The luxury of having this run of films come out in such close proximity is that they’ve shown us the many contrasting ways that Asian American stories can be told. Three of them — “Crazy,” “To All the Boys” and “Always” — are rom-coms, but each explores love in a wildly different setting, with protagonists of varied ages and backgrounds. Three of them — “Searching,” “To All the Boys” and “Always” — focus on families forging ahead after the untimely death of a mother, but the circumstances of their bereavement and the coping mechanisms each protagonist engages in are singular and distinct. Now that the “rule of one” is being broken in earnest, we’ve finally arrived at a moment where everyone can see the amazing diversity within Asian American communities.
That’s not to say there aren’t subtle similarities that link our tales together: The persistent tension between duty and aspiration. The simultaneous need to forge identities apart from our parents, and to also win their approval. The deep well of historical and familial sacrifice and loss that can splash melancholy across even the most joyous of present-day moments.
Food is what brings many Asian families together and helps us express feelings that can’t be said out loud. Food is a repository of tradition and memory, allowing us to confirm our connection to the past and commemorate those who’ve gone on before us. Food is at the center of the smallest and biggest of celebrations, from reunions and homecomings to weddings and holiday festivities.
Matriarch Eleanor, played by Michelle Yeoh, explains to newcomer Rachel (Constance Wu) that this is a ritual that reminds the wealthy family of what they owe to prior generations, and of their simpler and poorer past.
The food she creates appropriates the elements of Asian culture to feed non-Asian consumers, divorcing it from its diverse roots and its ties to a wide-spanning community in the service of her personal ambitions as a Food & Wine-awarded up-and-coming superstar.
It’s the rule of one, playing out in culinary terms — elevating a flattened, synthesized view of Asian identity and a single celebrated cultural expression as a stand-in for a much vaster spectrum of perspectives.
In the course of the movie, Sasha finds the confidence to unleash her suppressed history; to share in telling other people’s stories; to elevate and celebrate points of view that aren’t her own. While her prior spots are shown to be upscale celebrations of Sasha’s own genius, with icy, forbidding gatekeepers and a mostly white clientele, the restaurant she opens at the end of the movie, Judy’s Way, is a commemoration of Marcus’s late mother — welcoming, diverse, open to all and focused on revealing culture and creativity that might otherwise be overlooked, lost and forgotten.
Not a bad metaphor for where we are today as Asian Americans. After decades of sitting down to austere one-serving meals, we’re now being treated to a buffet. Don’t stop now, Hollywood, because you don’t know how hungry we’ve been.