Lana Condor and the Adoptee’s Place in Asian American Storytelling
‘To All the Boys I Loved Before’ may be a love story, but it also is a much-needed representation of transracial Asian adoptees, too
In a pivotal scene in Netflix teen rom-com To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (TATBILB), 16-year-old Lara Jean sits in a diner staring down at a photo of her dead mother while her father tells her stories about her mother’s favorite music and how she loved to dance right there in the diner’s aisles. Emotional, Lara Jean tells him she didn’t know those things about her mother. While this scene would move anyone with a beating heart, it struck a particular chord with me. I remember reading about my birth mother from a government document, which, as a Korean adoptee, is the only information I have about her, clinging to the details on the page about her being a waitress and loving to travel. Learning that the actress who plays Lara Jean, Lana Condor, can also relate because she’s adopted too was a powerful reminder that the adoptee’s place in Asian American spaces can in fact be right at the center.
As TATBILB emerged to critical and commercial success, Condor suddenly became one of the faces of the movement for Asian American representation in Hollywood. The movie was released in August 2018, what would become known as “Asian August” alongside the release of Crazy Rich Asians and Searching starring John Cho. Crazy Rich Asians was the first all-Asian Hollywood studio movie in 25 years. Searching and TATBILB were the first mainstream movies of their respective genres with an Asian lead. The future of Asian American representation in Hollywood seemed to hang on the success of these efforts. And they surpassed expectations through box office sales, strong reviews, and a clear message that America was ready to see Asian Americans do more than beat up bad guys and cheer on their White best friend from the sidelines.
I watched these movies alongside my fellow Asian Americans, who were excited to see themselves reflected on the screen, but there was a time when I would have thought Asian August was not for me. Raised in the Italian American culture of my White family and friends, for a long time, I didn’t think of myself as part of the Asian groups I saw…