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I am what some people (including myself) would dub a ‘banana’. Yellow on the outside and white on the inside. That is, I look completely and utterly Asian, but my husband likes to laugh and call me the whitest person ever (he can talk)! I am sure some would use that term in a derogative fashion, but for me it’s always just been a source of humour. A way of coping with being ‘different’. My fellow adopted Korean friend and I even call each other B1 and B2 affectionately. That’s a Bananas in Pyjamas reference, in case you missed it.
Basically, I am Asian but I grew up in what used to be a smallish town where faces like mine were usually just those of other adopted bananas! Now the racial and cultural landscape of my home has come a long way in terms of diversity, but it can be an interesting experience when you’re not totally white but you’re not totally Asian.
I am now married to a white Aussie guy (and NO I WASN’T HIS MAIL ORDER WIFE YOU JERKS) who is NOT old enough to be my father (so if you could please stop looking at my actual father like he’s my partner that would be less awkward for all of us) and we have two beautiful mixed race children. I am only explaining this to you for context, because to be honest, we don’t think about it much in our every day life at all unless I encounter some racism or ignorance or something and then I feel like I have to explain myself.
For the most part, I go about my life like anybody else. School mum duties, making jokes about needing me-time and wine by the barrel load, talking shit with my friends who I do not get to see enough. Blah blah. I drive my wagon around and go to the supermarket way more than I’d like to. Ho hum. So basic haha. I’m like anybody else I interact with daily. We’re all just living our suburban Aussie lives. I don’t see a difference between myself and everyone else, simply based on race, and the people I like to be surrounded by are not preoccupied by the differences either. In fact, I feel so chuffed when somebody flat out does not notice I look different to my parents or laughs and says they forgot I am Asian. Not because I want to deny that part of me (which is admittedly mostly superficial), but because I like people who see a soul, not just what it’s cased in.
I say all this, but then there are little moments. Moments I know my white friends may not immediately pick up on (only by way of not knowing the experience of being a racial minority – fair enough – you can’t know what you don’t know). Times where I realise I’m different but holy fucking shit I am so proud of it.
Like the time I was laying awake in bed while my husband was on night shift and decided to watch a little Netflix movie called To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.
A movie that is being RAVED about in the western binge watching world.
BY PEOPLE OF ALL RACES WHO JUST LOVE THE PLOT AND THE CHARACTERS.
It’s not a ‘world’ movie. It’s not some ‘exotic’ import. It doesn’t involve subtitles. Or Jackie Chan. It doesn’t play on ridiculous racial stereotypes to sell the comedy. In fact, the plot of the movie has just about nothing to do with the main character’s race other than it’s just a part of her every day life. It’s not that remarkable – just a bit of back story.
Yes, the lead character is half Korean and half white American. And so are her two siblings. And they live with their white dad who is played by the guy who played Aidan from Sex and the City so you can imagine my joy.
Asians in leading roles. Where their race is not whitewashed and ignored to the point of being an elephant in the room (hello very obviously Eurasian guy from Home and Away who we are pretending is white), but it isn’t over emphasised either. You have no idea how wonderful that is to come by. There have been past examples of course, but this movie really spoke to me and perhaps the difference we’re seeing is that finally WHITE PEOPLE ARE RESPONDING TO IT AND FINALLY TREATING IT AS THE WATCH-AGAIN-AND-AGAIN WORTHY MAINSTREAM FILM THAT IT IS.
Maybe this one really spoke to me because it’s about a teenaged girl and I was once a teenaged girl who felt insecure about her race (and not without being given reason to be all the time in many subtle ways). The main character, Lara Jean has her insecurities (mostly stemming from the fact that her mother died when she was younger), but none of them are about race. None of them are because she’s too Asian or too White. Which were my insecurities growing up.
I basically wish I had seen a movie like this when I was in my teens, because I would have believed that it was possible for a boy to be crushing on me and that one day a boy would love me for who I was and think I was the best looking person he’d ever seen (not just “OK for an Asian” – which I heard quite a few times since primary school – no joke). Of course I did find real love later on (hello husband!), but the fact is, before I left school I didn’t believe that. Not really. Not really at all. Instead I lived the other, more common movie stereotype. Asian ‘best friend of the hot girl’ sidekick. Or quirky Asian best friend who is not considered babe material at all. I basically friend zoned myself before anyone else could too. That was a foolproof strategy that worked well. I just didn’t think me being a love interest of a white boy was even an option.
Anyway, what I’m getting to saying is that I felt my race meant I was inferior. I didn’t always believe that about myself but I felt everybody else believed it. Some of the NICEST people had views about how Asian people could SOMETIMES be good looking, but they probably weren’t as dateable or desirable as a white person. Or people I met thought that I’d be submissive or a nerd or whatever because I wasn’t white. I think it’s because none of us had these pop culture moments to refer to. We didn’t see the kind of representation on screen that we deserved and needed. Any time I did anything remotely “non Asian” (whatever that is), people would be shocked and in awe and think I was this highly unusual freak to be commended for being cooler than they expected and they’d say things like, “Asians are taking our jobs but not you – you’re different” like it was meant to be a compliment. Because being an actual Asian person is apparently an insult. Keep in mind I grew up in the Pauline Hanson “Swamped By Asians” era.
Anyhow, if I’d had movies like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before when I was a teen, I would have been so happy. It would have definitely been my (diverse) friends’ fave movie (the plot is great and the characters are great and the humour is adorkable and there are all the cutesy teen love moments that a girl swoons over) and we would have watched it over and over together and it would have shaped our views of Asian people living in the western world very differently (the whole time making me feel validated). I feel like I did when Australia’s public voted Korean Australian singer Dami Im as winner of X Factor. Hot damn, there are actually a whole bunch of people out there who dig us and don’t think less of us based on weird, out dated and racist stereotypes! Faith restored!
I am probably not articulating this as well as other articles I’ve read about the significance of movies like this, but I just want to shout out to the world that the 34 year old dork mum that I am loves this movie. My inner teenager loves this movie. My future teen children will be surrounded by movies like this. It warms my heart to hear a bunch of white people LOVING on Lara Jean and her gorgeous mixed race family for all the RIGHT reasons (ie without being fixated on race etc). The love interest (1 out of 5 – no spoilers haha) in the movie isn’t all, “She’s OK for an Asian chick.”
In fact, he makes quite the point of mentioning that she was never second best (even though he’s not referring to race as a reason this is still nice).
I’ve known that outside my little home town bubble there are far more enlightened people than some of those I encountered growing up, but at the time I relied on what I saw and heard in real life and in movies and TV shows. Combine that with my weird issues about rejection after being adopted and you can imagine where my head was at sometimes. Adolescence does a number on the best of us, right?
Anyway, I urge everyone to watch this movie just because it’s a funny, feel good high school rom com and also, because we need to support this stuff and speak with our clicks and our views and our money too. Diversity on screen is much more important than we realise. I had no idea what I was missing back then, but this movie (and some other great stuff) has reminded me just how awesome it is when you feel like you’re represented. A lot of what we digest in our formative years makes a big difference in how we think the world will relate to us. It’s about time the rest of the non Asian world took notice.
Now I just need to watch Crazy Rich Asians and my year will be made!
Have you ever seen a movie/show that represented something unusual about you that made you feel like fist pumping forever?