Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is in less than a month and what better way to celebrate that than pay homage to our elders with watching a film like Netflix’s Tigertail? (And if you’re brave enough, maybe even watch it with them?) While there isn’t just one universal Asian experience, Tigertail seems to touch on a lot of topics that resonate across Asian cultures. Have you ever wondered how the daughters of the Asian diaspora view Tigertail? In this commentary panel, four women of Asian descent with vastly different backgrounds talk culture, stereotypes, Asian parents, Asian dads, effects of immigration, and feelings on Netflix’s Tigertail.
What were your initial thoughts on the film after seeing the trailer?
Anna: One: it’s about time a sort of “origin” story like this existed. Two: I definitely want to write something like this. Three: there are so many more untold stories of the Asian diaspora.
Katharine: I was intrigued to see how the filmmakers will capture a story shared by so many Asians across the globe. The scene where the little boy is running in the rice paddies caught my attention. Then when it jumped forward in time, showing the boy grown up, dancing with a lady, I knew the film would take me on a journey.
Margaret: I teared up when I first saw it. I think every time I see a film with all an Asian-American cast, I get chills. I was excited to see how it would touch upon the many themes of romance, to cultural messages and additionally, the father-daughter dynamic.
Lauren: I knew a little bit of what to expect from what others have been saying about it, but otherwise, I pretty much went into this blind. Now after watching it, I can say that it definitely captured a story that I’ve heard different iterations of, but have never seen portrayed so powerfully in a film before.
What attempt does writer and director Alan Yang get “right” in this film that other filmmakers haven’t been able to do for mainstream audiences before?
Anna: I think the scene where Zhenzhen met the other Taiwanese lady at the laundromat…that broke me. I’ve never felt so seen. I migrated with my family in the early 2000s as a pre-teen and so once in the U.S., whenever I saw another Filipino, it was always a special experience – even though it wasn’t the case to the other person – but I was always hungry for that connection to “home” or whatever semblance of it. But just like in the movie, our neighborhood (NYC in the film but Miami, Florida for me) was mostly made up of Latinos, so there was definitely a disconnect. It’s always been difficult for me to convey that experience to non-Asians but Alan Yang was able to capture and execute that exact feeling on film. Beyond grateful to him for that.
Katharine: It has to be the lunch scene with Pin-Jui and his daughter, Angela. He finishes eating and throws the napkin on his plate, waiting for her to finish. That hit home because I’ve experienced that with my dad a bunch of times. He eats quickly, in silence, as though my presence is unnecessary. Sharing a meal with him means eating a meal in parallel at the same time. Conversations only occur if I initiate questions and if he decides to share something, usually a fact or news item. He’ll rarely ask questions about me. He won’t show appreciation for the time I spend with him, but deep down inside, I know he values it.
When Angela confronts her dad, sharing with him how her fiance left her, Pin-Jui’s reaction and response are spot-on. Despite his indifference and lack of emotional validation, he shows a strand of remorse conflicted by feelings of helplessness. And that’s how a lot of Asian dads feel when their children express tense emotions towards them.
Margaret: The way that the film addresses stoicism and those cultural undertones made me feel heard. The director addressed the multigenerational aspects of messaging and how it wasn’t okay for Pin-Jui to express feelings of sadness. I think this is what is often misunderstood by the public and continues to contribute to the negative stereotypes associated with Asian-Americans and the image of Asian-Americans as a “silent” group.
Lauren: When I hear stories from those who immigrated to the U.S., there’s a lot of talk about sacrifices that are made. However, to actually see it and how it affects Pin-Jui overtime really dives into the impact. That doesn’t excuse how he has treated his family, but it puts a light as to why he is the way he is.
Did this help you understand your parents better? If so, how. Any specific scene that stood out?
Anna: Not talking about emotions is apparently a huge one that I feel like is common across all Asian cultures and Asian elders no matter the nationality. And also, the “American Dream” sure is rough and seems to always have been. I can’t imagine moving here as a teen let alone as a young adult newlywed.
Katharine: The film helped validate the things I know about my parents and other Asian parents. It was interesting to compare and contrast the relationship between Zhenzhen and Pin-Jui with my parents’ marriage. In the film, Pin-Jui married Zhenzhen for practical reasons whereas my dad was deeply in love with my mom when they got married.
The only reason he agreed to immigrate to Canada was because of her. He still surprises her every now and then; just recently, he planned a Norwegian cruise for them which sadly got cancelled due to COVID. One similarity is the struggle to survive as recent immigrants which the film showed. My dad would often share with us how half his paycheck would go to the mortgage and the other to food. There was barely anything left for non-essential purchases.
