If you grew up in a country or culture that's vastly different from the one that your parents were raised in, life can get pretty darn difficult. And while it's a touchy topic that not many people want to openly discuss, or even dwell on too much, for Asian-Canadian actor and star of Shang Chi, Simu Liu, it was an issue that he wanted to tackle head on in an open letter to his parents.
For the first five years of Simu Liu's life, he was actually raised by his grandparents.
Simu was born in 1989 during Deng Xiaoping's regime in Harbin, China, a period in the country's history that made it very difficult for nationals to leave. However, both of his parents received a potentially life-changing opportunity: a shot to pursue graduate studies at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada.
Simu's folks made the tough call to leave Simu in Harbin to be raised by his grandparents. They toiled to create a stable environment for Simu for five years, before bringing him over to his new life in North America. When they visited Harbin to pick him up, Simu said that he still slept in his grandma and grandpa's room because, to him, they were his "real" parents.
As he wrote in a piece for Maclean's, "When we moved to Canada, life was an adjustment for a variety of reasons. Whereas Grandma and Grandpa were gentle and patient, age and wisdom had not yet calmed your fiery tempers. I often felt like you regarded me as a defective product: you had not been present for my early years, and so my idiosyncrasies left you confused and worried."
Simu went on, "Perhaps, in the same way that you were strangers to me, your son also felt like a foreigner to you. That rift would only widen as I adopted the values and norms of a culture that you were unfamiliar with. We fought often. If I tripped on my laces, I was clumsy. If I scored below an A, I was stupid. If I wanted to hang out with my friends, I was wasting my time. I grew to resent the pressure you put on me, resolving to make your lives as difficult as you were making mine."
"I ran away from home in 2005 after a particularly bad fight, staying at a different friend’s house every day for a week," he continued. "I spoke dismissively about you, told you I hated you, and that I couldn’t wait to leave the house. But privately, I yearned for your love and affection. I often fantasized about having the family I saw in the movies — the ones where everyone would talk like best friends and hug each other hello and goodbye."
According to Simu, he and his parents didn't really openly express their love for one another.
Simu graduated with a degree in business and got a nine-to-five job at a top accounting firm that he couldn't stand and was eventually laid off from. He was so embarrassed that he briefly considered suicide rather than facing his parents.
However, a Craigslist ad looking for extras led him to acting and he pursued a career in filmmaking with full force.
His breakout role was in Kim's Convenience, a Canadian TV series that ran for five seasons and got tons of awards, but Simu had been steadily securing roles in other programs like Akwafina Is Nora From Queens and Fresh Off the Boat.
Simu wrote in his piece that while he wishes his relationship with his parents was better, he knows that they accomplished everything they set out to do. "Despite some bumpy roads along the way, I believe that you have succeeded at everything you’ve set out to do," he reflected. "You built a better life for me. You made sure that I never had to worry about things like student debt or spending money."
"You instilled in me the idea that nothing could be taken for granted in this world, and that if I wanted something badly enough, I had to earn it through work. You made me into everything I am today — hardworking, ambitious, resilient — and I wouldn’t trade that for anything," he wrote. "In November, you attended a screening of Kim’s Convenience at the Glenn Gould Theatre in Toronto. It was the first time you had attended any of my shows or events, and although I tried to downplay it, I was giddy with excitement on the inside."
Simu went on, "It was a perfect night: I was surrounded by the love of my friends and family, and it was better than anything I saw in those movies with the parents I dreamed of having. It took 28 years, but I finally realized that was the kind of relationship that I want with you every day. No more damaged kid. No more anger."
It's hard to imagine that his mom and dad aren't entirely proud of their son as he's managed to forge his own path and establish a really successful entertainment career for himself.
Shang Chi drops in the U.S. on Sept. 3, 2021.