I watched Crazy Rich Asians exactly a week ago, and after the movie, I found myself alone in the bathroom overcome with emotion. After taking the past week to reflect on why such a fun and upbeat movie could fill me with a mix of emotions–joy, pride, shame, sadness, isolation, belonging–here’s why this movie is so important to me:
I grew up in a town that was predominantly black and white. Communities were separated this way. Even my classes were separated this way. As an Asian immigrant, it felt like there was no category for me.
I grew up with the turned up noses at food my mother lovingly made for me, food I then turned around and rejected because it made me feel even more like an outsider.
I grew up with a teacher who gave me preferential treatment because she “loved Asian babies” and a teacher who called on me last because she didn’t.
I grew up ashamed of my own name, pre-emptively apologizing for it being “hard.” cringing and saying nothing when it was mispronounced in school assemblies and misspelled on school documents.
I grew up with kids who told the teachers I was cheating on tests when I got A’s, backed by the argument that I was “Asian and it wasn’t fair.” I grew up learning how to use my fingers to make my eyes even squintier, laughing along with the people who mocked me, because at least if I could be in on the joke it would hurt less to be the joke.
I grew up never thinking I could be beautiful because the definitions of beauty I saw exalted, the girls who were popular, the role models I adored, the celebrities I admired… none of them looked anything like me.
Summer of my sophomore year of college, a friend of a different race called me beautiful. And that night I cried because I wondered why I found it so hard to believe her. This was the world as I knew it, a world where seats at the table were doled out depending on where you were born, the color of your skin, your level of education, whether or not you spoke with the local accent. A world that was obsessed with defining who belonged by pointing out who didn’t.
BUT. But…I follow a God who says that in heaven, there will be people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Every single one. And not until everyone is there will we be complete. I follow a God who says that we are incomplete without one another, that no singular expression of culture, beauty, or theology is complete. That each carries an inherent integrity, a mark of their Maker. That, without everyone, we are each amateur painters trying to capture the complex majesty of a sunset, equipped only with our three-shade palettes of greens or grays.
I follow a God who says that, in a world that draws lines and pits us against each other, we must sit down at the table where no seat can be earned and partake in a meal that none of us can claim credit for. I follow a God who, in a world that feels so driven by scarcity–a scarcity of resources, of seats of power, of justice–is creating and empowering us to create more resources, more seats at the table, more just systems. Not so that only some may thrive. Not so that some can experience pride at the humiliation of others.
In some ways, Crazy Rich Asians is just a fun movie that is well-crafted and entertaining. But to me, it is creation: the separation of dark and light, heaven and earth—so that something can grow and thrive. In a world of scarcity, it is creating space to celebrate and to be. To me, and to so many others, it is a message that says: “There is a seat for you here. There is space for you. And that seat is not the token seat. That seat is not the butt of some joke. That seat isn’t even a pity seat. It is a seat that is yours because you matter. Pulling up a chair for you might make things around the table a little more uncomfortable for everyone else, but you are worth it. This world is incomplete without you. Heaven is incomplete without you. You belong.”
And that is the kind of message I want to spend my life communicating to the people around me–especially to those who may not be around me because they have been told there is no space for them.