So we took our son to see his second (ever) movie at the theaters: Incredibles 2. (The first one being Moana.)
Let’s just say, the theater experience isn’t quite for him. At least for now. Once the popcorn was gone, he lost interest real fast. And let’s be real, we went to see Incredibles 2 more for me than him.
I knew that there was going to be a Pixar short before the film (there always is) and all I knew (by choice) going in was that it was created by an Chinese-Canadian director.
By the time Bao‘s credits rolled, I was crying.
(My son: Daddy, why you crying? Me: I’m not crying, you’re crying!)
How an 8 minute film captured the experience of Asian-Immigrants in such a relatable way — it was simply moving.
Bao was about me, as well.
PS. THERE ARE GOING TO BE SPOILERS. SO ****SPOILER ALERT****
Many of us learned English faster than our parents and we had the role of the family translator from an early age. Think about that for a moment.
It wasn’t unusual for a 10 year old being the bridge between teacher-parent; doctor-patient; telemarketer-marketee(?).
Our parents wanted to help us with our homework. But they couldn’t. Outside of non-word math problems — they were limited. How were they going to help us with homework that was in English when they couldn’t speak the language? And how helpless they must’ve felt…
But they moved to the States so that we, their children, could have a far better life than they did because America was the land of opportunity; a place where dreams can come true.
They sacrificed everything to move. Sometimes they came with nothing except that dream.
Yet, as children of immigrants, we’ve all felt the in-betweeness of our worlds growing up. Never fully American.
Never fully Asian.
In our homes and churches, we were… normal because everyone was like us. We shared the same ethos; the same cultures; same experiences.
But outside of our homes and churches — we were foreigners, often times the only one of our kind in a sea of white.
At home, we preserved the old world.
Everywhere else, we were trying to fit into the new world.
I think our immigrant parents feared losing our cultural identity.
They wanted us to fit in, but never really assimilate.
But for us kids?
We don’t remember the old world, we only see the new one.
And the things about the new world fascinated us.
My jaws literally dropped when I went over to my white friend’s house and he talked back to his mom. AND SHE DIDN’T DO ANYTHING EXCEPT SAY, “DON’T TALK BACK TO ME!”
What was this boldness? This freedom these white kids have? I’d wonder.
My dad friggin’ beat me for rolling my eyes at my mom. I never dared to talk back because I was afraid what may come my way.
They had their own rooms; they got to eat snacks and desserts; they got to walk around in their house with their shoes on; like it wasn’t far from what I saw on TV…
Oh and TV… pop culture…
We were immersed in the American culture even when we were at home because of radio, TV, and books.
Of course we were leaning more toward the new world’s culture. It was the only one we knew.
There was one thing my parents stressed more than anything all throughout my childhood:
You have to marry a Korean girl.
The Mom in Bao clearly had a falling out with her son.
And it’s because he did the worse thing we Asian boys could do to our immigrant moms: he brought home a white girl.
There’s a great movie called The Big Sick.
The writers, Kumail Nanijiani and Emily Gordon share their story of how they met and eventually married. But Kumail’s family emigrated from Pakistan and the movie also deals with the conflict of being in-between two worlds. His parents keep setting him up with these awkward meetings with Pakistani women for an arranged marriage. But Kumail loves Emily. Then finally, Kumail reveals to his parents that he cannot accept an arrange marriage from them:
You are not my son.
For me, that symbolizes the act of the Mom snatching the bao and eating it instead of letting it leave with the white girl.
(Also probably to physically close the gap that she so vividly felt between them…)
The complexities of family life. Add to that the tension between motherland and the new world.
Bao was very emotional to me for various reasons.
First — even though it was about a Chinese family, it really captured the Asian life outside of Asia. I can’t stress this enough: representation matters.
Why do we get up in arms when our characters are being white-washed? Because, white people and their stories dominate the world. There are no shortages of white people and white characters to admire. But not many Asian ones. Growing up, I had Bruce Lee and Data (oh and that Asian dude from the John Hughes movies). I idolized Bruce Lee because finally I had a hero who looked like me. There was a rumor that a movie was going to be made about Bruce Lee’s life but it was going to be told through the eyes of his white friend who was created for the sole purpose of this movie. Like why…?
Or there were producers pushing the female lead character to be white in the upcoming Crazy, Rich Asians movie. I’m sorry, I digress.
Two — our moms showed love through food. The Korean greeting isn’t “Hello” but “Have you eaten?” Often times, “I love you” in many immigrant homes weren’t said. But love was expressed through making sure you were taken care of and more than well-fed.
My parents English is still lacking.
N (my son’s) English is… lacking. I know that my parents would want nothing more than to fully communicate with their grandson. But you know how my mom shows N that she loves him? Overfeeds him. Food upon food upon food upon food. Homemade. Foodcourt at the mall. Desserts. Food. Food. It’s our love language. “Did you eat? Oh you did? Eat some more!”
Which is why when the bao slams the door on Mom and sticks to his junk food — he’s rejecting her and her love.
Three — It wasn’t until late into my teenage years I appreciated my culture and even later, when I truly understood — like understood the sacrifices my parents made.
I hated the idea of being Korean because it made me so different.
I hated the fact that my parents couldn’t speak English like ‘normal’ parents.
I hated the fact that our answering machines outgoing message was in Korean. At least once a week, we’d have wrong numbers leaving a “CHING CHONG CHING CHONG CHONG CHONG GO BACK TO CHINA!” messages.
I was an ass of an ungrateful child. I don’t think I’d have the courage of my parents or my parents in-law to skip to a country where we don’t speak the language all on a hope that my kid would have a better life. On top of that, instead of being met with gratitude for a chance at a successful life, our parents were greeted with attitudes and rebellions and ungratefulness. We come here but we pretend that we’re still back there? That’s so stupid…
It just reminded me to appreciate the courage and love that both my parents and my wife’s parents had for their children.
Four — the persistence of family. Acceptance of a new world/life. Her son came back and we learn that his wife (girlfriend?) makes better dumplings than he does.
There were universal themes of family, motherhood, love, food that was on display in this magnificent short.
But it made it even sweeter that it so capture the experience of an Asian family and the tensions that we experience(d) and live(d) through.
… Not only do I want to call my parents, but I think I need to get sum dumplings… or make a trip to Fat Bao’s soon…