In my experience, there are two types of people in the world – those who believe you’re special and those who don’t. Asian parents tend to fall in the latter category.
That’s not to say they don’t love their children or they’re not proud of their children’s achievements. It’s just they don’t believe in the Special Snowflake theory.
You’re all familiar with this theory: you’re unique because of your specific genetic make-up, there is no one else like you out there, you bring something special to the table, and so on and so forth.
Yeaaaaah … Asian parents don’t believe that. If the Special Snowflake theory is the signature of Western millennial upbringing, then the “Average Graphite” theory is the hallmark of Tiger Cub upbringing.
The Average Graphite theory is the ying to the Special Snowflake theory’s yang. Every snowflake has a distinctive pattern, whereas every piece of graphite has the same molecular structure. A snowflake is unique by nature and one appreciates its beauty for what it is. In contrast, graphite can become a diamond (i.e., special and valuable), but only if compressed under immense pressure.
The Special Snowflake theory believes in a person’s natural talent. The Average Graphite theory believes in hard work.
How does the “Average Graphite” manifest itself? Tell me if any of this sounds familiar: Oh you want to be an artist/writer/[fill in Unapproved Profession]? What makes you think you’re so special? There are millions of works of art / books out there on this subject. What makes you think people will want to buy your painting / read your book? Be realistic. Get your head out of the clouds. Pursue an Approved Profession.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe everyone is a Special Snowflake. Some people are more like Average Graphite and could do with a reality check (those are usually the ones who think they’re Special Snowflakes).
However, I think every Tiger Cub could do with a bit of Special Snowflake therapy. Nobody who ever became somebody did so because they thought they were just Average Graphite. Do you think Beyonce thought she was just Average Graphite? Roger Federer? Any of the Presidents of the United States?
I’m not saying you’ll be the next Beyonce. But maybe there’s something you’ve been thinking about pursuing, an inkling that you may be really good at it, a suspicion that you may bring something unique to the table. Try it. What’s the worst that could happen?
Everybody’s talking about Crazy Rich Asians. It’s a classic rom-com, a feel-good movie, and a step forward for Asians and Asian-Americans in Hollywood. It highlights the cultural gap between Asian Asians and Asian-Americans and informs the ignoramus that, yes indeed, not all Asians are alike.
But Crazy Rich Asians is more than that.
To me, it gives the world a glimpse of the truths that I (and my Asian and Asian-American friends) had always known. This movie is full of details and scenes that incited my mind to exclaim, “Yes! That’s me! That’s sooooo my life!” or “That’s so my mom/dad/auntie/[fill in blank]!”
Crazy Rich Asians is all of us. Here are just a few examples.
*Obligatory disclaimer and spoiler warning: This post may contain spoilers. Proceed at your own peril! Here’s an image just so you have enough time to click the back button. Otherwise, scroll on!*
Your family is a Family, with a capital F
The plot of Crazy Rich Asians may seem par for the course. Boy meets girl. Girl meets family. Family disapproves. Girl runs away in tears. Boy declares his undying love and vows to walk away from massive inheritance. Airport/airplane scene. Engagement. The End.
What is different is the mahjong-showdown wedged between boy’s declaration of love and the airplane scene. Rachel could have chosen to marry Nick over his family’s objections. But she didn’t. Rachel knew that she couldn’t have eloped with Nick because if he defied his family because of her, Nick would eventually come to resent her.
The Asian Family is stern, demanding, and implacable. Because Family is paramount – what you do is a reflection of your Family, your desires must be considered in light of your Family’s wishes, and your individual hopes and dreams must be guided by the needs of the Family.
You can never pack enough food when you’re traveling
Switching gears to something more lighthearted – I was tickled pink when I spotted the meals Rachel’s mom packed for the flight to Singapore. I’m sure this resonates with many Asians out there; it certainly resonated with me.
When I was young, whenever my family went on a road trip, we would pack every type of food imaginable: duck wings, tea eggs, dumplings, chicken feet, you name it. The rule was: if we didn’t pack it, you can’t eat or drink it. Even to this day, I feel a twinge of guilt when I purchase food or beverages on an outing.
