“Practical” Asian Careers and Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience and upcoming Shang-Chi Marvel Film)

Simu Liu (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Simu Liu, of Canadian TV series Kim’s Convenience, is poised to become massively visible as the star of the upcoming Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the the Ten Rings.   But the road to getting to that point was neither straight nor easy.  In an article in MacClean’s, he talks about how he was constantly fighting with parents who pushed him into a “practical” career  of accounting before he got into acting.  I found his note an interesting companion to this article which talks about how Asian students at Duke seem to be concentrated in “practical” majors.

I have read discussions about why Asian American/Canadian children rarely seem to challenge their parents direction into “practical” careers, and it’s refreshing to me to hear about one that did resist.   As a youth, Liu spoke dismissively of his parents and even ran away from home.  While he did go into a practical career, he eventually found his way into something he loves – acting.  At this point, he understands his parents’ motivation and is in a better place with them.  He wrote the article as a way of saying what many Asian American/Canadian parents often don’t say out loud – I love you.

Carrie Wang’s Duke Chronicle article has a lot of things that I agree with.  A lot of Asian American students are forced into practical majors and don’t follow their intellectual pursuits – that is truly a shame.  But I don’t think it is a bad thing to also have a “practical major” AND follow their intellectual or artistic passions.  There are plenty of artists that have difficult making a living doing just their art.  There are plenty of non-artists that have difficulty making a living.  When she mentions that more Asian Americans should be journalists, I can’t help but think about Aja Dang getting a masters in Broadcast journalism which helped her pile up some $200K of debt.

I found her claims about “who you know” being more important than “what you know” particularly irritating.  It can be true, especially in fields (acting comes to mind) where there are many more people wanting the positions that are available.  Networking without a doubt is important.  But if you have ever been in a position working with or for someone who got their job from you know without them being particularly competent, you might not appreciate that sentiment.  While Wang complains about lack of diversity in media, much of that is from exactly what she is extols as a model – people hiring only those who they know and not looking at a broader pool of talent.

From a parent’s perspective who has and is putting children through college,  I absolutely understand the desire to have them major in something practical.  I think that something many parents, especially Asian American parents, forget is that most people eventually do something other than their major.  Courtney Milan went from getting a masters in physical chemistry to clerking for the US Supreme Court and law school professor to romance novel writer. Another factor to remember is that things like internships and co-ops can be more important than the school name and major for landing jobs.  The Daughter’s major wasn’t the most immediately lucrative (Communications), but the five internships that she did during college did make finding a job much easier.  Number One Son and Number Two Son both have done co-ops, which are a key part of their college experience.  Some of their peers who majored in “practical” majors are still not employed after graduating, most likely because they didn’t get work experience during college.

As for Simu Liu, his “non-practical” career looks bright.  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first Marvel movie with an Asian lead, is expected to be released on February 21, 201.  Awkwafina is also going to be in the movie.  Simu’s letter is part of a MacClean’s series called I Love You, where people take the time to say I love you to some one before it is too late.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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