Whether you know her from her controversial rap past (we recommend you watch her 2012 "My Vag" music video), as the spunky Peik Lin Goh in 2018's smash hit Crazy Rich Asians, or for her history-making 2020 Golden Globe win for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, it's no doubt that Awkwafina's career has been on the up for the last several years.
Not only did the actress also appear in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, aka the MCU's first Asian-led superhero movie, but the second season of her hit sitcom, Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, recently premiered on Comedy Central. She's killing it.
And though Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens is loosely based on Awkwafina's real upbringing, it barely scratches the surface of her little-known past. Though the hilarious characters represent real people in her life, the details surrounding Awkwafina's parents, early childhood memories, and overall origin story are cloudy. We doubt you even know Awkwafina's real name.
What is Awkwafina's real name?
It's common knowledge that the comedic rapper-turned-actress's stage name is a play on bottled water brand Aquafina, but her birth name is another story. As her sitcom suggests, her name is Nora Lum. The La Guardia alum didn't think her silly stage name would take off when she and a friend thought it up at age 15, but here we are.
But before she was officially hailed Awkwafina, Nora Lum grew up in Forest Hills, a residential neighborhood in Queens, N.Y. Though the now-33-year-old grew up with her father by her side, she was soon left without a mother.
Awkwafina had a complex and emotional upbringing with her parents and paternal grandmother.
Sadly, Awkwafina lost her Korean mother, Tia, at just 4 years old to pulmonary hypertension. “My earliest memories of my mom are from when she was already sick,” Awkwafina wrote for People.
“I remember her a lot through her food. She used to feed me a lot of Korean food, and I remember her really caring about that, caring about what I brought to lunch in my lunch box.” Awkwafina's connection to her late mother through food is still vibrant today. “She used to feed me tteok, rice cakes. Years later when I’d eat them, I’d cry because I’d remember her," she continued.
Awkwafina's Chinese father, Wally, raised her as a single dad alongside his own mother, Powah, who packed up and moved to Queens to help raise her granddaughter. Growing up, Powah acted as Awkwafina's maternal figure, exuding the same spunkiness and eccentricity as her grandbaby.
“I remember seeing my grandma as someone who was saving me," she gushed. "She’s snarky; she enjoys a good joke. Nothing was ever too dirty for her." So that's where she gets it from!
Awkwafina seems to admire her Grandma Powah for a slew of reasons, including her willingness to break down outdated, harmful stereotypes. "Whenever people talked about Asian women being these docile, subservient creatures, my grandma just blew all that out of the water.” Go Powah!
And though Awkwafina's relationship with her paternal grandmother made her feel whole, growing up without a mother greatly affected her. More specifically, she wrote that it made her feel like "this fixture of sorrow."
Being swallowed by some orb of sadness just wasn't Awkwafina's style, as she never allowed people to feel sorry for her. Rather, she'd do anything to make the people in her life laugh. “I think all the time, what would I have been doing if my mom hadn’t passed? I don’t think I’d be here, because I think that I had to face a certain level of trauma to be so joyously self-deprecating and so free," she wrote.
As for her relationship with her dad, well, they seem to be close. Awkwafina even dedicated her 2020 Golden Globe, which she won for her powerful performance in The Farewell, to her old man.
"I'd like to dedicate this to my dad, Wally. I told you I'd get a job, Dad," she hilariously stated in her acceptance speech. Did we mention she was fired from her 9-to-5 publicity assistant gig after her "My Vag" music video went viral? Oops.
We're sure Papa Wally and Grandma Powah can't wait to see what their successful Nora does next.
Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST on Comedy Central.