Why Crazy Rich Asians Mattered to Me.
I didn't go into the dress project with some profound revelation. I like to make costumes for Olivia and Olivia loves to dress up. It was fun. I read all 3 books because it was a light-hearted past time.
I saw the trailer. I spotted the dress. I couldn't stop thinking about it until I made it for Liv.
Then, she saw the trailer and she screamed “Mom! Look! It’s my dress! It’s Constance Wu!” This is the first time I’ve made a costume where it gave me the chills; seeing her see herself in someone who looks like her. Someone who’s a strong woman. Someone living her dreams. It’s like seeing the future. Seeing how her opportunities can be endless too.
Olivia’s at an age where she understands more. This dress created a ripple effect. It opened up a conversation. It opened my eyes to things I didn’t even think about too. So many friends, family, and strangers have reached out to me because of all of this. They say it brings them to tears. They say it gives them hope for the future. They say little girls everywhere are in awe of her and her dress. They say THIS.. this is why movies like CRA need to be made and why we need more people like all the ones who brought it into fruition; those who believed enough. It’s amazing.. because that means Olivia is now a part of this movement.
CRA is dominating the box office. It means another underrepresented/misrepresented group is getting their chance to show they are more. It means a sequel!
While it has some over-the-top aspects (it's a movie), there are so many stories intertwined.
We see our family.. sitting around a table sharing their lives and their gossip as they prepare the most delicious meals.
We see the story of an immigrant. Constance said it beautifully: "immigrant stories are the stories of dreams, of love, of sacrifice, of courage, of honor." Olivia asked me what an immigrant was and we talked about our family. I was born in America because my families were refugees of war. Nothing was handed to them aside from an opportunity. It took blood, sweat, tears, and a hard work ethic for my previous generation to be where they are today. This is my family history. This is part of my children's story. I don't want them to lose that part of them. I want them to know where they came from. It matters. For the people they grow up to be and for what they see in current events.
We see someone who isn't the right kind of Asian. In Asia, we're American. In America, we're all Chinese. The stereotypes video was made because of what we're used to experiencing. In preschool, Liv's classmates would ask her (and me) if she's Chinese and she started asking if we're all Chinese (I'm Vietnamese and my kids are half Vietnamese and half Thai). And that’s “normal.” It’s common. Being an Asian-American, often times, you don’t “see” that Asian part of yourself in America and neither do your peers. Hopefully, people will start recognizing we all don’t look alike and we don’t have to know karate. Ironically, the same day after filming that video, a tailor repeatedly asked me if I was Chinese and if I knew how to fight. He said quote “why don’t you know how to fight? I know these Chinese ladies that are tiny, but you know not to mess with them.”
I also see the story of a mom and a daughter. The bond that Rachel has with her mother is something I strive for with my kids.
One of my favorite scenes from CRA is the mahjong face-off. I’ve had my own face off where I was told I wasn’t raised right. That was a slap in the face, not only to me, but to my mom (I didn’t do anything wrong; I can admit when I am). My relationship with my mom is a bit complex, but she is someone who tried to give us more than she had. Sobriety was an issue in our household, so sometimes she had to be both mom and dad. She was there. Always. She raised all 7 of us. In 9th grade, I wrote a paper that said strength is something I learned from my mother.
Having an addict parent, experiencing sexual abuse as a child by “family” and a “family friend,” being raised in section 8 housing or one bedroom apartments most of my childhood, dropping out of a full-ride scholarship, the end of a marriage.. It was a battle, but I discovered my own self-worth through it all.
The “poor, raised by a single mother, low-class immigrant nobody” line struck a chord. I may have not been raised in all the right ways to some, but it made me who I am. I’m not ashamed of where I came from. I’m not ashamed of my story. I’m so proud that I raised my kids. I’m so proud of the people they are. Being a mom to Nathaniel taught me what it means to be truly selfless. Being a mom to Olivia taught me self love.
There are so many more stories to be told. It took some introspection, but this dress and this movie left a spark in me and in Liv.