Are we bananas?
It’s disorienting when even “your people” don’t accept you as “one of them.”
Here’s another one that will sound familiar to the Asian-American diaspora: one is at once too Asian to be Western and too foreign to be Asian. Both Rachel’s mother and Nick’s mother remind Rachel that, although she looks Chinese and speaks Chinese, she will always be seen as a Foreigner.
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
How many of us have struggled with our identities growing up (or perhaps still struggle with our identity)? How many of us lacked (or still lack) a sense of belonging? How many of us are treated like foreigners when we visit the ”motherland”?
When I visit the motherland, I’m not even allowed to go around the city without adult supervision. The adults are afraid I’ll get lost or scammed. Meanwhile, I’ve hiked through the wilderness for 5 days with just a map and a compass …
It’s disorienting when even “your people” don’t accept you as “one of them.” Watching this issue play out in Crazy Rich Asians, I felt validated and relieved that this was not an experience unique to me (or my Asian-American friends) and that perhaps this very experience is a defining characteristic of the Asian-American identity.
Other little red packets of goodies
Alright, enough of this talk-about-The-Issues stuff. I leave you today with a few other fun details from Crazy Rich Asians.
How about how everyone, literally everyone, is called auntie? To this day, I still call my parent’s friends “auntie” and “uncle.”
Or how news spread so quickly over WeChat (Asian Whatsapp, for the uninitiated)? My parents made me install it a few years ago …
Or how Rachel’s mother told her to wear the red dress because it’s an auspicious color (and Rachel did!)? I can’t even tell you how many items of red clothing I had growing up!
And throwback to the 80s/90s, did anyone spot the song Sweet as honey (甜蜜蜜) by Teresa Teng (邓丽君) playing in the background of one scene? My mom used to play Teresa Teng’s songs all the time. Teresa Teng was the gold standard, way before K-pop came along.
I’m sure I missed a ton of other great details, so you can be sure I’ll be re-watching Crazy Rich Asians again very soon! Was there something from the movie that struck a chord with you? If so, tell me about it by emailing me at CordeliaQ8@gmail.com.
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“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” – King Lear
Do you have a Tiger Mom, Wolf Dad or Dragon Parent (term of my own invention)? Are you a disappointment to your parents because you didn’t become a doctor, lawyer, or other Approved Professional? Are you an Approved Professional per your parents’ wishes but wonder if you were meant to do something else? Do you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough for your parents or that your parents just don’t get you? If so, then this blog is meant for you.
The title of this blog, Sharper Than a Dragon’s Tooth, was inspired by King Lear. Cliff’s notes version for those who, like me, have a fuzzy memory: King Lear is old and wants to retire. He declares that he will divvy up his kingdom and grant the largest portion to the daughter who loves him the most (and who’ll look after him in his old age). His eldest two daughters, Goneril and Regan, put on a great show (even though they just want his kingdom). Cordelia, King Lear’s youngest and favorite daughter, refuses to play the game even though she actually loves him. Goneril and Regan are rewarded with chunks of King Lear’s kingdom and Cordelia is banished from his kingdom. Of course, Goneril and Regan later kick King Lear to the curb and King Lear goes mad. In Act 1 Scene 4, upon discovering Goneril’s betrayal, King Lear exclaims, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!”
This must be what our parents feel when we refuse to pursue an Approved Profession, choose to work in another city/state/country or don’t visit as often as they would like us to. They, like King Lear, fear that we, finding them to be of no further use, will kick them to the proverbial curb (otherwise known as The Hospice or The Retirement Home). What our parents may not realize is that we, like Cordelia, are trying to be the daughters or sons that they want us to be, but that we have our own views, goals and aspirations that are equally valid. At its core, the question is: How do we pursue our own happiness without disappointing our parents? Maybe that’s impossible. But I want to know. Perhaps we could be a step closer to the answer if we could bridge the generational and cultural gaps between us and our parents. Perhaps we could repair and develop healthier and closer relationships with our parents if we knew how to communicate with them. That’s what we’re here to find out.