That Guy is Chinese

I went to a party once at a big celebrity’s home, thrown annually with another big celebrity, a sort of a fun joint birthday celebration, which was neither fun nor celebratory nor were there any joints in evidence. That might have made the thing worthwhile or at least slightly more relaxed. There is something very weird and tense when you group a lot of famous people in one area. Usually, the truly famous need assistance, often a great deal of assistance, and so these events are rarely about the famous folks but more about their handlers, who can really suck the oxygen out of a room. At any kind of junket or awards show or showbiz thing I can feel my cells dying as they try to co-exist with all the entourages and teams and plus ones and minus ones.

At this particular affair, there were big, circularly arranged crowds around each bold name face, and so the famous did not so much commune with each other, rather the outer layer of each group surrounding the celebrity would mingle, but that was the extent of the socializing. This is my assumption and assessment of most famous folks. It’s a large cluster of people, the one you know in the middle, many you don’t know surrounding them. Don’t even try, I think. You’ll never get to the center of that tootsie pop. How many licks? I can’t count that high.

I was surprised by Tom Hanks, coming around a corner, on his own, even without Rita, as this was ages ago, when he was just a lone celebrity, altogether without satellites. He’s a wonderful actor, and a nice guy. He told me that he had long loved my comedy and that it reminded him of his family, as his grandmother or great grandmother or something grand in the title was Chinese. As I looked at him again, with this new information, and I could see it, and it was slightly shocking to think of him as asian, almost a scandal. It was akin to coming out of the closet, I guess. Coming out as asian. Look at his eyes. It’s all there in the eyes. this was a big deal, and I never forgot it. I go see his movies still to this day in the theatre, and I sit back and I enjoy his acting, and in the back of my mind I think, “That guy is Chinese” and I believe I enjoy him more because of it.

11 Comments. Add To The Mix…

  1. Margaret, thank you so much for this post. I’m white-looking half-Japanese/half-American, and sometimes I feel like I can’t represent because of the way I look. But cultural identity goes a lot deeper than appearance, and it’s nice to be reminded that people can recognize even beyond what they can see.

  2. Margaret, if you look at his wikipedia page, it turns out his dad married a Chinese woman after his parents divorced. So he grew up with a lot of asian family stuff, it seems, but is not necessarily chinese, ethnically speaking. He’s totally bay area.

  3. Dear Margaret,
    A similar phenom popped into my life recently when I finally saw a picture of the author Lisa See, whose work I have long admired. Here’s this red-haired white lady all representing as Chinese and I”m thinking, who do you think you are and how does that work? Well, as usual, my bad. After reading her novel “On Gold Mountain” come to find out she was born into a (in many ways) very traditional Chinese family….who knew! If you have not read it I highly recommend it. An amazing story of two people from very different worlds meet and leave an incredible legacy. One of my favorite parts of the story btw, is how her great great granddad got his start as an American businessman selling crotchless panties to whores in Sacramento in the gold-rush years….now that kinda peaks your interest, no?

  4. Even if he isn’t biologically part-chinese, it is a lovely story because assuming ‘white/Caucasian’ as default is so insidious and helps erase many diverse people. The media doesn’t help obviously and films about real people use white/skinny people to represent people who look vastly different. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Bit of a lateral answer but stay with it ..there’s a direct parallel even though it ain’t chinese ..I had my goat neutered when i was concerned about it being attacked by dogs and named it Marylin after Marylin Manson ..because like Marylin who had a rib removed so he could perform felatio on himself my goat was fixed ..so it happened that i found myself explaining why I had named my goat Marylin after this rockstar with this female name ..happened that I was travelling interstate and met up with a gothic looking man who had asked directions in the airport who turned out to be Marylin Manson ..what were the chances of meeting up with an international superstar for me ..I think the “secret” is that i had told that story so many times it was an event that was “attracted” to me ..I didn’t tell Marylin about my goat.

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I watched a movie of his recently on the plane, a gentle comdey where he rides a scooter a lot and I saw it in that movie around his eyes…I did wonder but dismissed it as some celtic throwback…some people have taken me for having chinese in me but my mother alwats said its really an Irish look…but maybe there is a Chinese man fron the Goldfields of Australia in the family after all…Good to know Tom is a nice guy too…it does come through…

  7. Great post! Now that you mention it I can totally see the Chinese eyes of Tom Hanks. How many other famous people have an ethnicity that no one suspects? I love how you described the entourages of famous people. I swear if I ever become famous I will absolutely not have an entourage. I am nobody special, and at the same time I am the equal of any famous person. That’s why I never ask for autographs or fawn over celebrities that I have met. I just treated them the same. Everyone is just a human being, nothing more.

  8. there is something to say for that after recognizing the degree to which some morons in my life had absolute disregard for any relations — seemingly anything outside of their norm or standard ….. particularly any asian relations i may have had, but perhaps it explains why it’s difficult to take any news seriously after a showcase of pronounced ignorance over 15 years. unless of course, you like crack heads and pedophiles. thanks for the humor and raising a great point.

  9. Not that you mention it, it seems so obvious. He looks every bit as Asian as many of my 1/2 and 1/4 Asian friends. I don’t think that he’s Chinese kin just through marriage.

    Cool stuff.

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