I won’t be the first to say that I’m cynical and embittered, especially when it comes to the politics of representation, but when it came to ‘The Family Law’ Episode 4, I was engulfed by nothing but a feeling of warmth.I sat in little room – an extension tacked onto the end of an ancient house – with my laptop sitting on the ironing board, and a tender smile of familiarity on my face. The cramped and sprawled interior of the Laws’ home, with laundry stacked up in the background (so prominent it almost warrants a credit as an extra in the dramedy), the Chinese restaurant that is the complete antithesis (and embarrassment) to any hipster design dogma, the flipping between English and Cantonese, and the sad reality of no tits, are all things that I couldn’t help but cross off on my “card”.
Bingo, that’s me.
One thing that remains uncrossed on my list is food. Where are the abject “delicacies”??? Sausages and tit cake aside, where are the chicken feet?
Food is an important part of the Asian immigrant narrative, a constant point of otherness for many. Often called “delicacies”, it is as if these dishes are too fantastic to be consumed on a daily basis. Anglo friends still tell me, proudly, that they had so-and-so delicacy: “I survived China”. Put it on a bumper sticker, mate.
I was recently reminded by how “strange” eating with my family can be when my Anglo-Australian partner and I gathered around the Lazy Susan for a banquet dinner. Afterwards, he had expressed how uncomfortable he was eating a nub of sweet-and-sour pork with a shard of bone in it and that the offal at the start of the meal was a little confronting. It took me back to my first year of school here in Australia: the lunch bell rings, I open a lunch box of cold soy-sauce noodles, stir-fried with bits of grated carrot, garlic, and pork. Six girls around me lean back and squeal: “Are those worms?” “Ew, what is that smell?!?” “Is that safe to eat???”
If you are what you eat, am I suppose to conclude that I am disgusting, slimy, repellant, abject? I don’t fit into the white hierarchy, and I certainly don’t eat from their table. Presenting Asian heritage through food, with the camera silently breezing past the chicken feet, cold pork shoulder, and whole steamed fish with eyes popping out at you in silent (dead) judgement, could be a good thing. Visibility means giving voice to every part of our culture, not just what is savoury to the palate of the centre.
While I would love to see this aspect of being Asian reflected in the mainstream media as the normal, I’m also conscious of the fact that ‘The Family Law’ is exactly about maintaining a presence on screen. Another family, another neighbourhood, presented without difference. Because we are no different. It is a subversion of tropes that grip us in daily existence.
This resistance is rallied from scene to scene by Jenny, the Law matriarch. How I love her. She is my mother, my grandmothers, my aunties, and I have nothing but love and familiarity for a woman I see long after I have turned the screen off. With the advent of Amy Chua’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’, it seems that Asian mothers (and fathers) are receiving side-glances as the perpetrators of a new kind of torture on poor innocents. I love that Jenny knocks this stereotype back on screen, portraying the Chinese mother as someone who just wants the best for her child. “Two words for you: Stretch. Hummer.” The innocence of Jenny and her determination to remain relevant is exactly why the show has won me over.
Despite Jenny and her overwrought loving, we end with Andrew’s departure from the family home in favour of his father. Cut to Jenny’s heartbroken pleas and clawing at the door. I cried: not for Jenny but for Andrew and his inability to reconcile the fact that his embarrassment of Jenny is — in actual fact — his embarrassment of his culture and its clumsy, haphazard attempt to wedge itself into the dominant power’s space.
Cut to a mother and her children feeding off tit cake sitting in al-foil. I’m laughing through my tears, remembering the last time we had birthday cake in the fridge, and the last time I had birthday cake for breakfast with mum.
I’m for the Laws.
The Family Law screens on SBS Thursdays at 8.30pm.
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