As many of you know, Crazy Rich Asians recently came out in theater. Part of the reason why this movie is such a big deal is because this is the first major film with a full Asian cast since Joy Luck Club! I was a bit skeptical about the movie at first, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Critique from a Crazy Poor Asian

First, I want to state the obvious, not all Asians are crazy rich! My husband takes issue with this movie potentially creating a stereotype that all Asians are rich because we certainly are not and he doesn’t want to get robbed! (Also, sorry to mislead you with these pictures, but they are from my traditional Cambodian wedding, where the bridal party is always fully decked out. I don’t normally look like this, obviously! And traditional Cambodian clothes aren’t this elaborate, well, not on a day-to-day basis.)

Asians in Asia – I love how the movie portrayed Singapore, in terms of the culture and food, but it is definitely unique to Singapore! Asia is a big continent made up of several countries. There are many shared characteristics, but also many unique and distinguishable traits between countries. Singapore is a developed country, but not all Asian countries are. My parents came to the U.S. as refugees from Cambodia, which is still a developing country. While there are some sky scrapers, coffee shops, nice malls, and street food…for the most part, it looks nothing like Singapore! There is a huge disparity between rich and poor, and there are still rural communities without electricity!

Furthermore, Cambodia had a civil war and genocide, which has had signifiant intergenerational effects on Cambodians and Cambodian-Americans. For many Cambodian refugees, when they settled in the U.S., they lived in ghettos. As a result, they acclimated to the urban culture and environment. Many Cambodian-Americans live in poverty and have less college education than other Asian groups.

Asians in the U.S. – My parents relocated to Texas and acclimated pretty well to mainstream American culture. But my upbringing didn’t look like anything remotely similar to what was portrayed on Crazy Rich Asians! If anything…our experience was closer to Rachel’s experience…she had a single-mom who worked a labor intensive job. My parents worked hard, sometimes double-shifts, but even then there is a major difference. Rachel’s mom came to the U.S. as an immigrant in search of opportunity, whereas my parents came because they were scared for their lives. We had very humble beginnings in the U.S., and frankly, it is still a struggle for my husband and me.

Even though I have a college education…I’m just like every other American, struggling to find a job! Plus, I’m married to someone in the public sector, so we’re poor. And before I got married, I was a social worker, so…poor. Main point – not all Asians are rich. Some Asians are definitely at a disadvantage compared to others. My husband and I – definitely not rich.

