After re-watching writer-director Alice Wu’s “The Half of It” for the millionth time, I wanted to see Wu’s inspiration for the story. In my crazed research, something she said stuck out to me: 

“At the end, when [Ellie’s] leaving for college to start her own life, [her father] doesn’t tell her ‘I love you, you need to do this.’ What he does is he makes her a ton of dumplings.”

Wu has emphasized how she wanted to portray a parental dynamic that was true to her experience as a Chinese-American. That meant showing how Ellie’s and her dad’s love for each other is expressed nonverbally.

Wu’s statements made me contemplate my own relationship with my parents as well as those of my Asian-American peers. I noticed that many Asian parents do not show affection as depicted in Western media. In my household there was little verbal affection or praise. Rarely would I teasingly make fun of my parents, like they do in “Mean Girls” and “10 Things I Hate About You”. Judging by the various articles written by my Asian-American peers, it’s a shared sentiment. I believe the reason for this lack of verbal affection is due to an important aspect of many Asian cultures: respect for your elders and filial piety. While this can lead to strong loyalty to one’s family, it doesn’t allow for as much casualness between parents and children. Though that is changing, as many households adopt more Americanized forms of affection.

But hold your horses! Don’t go into the world thinking every Asian person was raised in a loveless household. Asian households don’t often show affection by saying “I love you” or talking about their day. But rather, affection is expressed in these other ways. 

  1. 1 Food

    Food, is the key to showing love in Asian-Housholds. Like, my mother cutting up fruit for me when I’ve been studying for several hours. My relatives in Hong Kong, going out of their way to send me my favorite snacks. The way my family loves me is shown by how I always get “the best bits'' of a dish when we eat at a restaurant. It is shown by how my friend’s grandmother prepares homemade udon for her after school. It is shown in how my mother prepares dinner from scratch every night for me and my brother.

    Quite honestly, food needs to have its own category as a love language.

  2. 2 Sacrifice

    Angel Island Immigration Station, 1931. From National Archives, Washington, D.C.

    Like many Asian-Americans on the east coast, my parents are immigrants. They came to America to attend college and worked hard to create a stable and safe life for their family. It often meant putting aside many of their own interests and dreams in lieu of stability. In doing so, my parents made sure that I would be given the opportunity to follow my passions. What better way to show you love someone than to give them the opportunity to do what they love.

  3. 3 Scolding

    When there is verbal affection, it usually comes in the form of scolding.

    Put on more layers. You should eat more. Don’t sleep with your hair wet. Study harder. Don’t eat sweets so late. Do your own laundry. Or in my brother’s case, don’t cut your hair too short on the sides, your head will get cold. 

    They may seem like harsh and controlling comments, but all this scolding is rooted in concern. All the statements above come from a place of wanting the best for us. Our parents are trying to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves. They want us to invest in our education and future and build good lifestyle habits. Parents don’t want us to suffer unnecessarily, so they  scold us to prevent future discomfort.

  4. 4 Shared Presence and Shared Spaces

    The Half of It, Written and Directed by Alice Wu

    In “The Half of It,” most of Ellie’s interactions with her father are just them watching old movies and eating together. This is very representative of my experience with my family. We spend time together by sitting together and watching something on television. Although there isn’t much talking, just sharing time is comforting. It’s a way to relax together without feeling the need to fill the empty space.

    Just being in each other’s presence is enough.

    So yes, in Asian-American households verbal affection tends to be one of the least-used love languages. That doesn’t mean parents are neglectful and that they don’t love their children. It is just shown differently. But as Asian-American children adopt more western expressions of love, this could change. It may cause a disconnect between parents and children at first. Soon the new generation may push for a more direct verbal confirmation of love. But in the end, all the gestures mean the same thing. Whether it be through dumplings, concerned scolding or sharing spaces, we receive the message loud and clear.

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Adriane Kong

Adriane Kong is a student pursuing a B.A in Urban Studies at Columbia University. She hopes to combine art and design to promote the voices of marginalized groups.
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