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Marvel's 'Shang-Chi' gets the different levels of Asianness

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In a scene from the recently released Marvel film "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," the character Jon Jon welcomes Katy to a fight club by speaking in Mandarin Chinese.

Katy is internet famous after a video of her driving prowess went viral, but the American is unable to understand the greeting. Jon Jon, played by Ronny Chieng, laughs it off.

"Don't worry," he tells Katy, played by Awkwafina. "I speak ABC."

That comment likely flew over the heads of most movie goers. But for Asian Americans, it was an inside joke we can all relate to. We know that "ABC" stands for "American-born Chinese," and that speaking ABC is akin to speaking Chinglish – a mixture of Chinese and English.

It was a subtle signal to Asian Americans that "Shang-Chi" is a film that really gets what we're all about. The groundbreaking flick features Marvel's first Chinese superhero and an all-Asian-led cast from America and Asia, and it was was directed by Japanese American Destin Daniel Cretton.

Asian Americans have long been painted with a broad stroke. We're the "model minority" who are often asked, "Where are you really from?" Far from a monolithic mass, we're diverse in many ways, from nationality to ideology to just how Westernized we are.

What "Shang-Chi" does so well is illustrate the different levels of Asianness, says Michael Tow, a New York City-based Chinese American actor. A fifth-generation ABC, he welcomes the inclusiveness of the movie.

"I love that it had a voice I can relate to," says Tow, who watched the film twice with his two daughters.

There are many facets to being Asian, and yet we are all Asian Americans, Tow explains. Take language: You can be ABC and not speak a word of Chinese, you can get by with just a little Chinese being able to order off a menu, you can be illiterate and speak Mandarin, or you can speak Mandarin or Cantonese with a heavy American accent.

I'm a 1.5er, an immigrant considered somewhere between a first- and second-generation American. I emigrated to the USA at a young age with my parents and straddled two cultures. English is not my first........


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