What a great piece Justin Chang has written in the L.A. Times ($): “From ‘Turning Red’ to ‘Everything Everywhere,’ the Asian (North) American mom goes mainstream.”
As Mother’s Day nears – my first since my mom’s passing – it kind of hits me in the gut in a sad and complicated way. These paragraphs (with my own emphasis added) especially linger for me right now.
Maybe you too were raised by an Asian American (or Asian Canadian) mom with some resemblance to Ming, a mom who only ever wanted the best for you and never let you forget it. And if you will allow me to generalize further, in hopes of getting more specific: Maybe she wanted you to enjoy the material benefits of a Western upbringing while still upholding the strict cultural traditions of an Eastern one — and to that end, she rigorously policed your academics, your extracurricular activities and your sorry excuse for a social life. Maybe she skimped on verbal and physical affection, favoring a love language that expressed itself in steamers full of dumplings or plates of sliced fruit.
Maybe she didn’t mind embarrassing you in public since your family, being of Asian descent and therefore of perpetual outsider status, didn’t really belong to that public in any meaningful sense. And maybe she’d blanch if anyone dared call her a “tiger mom,” a term popularized by Amy Chua’s 2011 memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” and disavowed by many as offensive. Then again, if she’s anything like my mom, maybe she embraces the “tiger mother” label and wears it proudly. …
Asian American moms, in other words, are not a mom-olith. And it’s been gratifying to see so many recent mainstream movies arrive at that conclusion, several of them by way of richly imaginative premises that happily dispense with realism in favor of fantasy, science fiction and even horror. And why not? (Whose Asian American childhood wasn’t, at some point, a horror movie?) In “Umma,” Iris K. Shim’s muddled but intriguing ghost story, [Sandra] Oh plays Amanda, a quietly anxious Korean American mother whose lengthy estrangement from her emotionally abusive mother has sinister implications for her relationship with her own teenage daughter. Shim’s attempt to meld parental trauma and boogey-mom shivers isn’t entirely successful, but Oh’s performance sounds a resonant echo of her very different work in “Turning Red”: In both movies, a cycle of generational pain can be broken only when a controlled and controlling mother learns to relinquish her tight hold on her own kid — and, ultimately, herself.