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The New Trend of Asian Parents Apologizing In Popular Media

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the movies Turning Red and Everything Everywhere All at Once. Both are well-loved by critics and audiences alike because of their creative storytelling, impactful themes, and relatable portrayals of Asian families. However, despite being works of fiction, with Everything Everywhere’s main character Evelyn being able to travel through different timelines, and Turning Red’s Mei having the ability to transform into a giant red panda, the most unrealistic thing about these movies are the scenes where the parent apologizes to their child.

If you’re a Chinoy–or if you’re Asian in general, this might come as a surprise, since it’s not very common to hear our parents apologize, even when they are the ones who made a mistake. That’s because our culture is rooted in filial piety, which teaches the youth to always respect their elders. Most times, “respect” gets twisted into blind obedience, hence why children are expected to follow everything their parents tell them and never talk back to them. Having parents apologize to their children therefore seems like an anomaly because it puts them in a humble position before their children, when they are supposed to be the ones who are always right. However, respect should be earned instead of given based on seniority, and there are times when apologies are warranted, regardless if you are the elder.

In Everything Everywhere All at Once, Evelyn is not a bad mother to her daughter Joy, but she isn’t exactly a good mother either. She constantly criticizes Joy for the littlest things, and she never tried to hide her disapproval of the fact that Joy has a girlfriend. In another universe, Evelyn saw her daughter’s potential and pushed her beyond the limits of her capabilities until her mind was fractured, and she became the villain of the story.

From from Everything Everywhere All At Once by A24

In Turning Red, Mei’s mother Ming is too overbearing. She is overprotective, tends to meddle with Mei’s personal life, and never lets Mei make decisions on her own, and as a result, Mei is terrified to stand up against her mother even when she is humiliating her in public.

The relationship between mother and daughter becomes strained until it reaches a breaking point, and the only way they were able to mend it was through an apology from the mother. The fact that we got to see the millennial parental apology fantasy from two different movies produced by two different studios is proof that people are longing to hear an apology from their parents.

Scene from Turning Red by Walt Disney Pictures

The same can be said for parent-children relationships of Chinoys. Their conflict might not be as dramatic as in the movies, but they often misunderstand each other’s intentions and emotions because of their hesitance to open up to each other. And when arguments happen, it’s usually the children who are on the losing end, even when they’re not the ones at fault. 

Let’s not allow these misunderstandings to escalate until it reaches a breaking point, so parents should normalize apologizing to their children despite being the elders. After all, it’s part of human nature to make mistakes, regardless of their age.

However, it will understandably take time to undo centuries’ worth of filial piety norms, but parents already have discreet ways of holding out olive branches to their children. It’s not in Chinoy culture to be overly affectionate. They may not explicitly tell you they are proud of you, but they will be the first ones to share your achievements to friends and relatives. They are not the type to ask “are you ok?” or “how are you doing?” after a long day, but they will express their concern by constantly asking if you’ve eaten yet. Similarly, you may not hear the words “I’m sorry” from them after an argument, but they will cook your favorite food or give you a plate of sliced fruit as a peace offering. 

It might take a while before we get to see the same heartfelt apologies in Everything Everywhere All At Once and Turning Red in real life, but for now, it’s important for parents to admit to their mistakes and listen to their children when they call them out rather than becoming defensive or immediately dismissing it as an act of disrespect. In return, children should also recognize and appreciate the subtle ways their parents express their love.

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