Thursday, June 7, 2012

My Reflection

I'm excited to share a guest post written by my older sister Lynnette, whom I call "Achs" (pronounced 'Utz'.) Mulan is special to both of us but in very different ways, which I find both fascinating and awesome.

When Mulan opened in movie theatres in 1998, I believed that the film had been created just for me, for all, but not only, the following reasons:
  • It featured the first Chinese heroine - finally a “princess” I could be for Halloween!
  • It utilized the singing talents of Lea Salonga - you may know her simply as the voice of Jasmine from Aladdin, but ask any Asian kid growing up in the 80s and 90s with Broadway dreams, and her eyes will gloss over dreamily at the mention of Salonga’s name
  • It was about a girl hanging with the boys - as a “tomboy who likes wearing makeup” (that’s what my sister called me once), I aspired to the precise blend of guts, wit, and grace that Mulan embodied
  • It premiered the summer I graduated from high school - an obvious sign (to my 18-year-old’s ego) that this film was not only made for me, but also about me!  It came at a time when, like many kids, I was preparing to go off to college, to become the “me” I was supposed to be.  If you think that I didn’t spend hours standing in front of a mirror singing, “When will my reflection show who I am insiiiiiide?” and bursting into tears, then you are sorely mistaken!
At the heart of it, this film resonated so strongly with me because it focuses on two core values of great importance to me: love for my family and authenticity to self. Two values that often felt like they were at odds with one another. When Mulan sings, “now I see that if I were truly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart,” she voices a fear that until then I had not been able to put into words. But despite this fear, she knows that sacrificing her authenticity will not bring her happiness, nor her family honor. One might think Mulan’s greatest display of bravery lies in her fearlessness in fighting off an army of abnormally large, gray-colored villains, but I think it lies in her taking that big scary step toward being “true to her heart.”

I’m not sure that my family has always felt that I have brought “honor to them all.” I know there are “true to my heart” decisions I’ve made in my life: where to live, what to study, and what I believe in – that have instead brought them worry and concern. But whether my parents did it consciously or not, they raised “a girl who’s got a brain, who always speaks her mind.” And in the end, I hope that this brings them pride.

Now in my 30s, I think my ego has calmed down, and while I now recognize that this film was not created as a personal allegory for my life, its story reminds me that there is honor in being authentic.  And these days when I gaze at my reflection in a watery surface, as I often do, I’m no longer brought to tears, because I like the girl I see.

Lynnette is a writer/actor/singer living in L.A. with her husband John, and her cats, Zelda and Billy. She's also Laura's older sister. On a family trip to Disney World, a 19-year-old Lynnette sat at the back of a room full of young children during a character sketching demonstration. When the artist asked, "Does anyone have a favorite character they'd like me draw?" Lynnette yelled "Mulan!" without hesitation. Those kids never had a chance!

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