

 

Like many of my peers who were born in the U.S. under Asian immigrant parents, I grew up seeking a place of belonging.

 

Though I am so grateful that I could, growing up in both the States and in South Korea made it even harder for me when it came to the subject of “belonging”.  Whenever I brought up the fact that I grew up in two countries, I was almost always faced with the question, “so do you identify yourself more as Korean, or American?” which made it even harder since I always had this pressure where I felt like I HAD to choose one country as the place that I “belonged to.”

 

On top of this, despite having an American citizenship and living in the States more than 2/3 of my lifetime, I was always identified and characterized as an “outsider”, “the Korean girl”, and even the girl who didn’t belong where she was. I was often asked questions such as “why do your eyes look like that?” and “do they have a sun in Korea? How about cars?”.

 

Honestly, I thought this would change when I moved to the “motherland”, but oh boy was I wrong.

 

Korean food was delicious, I loved the street food, the cute cafes, everything being in walking distance, E-mart, and my grandparents and extended family were so so warm and welcoming.

 

However, I was still seen as different.  

 

In Korea, to my cousins I was the cousin who could barely speak Korean and greeted everyone “the American way” and at school I was “the girl from the U.S.”, “the girl who talks in English with her parents”, and “the girl who doesn’t really look Korean.”

 

 

When talking to my mom about how my classmates would make fun of me for being from the States, she reminded me that though I may look Korean, I will never be able to hide my Western upbringing.

 

 

To this day, my friends in Korea stop me mid conversation to tell me “Nuh wan-jeon Mee-gook-in gatae” (you’re soooo American) while my friends in America tell me that I’m “soooo Korean.”

 

However, instead of getting all upset about it and trying to act as American as possible when in the States, and as Korean as possible when in Korea, every day I try to recognize that my uniqueness makes me who I am right now – a 20-year-old Christian Korean American female who stands up for the Asian American community.

 

If my home can be neither America nor Asia, then I should at least try to build a community that embraces my Asian Americanness - which is why I’m pursuing a minor in Asian American Studies along with why I’m always talking about the importance of Asian American Representation.  

 

This is also why I was an emotional mess while watching Crazy Rich Asians. Despite the first Asian American immigrants arriving in the States in the 1800s, we have not been the narrator of our own stories. Instead, popular culture has drawn upon racial stereotypes to portray Asian Americans as strange, mysterious, and un-American, and we have lacked the power to fight against those images.

 

Boasting an all-Asian cast and crew (and no martial arts), the movie is a very rare example of Asian Americans taking the steering wheel themselves to tell a story from our own perspective.

 

In the movie, Rachel Chu, learns to reject the feeling of inadequacy that she experiences while visiting her boyfriend’s family, a traditional Singapore family. Instead, she leverages both her New Yorker side and her familiarity with Chinese customs to win their approval.

 

Rachel comes to see herself as a citizen of both Asia and America, and I have too. We Asian Americans navigate both these worlds, and proudly claim all the space in between. My Asian face and American upbringing creates a thoroughly Asian American spirit which I am proud of and will celebrate as much as I can.