You may or may not recall that my journey with Free to Dream began with an article I published in their magazine entitled “The Mysterious Case of the Missing Asians”.
In the article, I highlighted the misrepresentation of Asian cultures in media and how they have been racially ousted from lead roles. At the time, I was typing on my laptop furiously as my fingers clicked down in rage. I wrote this article with the intention of revealing the “lurking beast” that nestles itself deep within the shadows of hollywood lights: the outcasting of Asians.
At the time, I had no idea that a movie like “Crazy Rich Asians” would ever be something I would have the privilege of seeing.
When I was around 5 years old, I began to watch Disney Channel in awe of all the icons that I saw on screen. However, none of them looked like me. And, when they did, they often fell victim to typecasting or represented a weak and often unimportant character.
There was Brenda Song who grew famous for her roles as a wealthy, selfish idiot and as Wendy Wu: a Kung Fu hero that is about as type casted as an Asian woman can get.
We as a society have created an image of what the Asian actor is supposed to be: unimportant and probably knows Kung Fu.
Of all the Asians I know, none of them know Kung Fu.
Admittedly, I became a racist.
I was young and naive, but I understood that the person I was did not fit the bill of “leading role material”. I attempted to whitewash myself and rid myself of my own culture in an effort to belong. I felt embarrassed when anything remotely non-white was packed in my lunch bag since I knew that Asian food prompted children to ask “what’s that?!” while covering their noses.
For this very reason, I began to cry when one particular scene came on in “Crazy Rich Asians” where foods from all types of Asian cultures are represented. This was the first time I had ever seen this in a feature film and although it is seemingly unimportant to many, it was something that resonated deeply in my rich cultural roots.
I am a predominantly Filipino woman tainted with historical traces of Chinese and Hispanic culture. One thing I have learned is that Asian cultures have used food to blend each other together and to find similarities in taste and cultural elements. Catching short glimpses of fishballs and what looked like the making of Halo-Halo made me overwhelmed with the emotional undertones that my misrepresentation has embedded in me.
Constance Wu made me so proud of who I am. She represented an incredible Asian lead with the fighting spirit that only a strong, educated woman could possess (and not a Kung Fu warrior).
The entire cast with a melting pot of different Asian cultures gave me a sense of belonging in a mass-produced film that I have never felt.
I hope that the young Asians of today may have experiences and movies like these that move them to believe that they are enough. They are capable of the strength that a leading role implies even if Western culture has produced a stereotype that says otherwise. There is no need to be ashamed when films like “Crazy Rich Asians” exist.
Their “otherness” as an Asian is what makes them special.
About the Author
Justine Bautista is a student at Chapman University. She is a double major in Psychology and Integrated Educational Studies and plans to pursue a career in Developmental Research. Justine is a writer for Free to Dream Magazine and also serves as manager/editor for their blog. Outside of Free to Dream, she works as an SBA for Kaplan Test Prep and helps students in planning their pursuit of a graduate degree. She also works with social media brands and small businesses (ex. Pacific Swimwear and Impact Juice Bar). Justine is an avid neuroscience and coffee enthusiast. She loves books, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and dancing around while singing her favorite song, “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” by Iron and Wine :)