'The Tiger Hunter' is a Love Letter to the Immigrant Story

Thursday, September 21, 2017 / 12:09 PM

If you follow me on Twitter, you might already have seen me tweeting about The Tiger Hunter, but I wanted to dedicate a blog post to it because I don't know how much I was able to really express in 140 character chunks.

I honestly wasn't expecting to be moved by this film as much as I was. (Truthfully, I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting.) It was the small anecdotes, the short scenes, that hit me the most: when Babu offers Sami a place to live, no questions asked; the single suit the roommates shared for job interviews; Sami's efforts to study up on being a "professional American" so he can fit in at work; the optimism that, in America, even the street sweepers own cars. 

And isn't it true that every immigrant family has a version of that optimism? My parents dreamt that the streets were literally paved with gold. In America, they imagined, there was equality and opportunity. Nobody told them how hard it would be to be looked down on because your accent was too strong or because you didn't understand the pop culture references. In China, my grandfather was a teacher. He had an engineer's mind – like Sami, who fixed radios and electronics for his neighbors – but communism and danger drove him and the family away from it. When he got to America, he washed dishes. If he were still alive today, I'd want to know if he ever learned the rules of baseball.

On my father's side, my grandmother was a nurse, but in America, she worked at a canning factory. It's where she lost the hearing in one of her ears. I wonder if she struggled to learn about the Winter Olympics the way Sami does in the film.

Here's the thing about the American dream: after you've been told enough that it isn't "for you" because of your skin color or the way that you talk or the food that you eat, you begin to believe it, and it wears you down. So you work and work and hope that one day the dream will apply to your kids and your grandkids. And, more importantly, you try not to talk about how hard it was so that your kids and your grandkids won't think it'll apply to them someday too.

At least, that's how I think my parents and grandparents saw it – until we started asking questions and then they started to tell us stories. I love these stories because it tells me something about where I'm from.

The Tiger Hunter is a love letter to the generations who sacrificed so much. This is a narrative that deserves a chance. Films like The Tiger Hunter are helping to build the opportunity for more stories like this to be told – and we need that. We should be proud of these stories.

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