When Michelle Yeoh won the Oscar for best actress two Sundays ago, I felt my heart drop. She has made history by being the first Asian woman to win lead actress in the award show’s 95-year history. My seven-year-old self finally breathed a sigh of relief. This milestone took too long to happen, but it did. That’s something to celebrate.
I’m Chinese but grew up in Canada, so I’ve been surrounded by two vastly different cultures my entire life. I loved writing and storytelling at a young age. While I’m fortunate to have such understanding parents who support my passions, I have felt ashamed for not pursuing a career in STEM. Someone always told me that Asian people were supposed to be good at math or that I wouldn’t earn enough money to support myself.
If my elders told me I wasn’t thinking right, then there had to be some truth. I tried going the marine biology route and finally realized that passions couldn’t be forced. It was either choosing my happiness or the validation of others. With the support of my parents, I was able to choose myself.
After all, why were the opinions of others louder than mine?
When Michelle Yeoh held up that golden statue with an enormous smile, it was finally proof that we could be storytellers. We could be symbols for opportunities and second chances.
This win breaks the toxic stigma that Asians are not meant to make it big in any career that isn’t science-related. Creative fields deserve as much respect as the ones our parents often push us towards.
Of course, it is important to acknowledge the representation of Asian Americans in film. Growing up, finding an on-screen hero who looked like me wasn’t common. These milestones should’ve happened a long time ago, but I’m glad we’re here now.
I remember my friends asking me who my favorite Disney princess was as a kid. My answer was always Belle — not because she loved reading or was determined, but because she looked exactly how I wanted to look. Long, brown hair. Feminine features with dark eyelashes. A thin waist that fits into a perfect dress. I knew Mulan was a strong woman who had saved all of China, but it didn’t matter — because to me, she was still Asian.
Things are different now. I feel proud telling people my parents were brave enough to immigrate halfway across the world so I could grow up in a better place than they did. It was never something to be ashamed of, but I was always afraid they’d seen me as more connected to Chinese culture than I was.
We’re heading in the right direction, one step at a time. To leave you with something optimistic, here is a quote from Michelle Yeoh that embodies everything we’re still fighting for:
“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” she said at the Oscars. “This is proof — dream big, and dreams do come true. And ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you’re ever past your prime.”