Margaret: I think it made me reflect upon my connection with my dad and how it saddens me about how similar his experience is to Pin-Jui’s. My dad was unable to express his emotions and how that affected our relationship. It’s only been until recently that I’ve been able to share with my dad and accept that he’s uncomfortable when he’s unable to “fix” the issue.
Lauren: My parents are not immigrants to this country. However, my maternal grandmother is and my paternal grandfather was. The film sheds light on some of the struggles that they may have experienced when they were new here.
What is the number one thing you wish non-Asians would understand about the Asian immigration experience?
Anna: Not all Asians are crazy rich. Immigration adjustment – and trauma – is real. Maybe this is a big generalization, but I think being dubbed the “model minority”, at least in America, is problematic and does more harm than good because we got all kinds of unspoken and overlooked issues. And then there is the whole emphasis on achieving rather than just being.
Katharine: Don’t generalize us. If you met one Asian person and they shared their story with you, it doesn’t mean all Asians have the same story. Although we identify as Asian, there are many cultures that exist within that identity, each with their own challenges during the immigration experience. The best way to understand someone’s experience is to get to know them, asking questions, having an open mind and appreciating the journey that they’ve been through.
Margaret: It’s my biggest hope that other people of color will see the similarities in our immigration stories. I also would like White people to know that there are so many things that we encounter as Asian-Americans, particularly that it’s such an uphill battle to understand the intricacies of a new culture, and maybe that’s why it’s so hard to acculturate in America, and that acculturation shouldn’t be expected of immigrants or people of color.
Lauren: No two immigrant experiences are the same. My paternal grandfather came here from the Philippines on a scholarship, Pin-Jui came here from Taiwan by way of assistance from his former employer. “Tigertail” tells the story of one of a wide variety of immigrant experiences.
What is the biggest takeaway overall for you personally?
Anna: I wish Asian dads weren’t as strict and rigid with their (elder) daughters. I wish that, as a culture, Asians would normalize talking about feelings and emotions. I would even go as far as to say that this is a cautionary tale in terms of family dynamics in an Asian immigrant household specifically, and is more common than we’d all like to admit, let alone acknowledge.
Katharine: The strained relationship between Westernized Asian children and their immigrant parents is prevalent across the globe. Although the film recognizes this and attempts to show how it can improve (Angela travelling with her Dad to Taiwan to understand her roots), it only scratches the surface. More dialogue and conversation needs to occur in order for us to find common ground because ultimately, as a mother of two, I would hate it if my kids felt that way about me and/or my husband.
Margaret: This movie really made me happy. It pulled at me in so many ways. It made me reflect upon the difficulties I’ve personally had and the ones I’ve seen in my clients. The piece about not being permitted to express our emotions (in terms of a cultural norm), can be detrimental to our own mental health. We may tend to avoid feelings altogether and have difficulty coping as a result of being unable to identify or feel our emotions. Expressing and acknowledging our emotions is such a key in communicating openly with others and asking for what we need.
Lauren: There needs to be more of a balance in dealing with relationships with our family members and realize the impact in actually validating one another’s feelings and experiences. The fact that the relationship between Pin-Jui and Angela started off so strained did not surprise me, for that very reason. It’s essential in not only deepening our bonds, but also in keeping our mental health afloat.
Tigertail is now streaming on Netflix.
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Anna is a lifestyle and entertainment writer. She is the founder of asienne magazine which she launched with a mission to highlight the proper representation of Asian women and to dismantle the one-dimensional stereotypes shown on film and TV even to this day. You can find her crying about Killing Eve and other female-driven shows (and movies).
Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP, is an author ( “How To Deal With Asian Parents”), wife and a Top 30 Vancouver Mom Blogger with over a decade working in British Columbia’s healthcare system. Her vision for Sum (心,♡) on Sleeve is to empower others to talk about their feelings despite growing up in a culture that hides them. She’s contributed to HuffPost Canada, Scary Mommy, NextShark and Cold Tea Collective.
Margaret Wang is a stress management coach. Her passion for stress management started with her past career as a competitive figure skater. While in college and graduate school, she gained strategies that she wished that she had when she was training on the ice and in school. Now, she finds it incredibly meaningful to accompany others on their journey to a life full of PURPOSE. She wants you to feel INSPIRED, experience PEACE, and be the best YOU! ThriveAndFeel.com
Lauren Lola is a multi-generational, multiracial Filipino American author, blogger, playwright, and screenwriter from the San Francisco Bay Area.You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @akolaurenlola and information about her writing can be found on her website, Lola By The Bay.