We all want to make our elders proud. We reach, we strive, we achieve.
And yet, professional success comes at a personal cost. We make our way in the world, but the world takes us further away from our families who sacrificed so much to raise us. Falling asleep at night after long days, we might think – am I missing the best part?
“Thank You Grandma / Doh Jeh Mama (多謝嫲嫲),” a short film in honour of Asian Heritage/AAPI Month, is an intimate portrayal of a lifelong relationship between a grandson and his grandmother. Written and directed by Chinese-Peruvian Canadian Jon Chiang, the film explores how our connection to family and ancestry evolves over a lifetime.
“This film is inspired by my own experiences of life and loss with my grandmother,” explains Director Chiang. “I wanted to create something personal to celebrate the Asian-Canadian experience, and hopefully, a film you might see your story in.”
I joined the team creating the film because I did recognize my own life here. I, too, had a childhood of thin paper Chinese character practice books left unfinished and abandoned. I moved away from home to Beijing to work on my career and missed important moments that turned into missed years away from my family. It wasn’t until much later, looking back, that I understood the greater meaning of what my elders had been trying to teach me.
“Thank You Grandma” stars Chinese-Canadian actors Althea Kaye and Leslie Kwan with newcomer Joshua Lee.
“I think chasing achievements is something rooted in our culture in order to generate pride and show that we are capable of taking care of our family,” says Kwan, who plays the adult grandson in the piece. “But then we tend to forget and lose sight of what it means to really ‘care’ for our family.”
Created as a work of love by the Asian film community in Canada, the work showcases cinematography by award-winning Director of Photography Kaayla Whatchell, who led an almost entirely female camera crew of Asian heritage to create the distinctive look of the piece.
“Working in the film industry, I have missed many family dinners, and this film is a reminder that work isn’t everything,” says Whatchell. “Being half Ryukyuan and growing up in Canada, I didn’t realize how much my family’s culture influenced my art until a few years ago. My eye leans towards the colours I grew up with and a very vibrant image that’s full of life.”
Honouring our elders will always be at the heart of Asian culture. Collectively, this film is our profound thank you to those who raised us and made us who we are.
Joanna Wong is a Vancouver-born media Producer with a passion for intercultural storytelling. Her most recent work includes House Special, a five-part docuseries that explores Chinese-Canadian history through small town restaurants, now airing on CBC Gem.