Emil Guillermo: Happy new year, you crazy rich Asians!

Image for Emil Guillermo: Happy new year, you crazy rich Asians!

As we enter 2019, we should be so lucky if we could extend and expand on the aura of “Crazy Rich Asians,” a film that helped balance the scales in pop culture and media in 2018. The film, which earned $174 million domestically ($238 million worldwide) was the Asian American story of the year.

That the Kevin Kwan novel didn’t get ground into white mush in the Hollywood process was a major achievement. The Asian parts were kept in place. There was no substitution of Asian for white, but rather, white rom-com tomes were substituted with Asians. And what do you know–we’re universal! Constance Wu for Drew Barrymore works. Ken Jeong, Nico Santos ,and the forever watchable Awkwafina provided the light touches. But it was Michelle Yeoh, with better martial arts moves than Henry Golding, who rounded out the film. Her stern matriarch gave the movie its gravitas.

I did have a few bones to pick with the movie, about the potential of creating a new “model minority” stereotype at the expense of the reality of real life “crazy poor” Asians. My musings on the film were among the top posts of the year on this blog. But generally, I liked the movie and was happy to see that “crossover” effect. Asian Americans at just 13 percent of the North American audience made up 38 percent of the all-important first weekend sales and drove the market demos, according to Hollywood Reporter. The movie’s biggest feat: It attracted the mass audience Hollywood loves (read “White” audience).

So what’s next?

More pivotal Asian American parts in movies beyond the karate-kicking, Gaysian, best friend? More Asian American stories everywhere? Acceptance in general? That’s the hope in 2019.

And if we’re seeing this kind of Asian American- led coalition at the box office, will it translate into other areas—like a coalition at the ballot box?

It’s not unrelated. A film like “Crazy Rich Asians” makes us seen and creates a pathway to empathy and understanding.

People may begin to see our concerns instead of leaving us off the litany of “people of color.” You know, when they say, “minorities like blacks and Latinos…” but omit Asian Americans, like we don’t count.

The fact is people don’t know enough about us, especially when it comes to politics.

In the political arena, it’s all about polling data, and most polls don’t sample enough of us to get a decent read on what Asian Americans are thinking. Is it right just to assume we are like other people of color? Or are the Tiger-mommed, somewhat “Crazy Rich Asians” really just naturally evolving to whiteness?

Important questions as we close out 2018, where the Trump effect on life is my choice for story of the year.

When you have a big ugly wart on your nose that just happens to be the president of the United States, it’s hard to ignore.

But the wart will be reduced a bit in a few days because of that other major story of the year, the midterm elections. Democrats stormed back, won a new majority in the House, and represent a rebalancing of power.

What role did Asian Americans play in any of that?

Because pollsters don’t bother to fish for our opinion, Asian America remains one of the most underreported stories in mainstream media.

Now thanks to the AALDEF exit poll in the 2018 midterm elections, we have data on 8,058 Asian American voters in 14 states conducted in both English and 11 Asian languages. It’s the largest survey of its kind in the nation. Among the findings: 72 percent of Asian Americans polled were foreign-born naturalized citizens; 28 percent were limited English proficient; 61 percent were Democrats vs. 23 percent unaffiliated and 12 percent Republican.

But the poll is more revealing than simply saying Asian Americans tend to be Democrats.

Here are some examples.

If you think that Asian American lawsuit against Harvard to end affirmative action meant that Asian Americans were becoming the wedge in the civil rights coalition, think again.

In Georgia, 78 percent of Asian Americans voted for Stacey Abrams, an African American woman, for governor. In Florida, 77 percent of Asian Americans voted for Andrew Gillum, the African American mayor of Tallahassee running for governor.

And in Texas, 64 percent of Asian Americans voted for Beto O’Rourke vs 33 percent for Ted Cruz. In the gubernatorial race, 57 percent of Asian Americans voted for Lupe Valdez in her losing effort to unseat incumbent Greg Abbott.

The exit poll was even more revealing in the Trump job approval questions.

While two out of three Asian Americans disapproved of Donald Trump’s performance as president, a closer look shows where Trump support is amongst us. 26 percent of foreign-born, naturalized citizen voters approved of Trump vs. only 7 percent of native born voters.

The exit poll uncovered this profile of a midterm Asian American Trump supporter: foreign-born, naturalized voters; limited English proficient (37 percent); with only an elementary school education (52 percent) ; who were older, over age 70 (42 percent), and mostly male (24 percent).

There’s some Trumpyness amongst us, and like the mostly white Trump base, these Asian Americans seem to share the characteristic of a willingness to vote counter to their self-interest.

But for how long? Especially if Trump’s anti-immigrant whine for a wall continues into 2019?

I expect it to be a turbulent year for Trump with his legal problems, the Russia probe, and a Democratic house. But I also expect Asian American voters and their representatives to play a role in getting our country on the right path. People should take note because it’s hard to ignore or take for granted 21 million people.

Years from now, when we look back to 2018 , I suspect we’ll see “Crazy Rich Asians” as a modern cultural marker, when America saw a different movie story and was forced to see us in a brand new way.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
read Emil's bio