What I appreciate about Crazy Rich Asians – Themes in the Movie That are True Across All Asians…
  1. The drama in Asian families – it’s real. There has to be some drama somewhere in an Asian family. If there isn’t…it’s because they are super small, and/or they have basically completely taken to the American way of life. For example, the week I got back from my honeymoon, my mom called me and told me she was in the hospital?! Why? Because she was dizzy. She thought there was something seriously wrong with her so she went to the hospital. Like a “good daughter,” I slept at the hospital and my husband went to my parents house and slept there so he would be at my parents’ beck and call. I just got married and I was seriously frustrated because I wanted to establish some BOUNDARIES with my Asian parents!! But lo and behold, my mom was in the hospital blurring all the lines! At the end of the day, the doctors found nothing wrong with her and prescribed her medicine for dizziness. Then, she made a big stink about how now she has to take medication…for dizziness. 
  2. Parents’ guilt-tripping their children – it’s real. I mean, what can I say about this one. An Asian parent can guilt trip you about anything. My husband mentions he is tired because he worked a double-shift and hasn’t slept in 24 hours…my parents tell us about how they used to work double-shifts all the time when we were growing up to make sure there could be food on the table. My sister talks about how it’s hard to get anywhere with a baby on time…my parents remind her about how they used to wake us up at 5am, get us ready, and then drop us off at the baby-sitter before going to work because they didn’t have a choice. 
  3. Threatening to disown you if you don’t marry the “right” spouse – it’s real. Honestly, you don’t even have to be talking about marriage. It could just be dating… If you date someone your parents don’t approve of…and obviously, they’re thinking dating means marriage, and “there’s no way I’m letting that person marry into my family”…then they will threaten to disown you. Did this happen to me…yes, basically, but I won’t go into that here. My sister…almost got disowned over wedding favors! Ain’t that crazy?! And they liked her husband! But the wedding favors?! No…too cheap, so she was going to get disowned! So naturally, they threatened to not attend her wedding. In the end, did she get married? Yes. Did they attend? Yes. Did she give out the wedding favors she wanted to give out? NO.
  4. Asians focus on family and community – definitely true. Asians always put the family and community first. If you look at these pictures, they are from my wedding. The entire community participates in the wedding ceremony. Several people literally have to help the bridal party get dressed because you can’t do it on your own! Once, when my cousin was in town and staying at my aunt and uncle’s house, I called my parents and left a message saying, “Hey, I’m going to my aunt’s house today after work, if you want to meet me there, cool!” When I got off of work, my parents said they were heading there and I didn’t need to worry about picking up food because it was all taken care of. As I was driving, I thought, “Darn it! Why didn’t I call and ask my other cousin to come?! And her three kids who I haven’t seen in forever! What a loss!” When I entered the house, all three kids were there, my cousin, three aunts – my mom’s best friends, their husbands, my parents, and my aunt and uncle…they were all there! Plus, my aunt whipped up some traditional Cambodian crepes and was feeding everyone! I thought, how in the world did this happen when I just told my parents via voicemail, “Hey, I’m going to my aunt’s later today…” 
  5. Asians hate American values of individualism and passion – When my mom wants to insult me she says, “What did I do wrong?! I spent all these years raising you, what did I do to deserve this?! You’re so………..American!” said with great disdain! Because Asians are always thinking about the family and community, they do not appreciate the American value of individualism. They see it as being selfish. EXCEPT when it comes to team sports because…well, the team can bring you down. Also, what’s passion? You should be practical! When I told my parents I was going to study social work, my dad’s response, “So, you’re going to law school after, right?” Eventually, I got my masters and now I’m in a Ph.D. program. My dad is happy because the Asian part that values education is relieved that, “at least there will be a doctor in the family, even if it’s not an MD.” My mom on the other hand is very Asian-practical. She thinks, you got your masters and work in retail…so what’s the point in getting your Ph.D.?!
  6. All the hype about saving face – yup, very real! I don’t even know where to begin with this one…As noted above, my mom isn’t happy about the fact that I’m working retail and pursuing my Ph.D. Even though she has some really close friends, it probably wasn’t until 6 months later that my aunt found out I was working retail. (Mind you, this aunt LOVES shopping!) She only found out because I told her. She was shocked, completely nonjudgemental, and immediately went on to ask me about how she could use my discount! (This is why my husband says there needs to be a movie called Crazy Cheap Asians!) So, to save face, my mom didn’t tell any of her closest friends where I have been working. But THEN, when someone asks me what I do for a living, she quickly chimes in, “She’s in school,” even though she is not happy about me being in school! She would rather tell people I’m a student to save face.
  7. Gossip Spreads Like Wildfire – also accurate! Growing up, I remember my aunts (when I say aunts, I mean close friends, like in the movie) calling the house to chat with my mom. Sure, they may have been sharing a little about what was going on with their day, but mostly they were talking about other people. “Did you hear that so-and-so’s daughter just had a baby?! Out of wedlock?!” “Did you hear that so-and-so’s daughter just got married?! It was so cheap, they didn’t even have any flowers! Not a single leaf!” As you can see, gossip doesn’t discriminate against generations. The aunties gossip about their friends, children, and friend’s children too. The bad stuff they like to use to remind us, “don’t be like so-and-so.” The good stuff is used to compare us to the other high-achieving children and shame us for not meeting the same standards. “You know your cousin who just graduated with her bachelors just got a job…” Gossip spreading like wildfire is part of the reason why Asians care so much about saving face. If you make the family look bad, everyone is going to know about it in a split second. That’s also why Asian families are inclined to disown you, because your deviance will make the family look bad and the whole community will know that you’re a disrespectful child, and what does that say about your parents?!
Final Thoughts

If you haven’t seen Crazy Rich Asians, definitely go watch it! It was good! I hope I didn’t spoil it for you! While I don’t think the movie is representative of ALL Asians in terms of wealth, education, and status…I do think there were several prevailing themes that ring true to both rich and poor Asians, as well as Asians and Asian-Americans!

Leave a comment with your thoughts on Crazy Rich Asians, or your experience with Asian culture. I would love to hear from you!

-Mel

2 thoughts on “Review of Crazy Rich Asians from a Crazy Poor Asian Perspective”

  1. What a wonderful, thoughtful and important post! Everyone who sees the movie, or even if they’ve just heard about it, should read your blog post. It’s important to give a lot of perspective about the film, and to explain the variances that come from different Asian countries and families. I found myself laughing with you about some of the insights about how families are close, give guilt trips and care about community. I am so proud to be an Asian American, and I enjoyed reading your blog!

    1. Awww… Jenn, I love you! You’re the best!! I’m so glad you could relate! And thanks for always being so responsive! That’s really cool!

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