CANADA ENTERTAINMENT Simu Liu says this generation of immigrants must 'show...

Simu Liu says this generation of immigrants must ‘show the world we belong’


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Simu Liu was a very busy guy.

Since his breakout starring role in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Last fall, the actor performed at the Oscars, walked the red carpet at the Met Gala and drove Junos.

Among the accolades, Liu admits that much of his success is due to his parents, who moved to Ontario from Harbin, China when Liu was a young child.

“I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I had in my life if it wasn’t for everything my parents worked for, fought for and sacrificed for,” he said.

In his new memoirs We Were Dreamers: The Origin Story of Immigrant Superheroes, Liu writes about growing up as an immigrant in Kingston, Ontario and later in Mississauga. He talks about his early fight with his parents and how they eventually healed their relationship.

In an interview with CBC Radio Sunday JournalLiu also expressed his hope that the next generation of immigrants will avoid the “grateful immigrant” stereotype, where newcomers should be gracious guests and not expect too much from their adopted home.

“It’s different because we grew up here. This is our home and we deserve to be here as much as anyone else, you know?” he said.

Liu spoke to Sunday Journal presenter Piya Chattopadhyay. Here is part of their conversation.

So let’s talk about your family, because it’s an integral part of you. So you were born in China. Your parents left to settle down in Canada. And you stayed in China, raised by your grandparents, until you were four years old. And then your father comes to take you to Canada. What do you remember about meeting your parents when you were four years old?

Yes, I only remember the strange presence you feel when you’re a little kid and you meet someone for the first time. That’s how my parents felt. This is how my father felt when he knocked on our door and we opened it. My grandparents told me: “This is your dad, go hug him, talk to him.” And I just remember that I couldn’t quite because it was a completely alien presence to me, down to the sound of his voice, the way he smelled. And when he held me, it also felt unfamiliar. I would say it took years to get over it. But even now, we’re not, like, the most touchy people, you know.

How did you talk to them [for the book] and learn more about their lives before entering the picture, how do their stories and this historical context of China play into your story?

I was about 30 at the time I wrote this book. And there is an interesting parallel here, because my parents were about the same age when I was born to them and when they first immigrated to Canada. And this idea is about reaching a point in your life where you look at the horizon, you have a dream, and you say, “I’m going to go for it. I’m going to put thought into action and I’m going to pursue it. I’m going to take a big risk. And if I fail, I will fail spectacularly. But, you know, I do it knowing that I did it.”

In his memoir We Were Dreamers, Liu talks about his relationship with his parents. (HarperCollins Publishing)

And I feel that although… there are so many differences that separate our generations, that the pursuit of a dream and this willingness to stake everything is what really connects us.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to those listening given what we’re talking about, but your parents didn’t want you to be an actor and you struggled with choosing your career. … It was really Convenience Kim that your dad saw success. I remember when I was younger, when I was a TV journalist, my parents kind of, I don’t know, made me feel like I somehow got my way.

Going back to what we talked about earlier, it was all their sacrifices, all their expectations, all the hard work and everything they gave up to come to Canada, they were proud not only of their child, but of what they had achieved . And I’m just wondering if it’s true Convenience Kim the moment was like for your dad. Is that how you see it?

Definitely yes.

[The book] ends the moment I write Shang-Chi, the role of a lifetime. But I struggled with how to frame the story. And I remembered when I was about 11 years old. I played minor league football and for some reason we got to the finals and it was sudden death in overtime.

And I wasn’t the most experienced player on my team or anything like that. But for some reason, the ball at the decisive moment was right in front of me. And I literally just saw this clear path away from myself, the ball and the goal, and I thought, “I’m going to hit.” And when I did, they surrounded me.

And I remember, I think about how they must have felt watching their son get up and celebrate; for two immigrants who literally just wanted to get their heads down and work hard and give their kids every opportunity, you know, for them to experience this through their child, it must have been just an incredible moment.

In 2021, Liu starred as the first Asian Marvel superhero protagonist in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. (Jacine Boland/Marvel Studios)

There’s another side, you know, to being an immigrant’s child, that a good immigrant is one who is grateful, that just to be here, he should be grateful for it. I’m curious, how do you feel about this?

Yeah. I mean, you probably already know how I will answer this question. There is an element of “lower your head, be grateful.” And my parents told me this very clearly; they’re like, “No one asked us to be here,” you know?

It’s different with us because we grew up here. This is our home, and we deserve to be here as much as anyone else, you know? And so, with all the respect the world has for everything my parents went through, I demand more for myself. For us, in our generation, we do not deserve prejudice. I mean like our parents. But we do not deserve the prejudice and discrimination we are subjected to.

And, you know, we’re also in a position where we can actually talk about it. And that might be in a lot of conflict with how we were raised and programmed by our parents, right? Tall weeds are those that are pruned. Drop your head. Don’t make a fuss. But I feel that in our generation we should make a fuss. Otherwise, we will simply be stuck in this state of inconsistency forever. We need to pave our way. We need to build a house. And we need to show the world that we belong to it.

Author Althea Manasan. Interview prepared by Andrea Hoang.

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