‘Turning Red’ shows how adolescence is more than a physical change for Asian girls

Sophia Luo, a high school student who recently watched the coming-of-age movie “Turning Red,” said she immediately felt feelings of familiarity. As she watched main character Mei attempt to hide her love for a group of boys from her mother, whose approved activity of choice is watching Chinese dramas together, she felt represented.

Luo is one of many Asian American women who saw the Pixar film, released on Disney+ last week, as an affirmation of the cultural tensions that girls from the Asian diaspora often feel, primarily in their teenage years.

“As I hit puberty, after struggling with these new changes as a person, I also had to think about so many other things,” Chinese-Vietnamese Luo said of his education in an Asian immigrant home. “Like, who am I? …Do I belong?

The film, about an Asian-Canadian teenager going through puberty, shows how, for Asians, these teenage years are disconcerting not only because of the physical changes they go through, but also because of the negotiations they between their own heritage and the dominant cultural adolescence. standards, experts said.

Left to right: Priya, voiced by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan; Mei, voiced by Rosalie Chiang; Miriam, voiced by Ava Morse; and Abby, voiced by Hyein Park, in “Turning Red”.Pixar/Disney

“That movie was really cathartic, said Joy Ng, a Chinese-American millennial who also felt deeply connected to the movie. “He’s like, ‘Hey, you can have all these parts of yourself, and you don’t have to suppress it. “”

The beginning of the film shows Mei, voiced by Rosalie Chiang, living much of her life in Toronto, aligned with the path that helicopter parent Ming, voiced by Sandra Oh, had laid out for her. Rather than doing karaoke with her friends, Mei chooses to help out at her family’s temple after school, cook dinner, and stay on top of her homework in addition to participating in the mother-daughter soap opera ritual. His love for boy band 4*Town is relegated to spaces far from home, with his close-knit group of fellow ‘4*Townees’.

But as Mei enters puberty, she drifts away from her sheltered life. Not only does she deal with a new ability to transform into a red panda when she feels strong emotions – an ancient trait that the female members of her family have all found a way to control – but she also deals with the introduction of crushes, desire to spend more time with friends, and stronger development of interests, such as music, away from family.

It’s a heady mix, especially as Mei tries to manage her mother’s expectations, and that causes the uncomfortable inner anxiety that’s so central to the coming-of-age of many girls in the Asian Diaspora, said said Richelle Concepcion, clinical psychologist. and past president of the Asian American Psychological Association. The exploration of sexual attraction, social interactions and outside interests often presents tensions within the family due to the particularly high expectations placed on women in many Asian cultures to be genteel, respectful and careful. that their actions reflect positively on their family, Concepcion said.

“When you think about it, at least from a parent’s perspective, it’s all about saving face,” Concepcion said. “You don’t want your child to have this reputation of being this boy-crazy, sexually curious being.”

A scene from
A scene from “Turning Red”, featuring Mei Lee.Disney/Pixar

Concepcion added that in immigrant households there is the added burden of maintaining the heritage and values ​​of those who came before. In “Turning Red”, this is depicted through Mei’s family, for example, running a temple that honors the ancestor who started the tradition of the red panda.

“There’s just this cultural difference, where they grow up and just do what they want to do, whereas we kind of have to consider what our elders want for us and how they want us to be here,” he said. Ng recalls of his teenage years. years.

While the media often perpetuates the idea that Western culture is superior, forcing members of the diaspora to choose between worlds, Concepcion said many girls feel stuck in between and unable to conduct themselves authentically.

For Mei, this manifested in lying to her parents about her extracurricular activities and choosing 4*Town-related activities over her temple duties and family time. It symbolized a bicultural teenage tendency to resort to hidden interests or rebellious tendencies on the part of parents, critics say. Ng acknowledged these moments in the film as versions of her own experiences, recalling how she would seek spaces outside of her family to foster her love of hip-hop and dance.

Luo acknowledged that her early teens were dark, and she said she adopted much of the same behavior, turning to heavy use of social media to explore her political views and her love of K-pop groups. , interests that his parents did not immediately approve of. She said that although she wanted to find her own path, she was afraid of losing the bond she shared with her family.

“I remember having a hard time wishing I was white and thinking my life would be easier, Luo said.

She added: “I grew up admiring [my parents] and just wanting to be exactly like them. And when I got to that age, I realized, ‘OK, I can’t exactly follow in your footsteps anymore.'”

The control exercised by many Asian immigrant parents does not come from a malevolent place, as the film shows. In an emotional part of the film, Mei encounters Ming’s teenage daughter, who is curled up on the floor, sobbing for fear of not being enough. It is obvious that Ming’s emotional scars were passed on to his daughter. The couple then share a sobering moment of reflection and empathy. In the end, Mei learns that she doesn’t have to compromise any part of herself, as Ming honors her daughter’s choices.

“They internalize a lot of things that they grew up with,” Ng said of his own parents. “It’s also partly because they’re so busy surviving that they don’t have the time or the privilege to sit down and think about these constructs and say, ‘Let’s challenge these things. That’s what they know.

Comments are closed.