these days, i have been coming to terms with a revelation made possible only because i now actually listen to my own thoughts: there is a gap in my heart that i didn‘t realize was present until very recently, and it is in the shape of second-generation chinese-canadian friendships.
this is a world that i was previously much closer with. at one point in my life, i spent all of my time surrounded by other second-generation diaspora children. we spent weekends at each others’ houses, gossiping and baking egg tarts and drinking bubble tea and later on, sharing dim sum and eating mango sticky rice and playing board games and wandering chinatown and making hotpot together. i never stopped to consider that this wouldn't be the norm going into the rest of my life; that we would grow up and scatter and i would never be immersed quite like that ever again; that i would miss it so much.
today, all of my new friends are software engineers or technologists of some sort or another, which has been life-changing and amazing in lots of other ways. maybe it is the effect of pandemic isolation or maybe it's just growing up, but i've been lately unable to shake the feeling that there‘s something missing from my life. is it shameful to admit that for a long while, i didn't even notice?
sometimes i come across the work of other young second-generation asian women working as software engineers who also spend their weekends writing and i think that in another life, if we hadn't grown up coasts away, we would have been precious friends.
maybe that is why i sometimes mourn the loss of the friend—the writer, the scientist, the daughter of immigrants—who was the closest thing i ever had to complete understanding. i regret that we grew apart instead of growing up together; i always wonder where we would be if we had made different decisions that summer. it is also perhaps why i have been spending so much time lately reading asian authors—not even really for their output, but moreso simply seeking their voices and their stories. it may be the reason why i finally wrote a return letter to the one who has always made me feel safe enough to say anything; to truly, completely be everything i am and be understood. it is maybe why a sob hitched in my throat when i read Jimmy O. Yang's account about filming Crazy Rich Asians with an all-asian cast from around the world:
But after the Crazy Rich Asians shoot, I finally got it. It wasn’t about choosing to hang out with people of the same skin tone; it was about hanging out with people who shared the same point of view because they had gone through the same experiences. One of my favorite lines in the Crazy Rich Asians script was, “I didn’t have to explain myself that I’m Asian here, I’m just another person.” During the Crazy Rich Asians shoot in Singapore, everyone saw me as who I am. I wasn’t just the Asian kid; I could just be the funny guy, instead of the Asian guy who is funny. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. It was the first time in seventeen years that I didn’t have to prove to anyone, or myself, that I was more than the token Asian guy.
— Jimmy O. Yang, "How to American: An Immigrant's Guide to Disappointing Your Parents"
he also writes about meeting the rest of the cast for the first time and the way they immediately fell together like puzzle pieces, which is an experience i have had only rarely. there are other interviews with Crazy Rich Asians actors where they discuss the way the group spent so much time together in Singapore while filming—getting dinner, just hanging out, soaking up the novelty of being surrounded by talented teammates who just so happened to also be asian and understood everything about each other without having to be told. this is what happened when i started high school and all the asian kids sat together for lunch, seemingly just drawn to each other. the way he describes the experience is exactly the same way that it feels when i am home with my cousins.
It was my first time working with all of these amazing talents, but there was an immediate familiarity among all of us. Even though we were brought up in different countries, where some of us were immigrants and some of us were second and third generation, we shared the same experience of growing up Asian. We had all experienced being seen as Asian before being seen as American, British or Australian. We all shared the same experience of calling every older family friend “Uncle” and “Auntie.” ... It was an incredible feeling to be among these amazingly talented Asian brothers and sisters who understood each other.
i started reading How to American: An Immigrant's Guide to Disappointing Your Parents because i was looking to read some light-hearted material which happened to be written by an asian actor, and i thought that maybe i would also get some insight into his story existing as asian-american. i did not expect to find myself on the verge of tears several times while reading about his experience trying to reconcile Hong Kong and American existence in his mind, the sheer joy he experienced at finding another Shanghainese person at Beverly Hills High ("When a Shanghainese person finds another Shanghainese in America, it’s like finding a best friend who has the same birthday and who also happens to be a long lost cousin. It’s an instant connection"), realizing that Hong Kong was the place where he no longer asked himself if he was Chinese or if he was American. there, he just was. and i realized that there have been very few places where i have found such similar peace.
people are genuinely curious and well-intentioned when they ask about the appeal of fried dough for breakfast (油條) or why the details in Always Be My Maybe matter so much, and i try to explain to the best of my ability. but once in a while—and here i squeeze my eyes shut and breathe gratitude because what i really mean is once in forever—i meet someone and find that i don't have to explain myself; i don't have to explain the brown sugar milk tea place, i don't have to explain the nostalgia of a Fahrenheit 飛輪海 song, i don't have to explain this second-generation guilt—i don't have to explain any of it. they just know.
i think what i'm saying is this: what i wish i had is friends to share old S.H.E. songs with. to drink milk tea with, to contemplate this strange diaspora existence with. a friend who understands all the inside jokes in Crazy Rich Asians and also sobbed their way through The Farewell and also loved Always Be My Maybe for its attention to detail. a friend who understands my obsession with pineapple buns and all ever-elusive pandan-flavoured snacks and fun skincare face masks. someone who walks around with pocky in their backpack. i want 告子-making parties and pineapple-bun-baking sessions. someone to split mooncakes with, to walk around T&T with.
someone who also looks at this flawed world with hopeful ambition and sees it for its potential but also its very real flaws, and chooses to be a part of it and spend their existence trying to figure out how to do their part to make a tiny bit better. someone who understands the allure of adventure and creation and spending time building things, instead of being safe and letting things happen to us because sometimes our second-generation hearts struggle to remember that we don't have to choose safe anymore because our parents made that sacrifice for us already and aren't we so, so lucky for it?