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What we can learn from Sandra Oh’s relationship with her parents

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Sandra Oh

The actress revealed that they have no idea what Saturday Night Live is, but they still supported her anyway.

You know who I love? Sandra Oh’s parents.

The actress’ mum and dad have become a staple of red carpets, awards shows and television programmes, courtesy of their devotion and support of their daughter. Young-Nam Oh and Joon-Soo Oh were in their daughter’s corner when she hosted Saturday Night Live this weekend, even though they didn’t actually know what Saturday Night Live is.

“I had to explain to them what it is,” Oh told Ellen Degeneres on her talk show. “Even when they don’t know exactly what I’m doing, they’re proud that I am doing it.” 

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Oh’s parents were also by her side when she walked the red carpet at the Golden Globes, giving her a beaming standing ovation when she won her Best Actress award.

“There are two people here that I’m so grateful that they’re here with me,” Oh said in her emotional acceptance speech. “I’d like to thank my mother and my father,” she added, with a bow. ““엄마! 아빠! 사랑해요!” (“I love you, mum and dad!”).  

Previously, the actress had noted that when she first began her career her parents “looked down on the arts.” “It’s like one step above, you know, prostitution,” she joked to DeGeneres. 

But as she showed them her devotion to her work and as her career progressed, Oh said that her parents became her biggest supports and unconditional fans.

“My parents, who are amazing and amazing people and internet sensations,” Oh reflected in the press room at the Golden Globes. “They’re so happy, and it’s just the kind of thing, for Asian kids to make our parents happy, it’s so fulfilling. I’m just so grateful that they were here and able to come.” 

In the wake of Oh’s emotional Golden Globes speech, a piece was published in the New York Times that examined the subject of why Asian parents “struggle to say ‘I love you’” to their children. “She was emotional, her parents were proud, and I could not help but project onto them one of the central dramas of Asian immigrant and refugee life: the silent sacrifice of the parents, the difficult gratitude of the children, revolving around the garbled expression of love,” the piece read. 

For Asian children, like Oh and myself, the struggles and sacrifices of our parents loom large in our lives. Many of them moved to their new countries – Canada, in Oh’s case, or Australia in mine, or England or America or elsewhere for so many others – for a better life for their future children and they worked hard to achieve this goal. We know how much our parents have had to give up, and we know that they did it all for us.

That’s why Oh’s comment about Asian children’s fulfilment from making our parents happy really strikes home. And it’s why Oh’s recognition that her parents are so proud of her, even when they don’t quite grasp what she is doing, is so powerful.

Much is always made about the way Asian families parent. In America, the children of Chinese immigrants have, on average, better education and high-paying professional jobs in comparison with the wider population. With this comes the pervasive stereotype of the ‘tiger mum’, domineering over her children and employing sharp criticism as her love language. (See: Michelle Yeoh in Crazy Rich Asians or anyone in The Joy Luck Club.) 

But stereotypes are only rough sketches of reality, drawn with broad strokes. Filling in between the lines is all of the nuance of the Asian diaspora’s individual experiences, all the parents who unconditionally support their daughter when she hosts Saturday Night Live or when she doesn’t become a doctor or a lawyer but a writer, instead.

The global and viral outpouring of love for Oh’s parents and their pride in her successes is so important for this very reason. Until now, Asian parents have been largely portrayed in the media in one specific way. Finally, the stereotype of the stern, unforgiving Asian parent is being dismantled.

And in its place? True stories of love. In all of its various forms. 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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