Crazy Rich Asians broke all sorts of records. It was the first American-made film to feature an all-Asian cast. In the US alone, it pulled in over $175 million dollars–and only cost $30 million to produce. It has a 91% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes and received praise from a diverse range of audience that includes Asian-Americans, Whites, Blacks, Hispanics–and just about everyone. With such glowing praise and rave reviews, I just had to check out the movie for myself.
Growing up with my mom wasn’t easy, especially in rural, coal-mining Utah. My mother was the only Asian woman in the entire town, thus meaning we were surrounded by white people (and a few Hispanics and Native Americans).
Growing up in such a predominantly white culture, I was raised to believe and practice in American holidays. My classmates at elementary school gathered with all of their relatives at a big table, carved the turkey, and watched the Macy’s parade. They had large family gatherings with turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy–the works.
Not in my house.
How My Mom Forgot Thanksgiving
A few years back, I was finally able to snag some time off work and take the long flight back home from China. After being Thanksgiving starved for almost three years, I was more than ready to pile on the turkey and stuff my face with pumpkin pie.
Although my family was very small (just the four of us), the gathering was special for me. To come home from China and actually sit together as a family and eat turkey meant that I was actually ‘home.’
It was the night before Thanksgiving and all was quiet in the house. Too quiet. Although I saw no sign of turkey or food, I had full trust in my parents that we would have a proper meal the next day. Tired from a long flight, I got conked out.
The next morning I waltzed into my kitchen, pajamas and all, and opened up the fridge to see the fixins for tonight’s dinner.
It was barren. Except for a few cans of Coke and mayonnaise.
I opened the oven. Nothing.
I searched the cupboards with desperation. No turkey.
“Mom, did you buy a turkey? Where are you hiding it?”
“No darling, I, uh, didn’t buy one,” she smiled sweetly.
“YOU DIDN’T BUY TURKEY FOR THANKSGIVING!?” I screamed in frustration. “It’s my freaking first Thanksgiving in three years and you didn’t buy a turkey? What were you thinking!?”
“Oh, I, uh, thought we could eat out.”
“Everywhere is CLOSED! It’s THANKSGIVING!”
“Chinese restaurant is open, right?”
“I JUST CAME FROM CHINA!!!!”
I stomped back to my room, slammed the door and wailed. I felt like I was 10 years old all over again.
All my life I remember begging my mother to be “normal.” I tugged on her shirt sleeve at the supermarket and urged her to buy a turkey, like all the other families. I threw pumpkin pies into the shopping cart. At 8 years old, I demanded we all gather as a family and eat at the table, like all the other kids in the American movies did. I always wondered where my strong sense of tradition came from (obviously not my family), but without my constant nagging, our family would have never experienced Thanksgiving or Christmas. Ever.
I wasn’t going to let Thanksgiving go to ruin this year.
It was already 11 AM and the grocery stores were going to close in a few hours. I stormed out of the house in an angry attempt to fix Thanksgiving. I drove to multiple supermarkets looking for a turkey, but they were all sold out. I even tried Walgreens, a drug store, in a desperate attempt to find a bird. They told me they were out. I couldn’t even find pumpkin pie. It was a disaster.
It was 5 PM and I was defeated. Eyes red and puffy from crying, I slumped through the door, too upset to even look at my mother standing in the kitchen.
Yet I glanced up and saw she was not alone. She was prepping a turkey.
“Mom!” I cried out in shock. “Where did you find a turkey!? I checked everywhere!”
“The Vietnamese Market,” she smiled sweetly.
“What?” I was baffled. “They sell turkeys? At the Vietnamese market?”
“Yeah. You no worry honey everything OK.”
I saw pumpkin pie too.
“They sold that. At the Vietnamese market.”
I was dumbfounded. I can barely find peanut butter at the Vietnamese market, much less a turkey. I bet there isn’t even a word for turkey in Vietnamese, it’s such a western thing. Still, I was impressed. My mother, seeing me so upset, really pulled through for me. I was touched.
“I can’t believe you two found a turkey at the Vietnamese market,” I said to my father. “Do they really sell them there?”
“To be honest with you, I think she bought it off some lady. Begged with her. The pumpkin pie too,” my dad laughed.
“What!?” I screamed again. “How!?”
“I didn’t see any turkeys at the store, but mom went up to the cashier and spoke some Vietnamese. I don’t know what happened, but the next thing I know the woman walks out of the back office with a defrosted turkey and pie.”
“Oh my god,” my brother chimed in as he overhead the conversation. “We stole someone else’s Thanksgiving!”
“Don’t say that!” I was awash with guilt. “Maybe… just maybe she had another turkey and pie?”
“Yeah right Mary,” my brother rebuked. “Like someone just has an extra defrosted turkey lying around.”
“I’m sure she did!” anything to wipe my conscious clean. “Anyway, let’s enjoy dinner. What’s done is done.”
Because we didn’t get the turkey until 3 PM, it took a good few hours to cook and prepare it. We ended up eating dinner at 11 PM.
“I’m sure we’re the only family eating Thanksgiving dinner at 11 PM,” my brother whined.
But I was happy as a clam, because I had turkey. And pumpkin pie. And…
“Ew, I can’t believe you eat rice with your turkey, Mary!” My brother grimaced from across the table.
While my brother and father heaped on the potatoes and stuffing, my mother and I put more rice on our plates.
I guess I inherited some of my mother’s craziness after all.
