Here’s to Mr. Hyunh*
I’m the crier in the family. I cry when we fight. I cry when a movie is too sad. Evidently since getting married, I apparently cry at weddings now. Up until last weekend I’d never seen my husband cry before.
We loved seeing our friend get married. The rest of the experience was…unpleasant. I watched my husband as the only Asian get roped into doing AV for the wedding and then criticized when he didn’t know how to work the soundboard. I heard the officiant mispronounce the bride’s non-western (but-super-easy-to-say!) name and then heard him say “I’ll just call you Judy.” I listened when my husband got back in the car after paying for gas with a smirk saying “The first thing the attendant said to me was, ‘Are you here for that Pakistani wedding?’”
We were excited to leave.
After a weekend of gray-rocking and exchanging stressed looks, we were avoiding processing by mindlessly listing our favourite Nickelodeon TV shows from when we were growing up while eating breakfast in a small diner, just getting through this one last event before making the five hour trip home and leaving - Get Out style.
“I liked Recess because it actually had a somewhat diverse cast,” my husband said.
I smirked. “On the Weekenders every single character celebrated a different holiday in winter. Christmas, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, and Kwanza!”
“Ah yes, the black best friend. That was all the rage for diversity. Doug. I mean, his friend was green, but we all knew he was supposed to be black.”
“Recess also had a black best friend.”
“Hey Arnold! had a Vietnamese character,” he says wistfully. It had been a silly, dumb conversation, but suddenly his eyes were widening and I knew it was no longer a joke. “Mr. Hyunh lived underneath Arnold. He was always really kind.”
I thought for a moment before picturing an Asian character with glasses. “I sort of remember that.”
And suddenly, my wonderful, brave, sweet husband’s eyes are welling up. “He’d been separated by his wife and kid ‘cuz of the war. There was an episode where they were reunited. I don’t…I don’t know why I’m crying.”
As I looked into his eyes, feeling a small taste of the pain he’d experienced by spending the weekend - heck - spending his life as an outsider in this country, as someone represented in media as foreign, confusing, dumb, “wise”, mystical, but almost never a person or a protagonist - certainly never the protagonist with the white wife, I felt a bit of his love for a side character who had been “graciously” granted a subplot. I thought of how I’d been annoyed at the rehearsal when everyone had asked me questions and expected me to be in charge because I’d merely been helping, and when I asked how he was treated he smiled sadly at my naivety and said “No one talked to me.” I thought of how the bride’s family had been judged for eating with their hands. I thought of the looks and the avoidance.
“It’s because representation fucking matters.”
Here’s to you, Mr. Hyunh. I’m glad you found your family.
*Edited after someone pointed out the character’s name was Mr. Hyunh, not Mr. Nguyen. Thanks!