“I” of GAIN, my youngest child, and I went to see the movie Crazy Rich Asians over the weekend. She had read the book when it was first released, and as a half-Asian teenager, she wanted to support representation of Asians in Hollywood. I just wanted to see a good movie that was worth the admission.
The story was fantastic, and I loved that it caused a meaningful discussion between us that was unrelated to the storyline. We spent time talking about Asian representation outside of Hollywood.
I’ve struggled with describing representation for myself, but I think I’ve thought out the subject enough to put words to it. I think my struggle comes from living in a 99% colorblind world. My parents adopted me while they were living in Taiwan; I was a cute three week old infant. I always knew that I was adopted. I always knew that I wasn’t white. It wasn’t a big deal, still isn’t a big deal in my life. So, today, to explain the 1% and the 99% means reversing my regular thought patterns.
Let me start with an example that I hope you can relate to. I am a dancer. I form a bond with the pieces of music that I perform to. I know them intimately. The timing of an arrangement, the instruments and their cues, etc. are necessary for me to do my job well. Once my performance is over, I lose connection with that music, but if I hear it somewhere outside of the context of dance, I get a little nostalgic/excited/positive. Other pieces of music won’t make me upset, and music is not inherently bad, but certain pieces get me energized, especially ones that I’ve studied through dance.
Another example comes from sightseeing. When I see mention of a sight that I’ve seen in the media, I get a spark/memorable flashback — and feel more excited than I was before the sight was mentioned. It’s not that the rest of the news/movie/book/article/story was bad for me, but that familiarity sparked something warm and nostalgic inside my soul.
Applying these examples to the movie Crazy Rich Asians, I can remember a time when my family lived in Ankeny. I would have been younger than 8 years old, which is when we moved to unincorporated Des Moines. I didn’t like blond haired people for a period of time. Not because they were bad, but because they didn’t have dark hair like me. I had (and still have) dark hair. All my Barbie dolls had blond hair. All the Halloween costumes that I liked unfortunately had blond masks. My babysitter had blond hair. I resented blond people because they had dolls and costumes and I didn’t. I couldn’t really verbalize it, but I distinctly remember hating blond people because they were represented in the toy aisle. That energy, that spark of familiarity from certain musical selections and sightseeing, was missing.
[Salty side note: Tuesday Taylor was the only doll I had with dark hair. I have no idea if there were other brunette dolls, but now that I’ve had time to consider her in the large scheme of all toys, I’m pretty annoyed that her dark hair was optional. You see, her hair flipped from blond to brunette, so she wasn’t committed to being brunette. Midge was committed to being redheaded; her hair couldn’t change color. Barbie was blond and her hair couldn’t change, either. Did the toy makers think no one would like a brunette doll and want to keep her blond?]
My hope is that Crazy Rich Asians has a trickle-down effect for all the kids who were like me, searching for something that the toy aisle didn’t have. And I want to emphasize that I’m talking about 1% of my life. I’ve been extremely fortunate and blessed. Because I had nothing but encouragement from my family to achieve anything I focused on, I don’t feel that non-representation oppressed me, left me feeling ignored, etc. Representation didn’t influence my goals in life, but if they help some other child (or adult) who isn’t getting encouragement, then I welcome representation.