In the spirit of the excitement surrounding the opening of Crazy Rich Asians, I wanted to share what this opening means to me.
So here's another long-winded #illyRealTalk post:
First of all, I feel like I've only recently (as in within the last 5-6 yrs) fully embraced being Asian. I grew up in a predominantly white area. And there were the "cool Filipinos" in my high school but I never really connected with them. I was basically an introverted band musical theater nerd kid. So I kept to myself and usually wished I were confident (& white!) so I could play Ado Annie in Oklahoma or Nancy in Oliver in the community theater productions. In Virginia, there were a ton of Asian people. But no one cared to asked or know "what kind." I feel like everyone was just neatly put into their boxes without talking about it. (Suburbia.)
Flash forward to when I moved to NY. My Asian-ness was apparent, only this time people would say, "What are you?" (Even though Virginia wasn't so diverse, I never got this question.) And usually when I answered, "I'm Filipino and..." people would cut me off excitedly with, "I have a Filipino friend! Filipinos are so nice! " (All of you have a very nice Filipino friend, don't you?)
So I wouldn't even explain or share that I am also Singaporean. Because as my fellow Asian friends know, sometimes it's just a blessing another person knows your ethnicity and connects to it in some way. Connection was made, bing bang boom. Why say more?
Flash forward to the past couple years. I have been blessed enough to work with my friends in AzN PoP Comedy. I could feel my passion for Asian representation budding and working with them has only lit more of a fire under my ass. However, the more I do our live show, the more I feel sad that I didn't incorporate my Singaporean heritage into it--my mom's side. I know I'll be able to add it into my/our work later, but it made me realize that I am still trying to make it "easier" on myself and my non-Asian counterparts by just representing my Filipino side, the part everyone is most familiar with.
So in an effort to understand/connect with my Singaporean side a bit more, I picked it up the Crazy Rich Asians book because I heard it takes place in Singapore. I remember reading the first one at Coney Island and taking pictures of every familiar word my mom has said to me or spoke to me and excitedly shared it with her. It was so exciting to see those same words that I heard in my childhood home on paper in an American book. The only other times I get to really dive into those words are with my mom or the rare chances I get to go to Singapore.
Reading those words made me realize why I never explain my Singaporean side to people. When I do get to say the second half of my sentence, "....and Singaporean" people always ask, "like what is that? Malay?" And then I say, "kinda but not really. Well my mom is Singaporean, but she's actually Chinese but her ancestors are from the Straits of Malacca which is an area between Malaysia and Singapore, but she's Chinese and wants you to know that Straits born are called Baba Nyonya or Perenakan..." and then the listener's eyes glaze over.
It's difficult to explain Singapore and our culture because Singapore truly is an Asian melting pot. Singapore is a diaspora. Asia is a diaspora--even though non-Asian people think of all of us as one singular seemingly expressionless, same looking sea of people with dark hair. We are not. We are complex, we are different.
That's why I am excited for Crazy Rich Asians and that's why it means so much to me. Asian people from Singapore to China to Laos to Philippines are complex. We are rich, poor, we are crazy, sane, we are ugly, we are sexy, we are fat, we are thin, we are different and varying. But...we are also the same as you non-Asians and we deserve to NOT be tucked away from media representation for 25 years. I'm so sad it's taken that long for another all Asian film to come out, but I gotta say Crazy Rich Asians, it being set in Singapore, the Asian Diaspora feels so right to me. Welcome Home, my Asian Brothers and Sisters! You and I and all our complexities deserve to be visible.
Thank you to the whole cast & crew of Crazy Rich Asians and Kevin Kwan for writing these stories.
I hope you bought your ticket to Crazy Rich Asians. I know I did!