A love letter to Asian families in Canada: Amazing to finally see us in Disney Pixar’s ‘Turning Red’

We knew after seeing the trailer for the movie “Turning Red” for the first time, that this one was going to be different. This one was going to mean so much more to us – for an Asian family new to Canada, especially for a family whose journey began in Toronto. The one who spent their first week in the countryside right in downtown Toronto, with the CN Tower towering just above the balcony of the Airbnb we rented.

For years, we saw each other always show up in the background, if at all. It was never really about us, but about us being told by someone else. Someone Hollywood deemed more worth telling.

But this film brought us to the fore, as well as many Asian migrant families. Ultimately it was us speaking, not someone else speaking for us, not someone else telling the story for us.

My kids cheered, pointing to characters that looked a lot like their neighbors, classmates, and friends at school. “Mei-Mei looks like my 2nd grade teacher,” my son blurted out. “It’s me, it’s me!” my daughter shouted, pointing at the screen to show me the brave Korean girl, Abby. We were so excited when we saw the dads and grandfathers in the movie who reminded us of our Bedle Avenue neighbors when we still lived in Hillcrest Village in North York.

It wasn’t just us watching another family movie, it was feeling heard and seen. It was to feel represented, finally.

What’s even more amazing for me and my daughter is seeing an all-female ensemble on screen with an extremely strong-willed Asian mother who works outside the home and a father who helps around the house. For all intents and purposes, this movie, at least for a working Asian mom like me, is groundbreaking.

The characters talk about family obligations, family responsibilities and traditions – things that many Asian families deal with and often struggle with. The film shows first- and second-generation immigrant children who are caught between respecting their parents’ culture and adapting to the Western way of life. It shows them as they struggle to honor the sacrifices of their immigrant parents after moving the family across the seas, it shows how the children deal with the high expectations of their immigrant parents.

The cast includes first and second generation immigrants who brought authenticity to their characters and the story. Filmmaker Domee Shi is the child of Chinese immigrants who moved to Canada at a young age. Hyein Park, who voiced Abby, on the other hand, is a Korean-Canadian artist at Pixar who was born in Korea and moved to Canada when she was 13 years old.

Hearing the characters speak, I felt like I was hearing my children at school and in the company of their friends. It is their story.

“So that’s how it is to be them?” I asked my husband. It’s like being snatched from your native land in Asia and brought thousands of miles to Canada at such a young age. They have a hard time fitting in, they have a hard time honoring our traditions at home, and they have a hard time finding themselves in the middle of it all.

It’s something we don’t see as often in mainstream media, more so in Hollywood and something as big as a Disney Pixar movie. It is a love letter to me, to my children and to all Asian families who have had to travel thousands of miles to live and work in Canada.

Born in Manila, Loraine Balita-Centeno moved from Toronto to Waterloo last year. She is an online editor for the Waterloo Chronicle, the New Hamburg Independent, the Cambridge Times and the Guelph Mercury Tribune.

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