Why ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ makes me happy

I’ve loved the satirical books, and I’ve now seen the movie. My experience with both has spurred all the feels.

My love for Crazy Rich Asians began in early 2017. I was trying to get back into some of my hobbies (y’know, like reading more) and I realized I didn’t have many books, so I wandered into a Chapters Indigo on the North Shore, where Kevin Kwan’s first novel was featured at the front of the store. The cover caught my eye: a polished woman, hair up in a chic bun, wearing stylish sunglasses and teardrop earrings — my first reaction was to hop a plane and go home to visit the Philippines. Knowing nothing of the phenomenon Kevin Kwan’s book was, I took a chance and bought it and read it — in two days.

What drew me in wasn’t the money being tossed around, the haute couture or the superficial shade some of these women flung at one another. I was drawn to Rachel Chu, a woman who, very much like me, was both in and out of a world she was trying to find her place in. ‘In’ because she looked Chinese, but ‘out’ because she grew up in a different place (America).

I was raised solely by my Filipino mother (my Irish-French father was completely out of the picture by the time I was six).  For a time, my mom and I lived a stone’s throw away from rice paddies in a Philippine village, and because I didn’t look one hundred per cent Filipino I was no stranger to people being cruel about how I didn’t look ‘Pinoy enough.’ This wasn’t as bad for me in Manila, where it was common to see Eurasian girls modelling: Pia Wurtzbach, for instance, who won Miss Universe in 2015: she’s half-German, half-Filipino, and she’s done well.

In some places, there are people who have it worse. You may have heard of Ariana Miyamoto, who was Miss Universe Japan 2015. She actually did quite well at Miss Universe, placing in the top 10 the same year Wurtzbach competed. Miyamoto is half-Japanese, half African-American. She’s shared painful stories of not being accepted by her classmates as a kid, because she didn’t look like a ‘typical’ Japanese person. She’s made it her mission to speak out about this kind of racism, inspired after losing a friend — who was also half Japanese — after they took their own life.

But back to the book: sure, the way most of the Young family spends money is, indeed, crazy. There’s no doubt about it. But being told you can only belong so much because you’re only part Asian, you don’t come from a certain background, or a certain kind of money — I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that.

Kwan is an entertaining writer. If you haven’t read Crazy Rich Asians, I recommend it. Heck, read all three books! The little footnotes, for starters, can be so funny, yet carry so much truth in them. If you’re putting yourself in the shoes of the right characters (like Astrid, Nick, or, in my case, Rachel) the literature can be quite reflective.

Which brings me to the movie. I was entertained; I loved Awkafina, Constance Wu and Ken Jeong — they were funny. And Nico Santos?! Hay naku, my Pinoy boy did me so proud! It was so nice to see Nico cast as Oliver; I want to see more Filipinos in North American movies! The cameo appearance by Kris Aquino was nice (though she is a well-known actress in the Philippines). It was also exciting to go to a showing of this film at 10:20 on a Saturday morning, and see how full it was. There were only a few empty seats, and people of various ages and backgrounds taking it all in.

My experiences with the book, combined with the film created a neat moment for me. Sure, we have a long way to go (this movie wasn’t perfect, but I’m not going to go there because this isn’t a movie review), and everyone’s going to have their opinions on the casting. However, I am happy to see some Asian representation, and hope to see more. I think that’s what makes this seemingly simple rom-com stick out: the layers of statements on both individual and cultural levels — from sacrificing everything for the ‘good of your family,’ to whether or not we are good enough, right up to Asian representation in Hollywood — these are all things that should be discussed.

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