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For Asian Americans, Yeoh, Quan’s Oscar wins are theirs too

Edward Dion Farinas watches the Academy Awards every year but the Filipino American didn’t expect to have such a visceral reaction when hearing Ke Huy Quan and Michelle Yeoh’s awards announced.
Michelle Yeoh, winner of the Oscar for lead actress, arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Edward Dion Farinas watches the Academy Awards every year but the Filipino American didn’t expect to have such a visceral reaction when hearing Ke Huy Quan and Michelle Yeoh’s awards announced.

“I had a squeal come out that I was not expecting,” said Farinas, who was watching Sunday from his Austin, Texas, home, complete with “Everything Everywhere All at Once” themed pastries from a local Asian American-owned bakery.

“I was surprised by how heavily invested I got. It’s not even about the acting. It really just kind of lets us feel like we can accomplish things that normally are not in our lane.”

Quan’s best supporting actor win and comeback story from childhood star of ‘80s flicks, coupled with Yeoh’s historic win as the first Asian best actress winner ever had viewers of Asian descent shedding tears of happiness — and grinning. The Everything Everywhere All at Once co-stars bring the total number of Asians who have earned acting Oscars to just six in the awards’ 95-year history.

For many Asian Americans, the film’s seven Oscars, including Best Picture, feel like a watershed moment — that Hollywood is moving past seeing them only in tropes. It represents an opportunity for optimism after three years of anti-Asian hate brought on by the pandemic.

Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as the Daniels), who won best-directing and best original screenplay Oscars, the story centers on a glammed-down Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, a frazzled laundromat owner preparing for an IRS audit. Meanwhile, she is struggling with an unhappy husband (Quan), her critical father (James Hong) and an openly lesbian daughter (Stephanie Hsu).

When Yeoh said, in accepting her Oscar, that the award was for children who look like her, the message landed “straight to the heart” said Jasmine Cho, who is Korean American.

“Now I’m like looking at when I’m in my 60s,” the 39-year-old said. “I want to be like Michelle. She’s my forever badass woman role model.”

Cho, of Pittsburgh, is nationally recognized for her cookie portraits of forgotten and famous Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and has drawn social media attention for her tributes to Yeoh and Quan. She hopes to give the cookies to them one day because she’s been so inspired by their performances and how they’ve carried themselves.

“I feel like they already like completely made history with being like the most awarded film and just all the other awards that they’ve been receiving,” Cho said of the possibility the two might not have taken home Oscars. “So yeah, I would have been somewhat disappointed” had they not won. “But in my mind, they already won.”

Yer Vang, a Hmong American living in Minneapolis, was moved to tears by Quan and Yeoh’s acceptance speeches. She recalls coming out of the theater hoping for this scenario. To actually see it happen was “phenomenal.”

Quan’s remarks about coming to the U.S. as a Vietnamese refugee and living in a refugee camp resonated particularly because that’s what her parents lived through.

“It’s crazy because … that’s my mother’s story,” Vang said.

But all the movie’s Oscars (it also won best-supporting actress for Jamie Lee Curtis and film editing) mean a lot to Asian Americans, she said. “It does tell the community that we have done enough … and we deserve to be celebrated, whether in like the highest of courts or just back home.”

Norman Chen, CEO of The Asian American Foundation, let out a scream and fist pump for every Oscar the movie picked up. Among the foundation’s initiatives are scholarship and fellowship programs with the Sundance Institute. He called the impact of the wins massive.

This is going to elevate the narrative … to create more future actors, directors, screenwriters” of Asian descent, Chen said.

“The recognition is there finally. Just across society, people will be appreciating more even in education with more interest about Asian and Asian American history. It will change the mindset of Asian Americans being foreigners.”

Terry Tang, The Associated Press