Who Needs a Turkey?
Although I was very adamant about having a “traditional” Thanksgiving when I returned back to the states, I truly believe that you don’t need turkey, gravy, cranberries or even pumpkin pie to have a proper Thanksgiving. All you need is friends, a table, a home cooked meal, and gratitude for having wonderful people in your life, ready and welcome to share dinner with you.
When I lived abroad, it was almost impossible to go home for Thanksgiving so I usually made do with some KFC, beer, and a few friends. In Shanghai, I found a new family… my family abroad. We didn’t have turkey. We didn’t even have pumpkin pie. Yet we had each other, and that was more than enough for me.
So here’s to hoping that your mother, father, or even your husband or wife doesn’t forget Thanksgiving (like my mom). I hope everyone around the world, even those that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, have a wonderful meal with friends and family on this very special Thursday, November 26th.
My best friend sent me a clip of Conan O’Brien and an Asian guy named Steven Yeun going to a Korean spa in Los Angeles. Like always, Conan had me giggling and I went into fits of laughter as he went butt-naked into the hot tubs (just watch the video, trust me).
Still, when the clip ended I had one question lingering through my mind:
“Who’s that Asian guy?”
“What?” My best friend was in shock. “Have you not seen The Walking Dead?”
I’m clueless when it comes to the latest “trends” in the United States, since I’ve been in Asia for the previous six years. All I know is Taylor Swift is played far too much on the radio (and I can’t stand her) and American Idol is (unfortunately) still on the air (right?). The only show I keep up with is Game of Thrones.
“You HAVE to watch The Walking Dead, Mary!” my friend screamed through the phone. “And Glenn–the Asian guy–he’s the coolest character in the show!”
An Asian actor in a show that, as I found out with further research, gets the (white) girl in the end?
I had to check it out.
Finally, an Asian-American Character Without All the Nasty Stereotypes
When it comes to Asian actors in Hollywood, a slew of images always come to mind: thick-rimmed geeks, kung fu masters, or an awkward character with a heavy accent. Asian-Americans rarely get a chance to make it big in western media without a stereotype attached. In fact, when Americans see Asians in a movie or TV series, we almost expect them to either be a book-smart nerd that saves the day with math, or a kung fu spy a la Jackie Chan.
Not so with Glenn.
Glenn (Steven Yeun) pulls the team together and starts calculating a strategy as early as episode two, when zombies crowd in and start to break down the door to their hideout. Even in the heat of the moment, he devises a plan and allocates the men so that they can clear a route and escape from the zombies.
“Wow kid,” his fellow survivor remarks. “What did you do before all this?”
I flinched. Here it was: He was going to be a big-shot engineer for the federal government, or a math professor at a university, or perhaps even an accountant.
Glenn looks at him in surprise.
“Dude, I was delivering pizzas.”
Not only is Glenn an Asian character without all the accompanying stereotypes, but he’s super likable. In fact, in an IMDB poll Glenn was voted top three most popular character in the series–and I can see why! He wasn’t just thrown in there as “the token Asian guy,” he’s a character with real depth, emotion and struggle. In the show, he’s known and respected throughout the group of survivors as the ‘go-to’ guy for fetching supplies in dangerous regions and sneaking through hordes of zombies. In fact, Glenn is a vital member of the cast and without him the crew would most definitely be devoured by zombies: He’s essential!
Not Only That, But He Gets The Girl!
“Oh, The Walking Dead? I’ve heard of that show. There’s an AMWF (asian male, white female) relationship in it” my boyfriend remarked when I asked him about my newly discovered zombie show. “His girl is pretty cute, too.”
“No way!” my jaw dropped. “I need to look this up.”
Indeed, Glenn melts the heart of young Maggie, a cute (and tough) southern bell that lives on a farm with her surviving family, protecting them from the undead.
Since I’m in an AMWF relationship, I’m an automatic fan of the couple–but imagine my surprise when I find out that most Walking Dead viewers are cheering for a Maggie and Glenn match. In fact, fans are so supportive of the couple that a new word has been created in honor of the two: #gleggie.
Even when I type ‘walking dead’ into Google, Maggie’s name automatically pops up following Glenn:
(BTW, really hoping he doesn’t die! But living 5 seasons in this show is no easy feat, trust me).
The Walking Dead: A Good Show, But Not For Everyone
I’ve been raving about this show and Glenn for the last 650 words, but unfortunately I can’t recommend it to everyone. It’s quite violent and it’s not exactly a mood booster. Despite the deep cast of characters and, in my opinion, the best modern portrayal of an AMWF couple to date yet, this show is not everyone’s cup of tea.
If you can take blood, guts, gore and don’t mind some seriously intense and heart-skipping moments (think of resident evil or silent hill), then I highly recommend that you give The Walking Dead a try. While it seems like the zombie genre has all but been done over time and time again, this show brings a cast of characters so likable, despicable, dark and deep that you can’t help but wonder how it’s all going to end.
Either way, it makes me happy to see an Asian-American not only featured in popular western media, but also tearing down stereotypes and opening doors for even more Asian actors to appear on the big screen. FINALLY we get a character that isn’t defined by his race; on the contrary, Glenn is just a regular guy in America, like you and like me. Whether you’re Chinese, Japanese, black, white or Hispanic, we can all relate to Glenn’s problems (aside from the zombie part) and really, that’s what makes character development (in any show) truly good.
Anyway, I’m off to watch another episode. Go Glenn!