As the first modern story with an all-Asian cast in 25 years, I knew I had to see this movie in theaters. Why? Because I believe in representation – and experienced a childhood where there was little of it. Growing up as one of the handful of Asian-American children in Minnesota, my attempt to “fit in” came in the form of me forgetting my Vietnamese at a young age, asking my mom to not pack chopsticks in my lunchbox (SORRY, MOM), and feeling confused as to why I looked different from the rest of my classmates.
I wasn’t necessarily ashamed of my background, but I also wasn’t proud enough to protect it.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved my years as a kid and I also have a special place in my heart for my home state. Despite moving to Houston and being surrounded by more diversity in my teens, my experience at a young age had already shaped who I was. Similar to other children of immigrants and refugees, I lived as an American kid with Asian-American standards. I was expected to make good grades – especially in math and science. I was told to choose a good career – so a lawyer or a doctor. And I was advised to marry someone I love – which translated to someone who could financially support me.
At this point, you probably know the path I decided to pursue for myself isn’t a “traditional” one by any means – which is why I didn’t expect to feel the way I did about this movie. Although I’ve read the book, the simple act of witnessing the plot unfold on screen was unforgettable – and made me realize that my days as a child who suppressed the evidence of her background hadn’t won to my days as an adult who couldn’t be prouder to be an Asian-American.
While this story isn’t different from any other over-the-top romantic comedy, the underlying lessons are dripped in Asian culture and presented in mainstream society.
Let’s start at the beginning and meet Rachel Chu. She’s an Asian-American economics professor living in NYC – which could serve as a pretty impressive summary for anyone who isn’t Eleanor Young, Nick’s mom. Within seconds of meeting, Eleanor makes it known that Rachel’s decision to pursue her passion as a career is a seal of disapproval. Yet, isn’t it understandable to want a successful career in an area that you’re interested in? Welcome to the internal struggle that every Asian-American child or adult (let’s be honest) has had to face at some point in his or her existence.
When Rachel discovers just how affluent Nick’s family truly is, she also realizes that most of them aren’t on her side. Instead, they’re judging her for growing up with a single mom and enforcing it by throwing dead fish in her bed (yes, really). As Rachel struggles to be liked by this elite class around her, she eventually stops and decides to take pride in who she’s always been: an Asian-American woman with a set of beliefs and standards that reflect the combination of her Asian roots and her American lifestyle.
You can’t accept yourself if you’re constantly seeking validation from someone else.
It should come as no surprise that the second Rachel stops caring about what people think is the moment she’s most free. Oh – she also turns down Nick’s first proposal to her, because that’s seemingly what happens when you make a decision based off what matters inside of you (instead of what it looks like to those around you). For instance, the entire movie is a constant theme of jealous women who dislike Rachel for her position of potentially marrying (crazy) rich. However, when the time comes, Rachel chooses herself – because she knows marrying Nick would mean sacrificing who she was to hopefully fit in with a group of people who wanted her to be anyone else.
It’s not about the love story, it’s about the message behind it.
In a plot that most of us can’t relate to, Rachel’s character shines through and somehow represents an entire culture. There she was: an individual who was rejected because of her differences – and also found herself due to them. She stopped trying to meet everyone else’s expectations and became her most powerful weapon: herself. Coincidentally, this is also around the same time that Eleanor decides to respect Rachel – because she realizes Rachel won’t compromise her integrity in hopes to gain everyone’s acceptance.
While watching this movie, I couldn’t truly figure out why I was in tears – until now. It’s because I’m Rachel. And so are you. We’re the children of immigrants and refugees – a group that’s given the freedom to live the life we want, but also reminded of a path that’s dosed in beliefs of a culture we weren’t born into.
Throughout our entire lives, we’ve caught ourselves in between wanting to be happy by American standards yet wanting to make our loved ones proud by Asian-American expectations.
Yet, this movie allowed us to witness something for the first time – an Asian-American role model who stuck to who she was and found a medium between both worlds. Regardless of the light-hearted storyline, Rachel is a heroine with a happy ending because she simply believed that she was enough. Crazy Rich Asians wasn’t just satisfying – it was completely empowering.
Although my childhood is over, I can’t help but think of the young Asian-Americans around the country who will witness this movie. The 10-year-old versions of ourselves who will see a Hollywood cast that not only looks like them, but proudly gives tribute to a culture that represents them. In the end, “Crazy Rich Asians” is an inspiring reminder of where we’re from – and how that shouldn’t stop us from incorporating it with where we’re going.
What are your thoughts on “Crazy Rich Asians”?
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