Months ago when I was impatiently awaiting the release of the movie Crazy Rich Asians, I did not expect for the movie to affect me this much.

When I finally watched Crazy Rich Asians and the Netflix film To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I knew that both films have done just that.

Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy-drama that tells the story of Rachel, an NYU professor who accompanies her boyfriend to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore and learns that he’s the son of the richest family on the island and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a teen romantic comedy that follows Lara Jean, a teen romantic who writes secret love letters to boys when she wants to get over them who then discovers her private letters have been mailed to their recipients.

Crazy Rich Asians is the first movie from a major Hollywood studio to feature a predominately Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club (1993). That’s 25 years ago. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before features a Vietnamese-American as the lead.If this is not a big deal, I don’t know what is.

I am a first-generation Asian American. I was born in Manhattan, New York, raised in Brooklyn for eight years, and currently reside in Queens, New York. My parents are both United States citizens who immigrated from Hong Kong and Wenzhou, China.

Growing up, I never went through the challenges that my parents faced when immigrating to a foreign country–assimilating into the culture, and tackling language barriers and cultural differences. My sister and I both were born into a life that my parents had to learn from scratch. My parents faced a lot of struggles and made a lot of sacrifices to enable my sister and me to have what we have today. What I did not realize was that I’d face many of my own internal identity battles when it came to how others viewed me and more importantly, how I viewed myself.

Back in middle school, high school, and college, the question “Where are you from?” was quite popular. When I reply that I was born here, in the U.S., you already know what is coming- I get a response of “No, where are your parents from?” or “No, where are you really from?” That’s when I finally understood that I wasn’t American like everyone else, I was Asian-American.

As a kid, I never thought I was seen as different. I didn’t feel alienated because I was Chinese-American. I never felt not white. However, preconceived notions continue to be made solely based on race. Even though I was born in the U.S., went to school here, work here, will others ever accept and understand that I am American? Will Asian Americans be viewed as anything but foreigners?

Despite the 150-plus-year history of Asians in the United States, when Asian Americans are included in U.S. history, we’re often presented as a model minority and are lumped together as a hardworking, passive, and successful minority. I was and am often viewed as too American to be Chinese and too Chinese to be American. This is how it feels like to be a first-generation American and an Asian-American. It’s the feeling of being able to be on both sides, feeling included, but simultaneously feeling not included.

I’m tired of having to bear derogatory, racist, and stereotypical comments just because I’m Asian. I’m tired of others associating everything I do with the fact that I’m Asian. Asians are NOT all the same. If someone is Asian, don’t automatically assume they are Chinese. I’m not a doctor or a lawyer. I’m a fantastic driver, thank you very much (and even if I’m a bad driver, it’s not because I’m Asian. It’s because I’m a bad driver). Don’t call me or my food exotic. I’m a human being just like everyone else. I am me and just want to be me for me–I’m not my ethnicity, race, or skin color.

As a child, I didn’t get to see myself in TV shows, movies, or stories. There wasn’t anyone like me on the screens. With the release of Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, we saw two protagonists that happen to be Asian American.

This shouldn’t be a big deal like this in 2018, but it is. Female protagonists of color are still rare in Hollywood.In April 2016, I tweeted “America is still deciding what to think and do with Asians beyond offering comic relief in stereotypical roles” when Scarlett Johansson was casted as Major Motoko Kusanagi in the film adaptation of the Ghost in the Shell manga. The excuse is that there aren’t big enough Asian/Asian-American names to choose from. Well, without a conscientious effort, how will anyone ever break through and become familiar enough with the audiences to allow producers to confidently cast them to be a lead in a film?

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a film adaptation of Jenny Han’s book. Jenny Han turned down many film offers because some studios wanted the female protagonist to be played by a white actress. It’s important that Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before do well because we need to show Hollywood that movies with Asian leads are an option, too. We want this to start a domino effect whereby more diverse stories can and will be told.

In no way are these two films made to represent ALL Asians and all experiences, but it’s a beginning that will hopefully shift Hollywood executives’ thinking and affect their behaviors of funding more works from diverse voices.

Crazy Rich Asians had many moments that spoke directly to me. Not only that but Crazy Rich Asians proves Asian American representation can be successful too. The film opened on Wednesday, August 15th. The film made $35.3 million from Wednesday to Sunday and another $26.5 million for the second weekend (this weekend)–a current grand total of $76.8 million!

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a teen rom-com I wish I had when I was in high school.In an opinion editorial, Jenny Han writes “What would it have meant for me back then to see a girl who looked like me star in a movie? Not as the sidekick or romantic interest, but as the lead? Not just once, but again and again? Everything. There is power in seeing a face that looks like yours do something, be someone. There is power in moving from the sidelines to the center…Because when you see someone who looks like you, it reveals what is possible. It’s not just maybe I could be an actress. It’s maybe I could be an astronaut, a fighter, a president. A writer. This is why it matters who is visible. It matters a lot. And for the girls of 2018, I want more. I want the whole world.” Read Jenny’s piece here.

Watch these two films. Show up. Be curious for people different than you…that’s when inclusion begins.

Be an ally. Recognize your privilege (you can be privileged without feeling privileged), own your experiences, listen more, have uncomfortable conversations, help yourself understand, consistently learn and unlearn, and be proactive in taking responsibility for changing these patterns.

We still have a long way to go but seeing the films Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before doing well is a step in the right direction.

justviasyl
Aspiring to be a woman comfortable and happy mentally, physically and professionally. Just via Syl highlights my personal and professional development through photography and tips + thoughts in hopes of bringing more positive energy into the world and encouraging us to keep learning, laughing, growing, relaxing and reflecting to become the best versions of ourselves and live a life we're remarkably proud of. I hope you are able to find something interesting, helpful, or new to take away with you. To get in touch or work together, you can reach me at justviasyl@gmail.com.

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