However, Bao, the short before the movie, spoke to me in ways that a movie like 'Incredibles 2' never could have. For those who have yet to see the short, Bao (named after the traditional Chinese bun) follows the relationship between a Chinese mother and her dumpling offspring, who comes to life. For the first time, I saw deeply personal experiences from my own life woven into beautiful animations on screen.
The complicated familial love, the challenges of growing up bicultural, the nostalgia of your mother’s home-cooking… it all hit me straight in the feels.
A Landmark in Asian Visibility
When the short rolled onscreen, I soaked in every last detail. I carefully scanned each frame of the Chinese-American home, squinted to read the small signs in the Asian bakery, and even tried to recognize each of the traditional dishes on the table. To me, this was a landmark in Asian visibility – it felt almost unbelievable that a tale this nuanced and culturally-specific was being told to mainstream audiences. As I watched the short film, I couldn’t have felt more proud.
However, what I loved most about Bao wasn’t how accurately they conveyed the cultural details (even though that is very, very important). My favorite part was how gracefully the short film captured the ever-complicated, evolving relationships that take place within an immigrant family. And, most importantly, how it all connected back to food. That’s right – food.
The Challenges of Growing Up Bicultural
When you’re raised in a cultural background that’s vastly different from those of your parents, it can cause some… friction, to say the least. Your life and your parents’ lives are shaped by fundamentally different influences.This affects everything, from the kinds of values that you have cultivated to the type of etiquette that you practice.
As you grow up, you begin to realize just how alienating these differences are. Your mom doesn’t understand why you’re embarrassed to bring her to student-teacher conferences or why you insist on having the group project at someone else’s house instead. Your parents are what make you feel different, misunderstood. More and more things start to get lost in translation.
Often, this results in a strong desire to completely reject your heritage and live your own, independent life. This does not bode well with the strong familial values in Asian cultures or with the numerous sacrifices that your parents made in the hopes that you would one day live a better life than they did. Thus, the significance of Bao: A Chinese mother coping with empty-nest syndrome. (Feeling sentimental yet?)
The Restorative Power of Food
However, despite all of the different parts of our culture that we try to reject – the language, the traditions, the values – there remains one, reigning savior: the food. We grow up with the tastes and smells of our family’s kitchen. Food is more than just a source of energy or nutrition, it’s a sense of comfort, a communal experience, a connection to the warmth and familiarity of our homes.
Throughout all of Bao, there was no dialogue. However, the final scene of a mother eating together with her son spoke volumes.
I left the theatre that day with a deep appreciation for my family, as well as a pang in my heart for my own relationship with my mother while growing up. Although I knew there was nothing I could do to change our past experiences, I knew there was one thing that could always bring us together: an authentic, home-cooked Chinese meal.
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