Growing Up a Chong
Being the daughter of a world-famous
comedian and movie star is not always easy.
Add in `identity' issues of a Mixed-Race home,
and you have an outright challenge on your hands.
Just ask Rae Dawn Chong.
One of the frustrations of being Tommy Chong's daughter is
that my grandfather was embarrassed of being Chinese,'
reveals Chong, whose father is best known as one half
of cannibis community superheroes `Cheech & Chong'.
"I think my grandfather had great racial
shame, which was hard on us growing up."
Chong's father is half Chinese, half Scottish-Irish.
Her mother is Cherokee Indian and black.
"You get used to being on the outside
looking in", Chong recalls. "You are either/or.
You're not Chinese you're not full-blooded Chinese.
There's a little bit of shame to it."
Chong's paternal grandfather left a very poor home in China
to live with an aunt in Vancouver during the `30s and `40s.
Then, Chinese-Canadian immigrants were mostly
sequestered in a small area in downtown Vancouver
and he grew to feel a shame from his heritage.
"It was overcrowded, horrible and difficult", Chong says.
"The experience left her grandfather `very broken, heartbroken."
"I think he aspired to be gaijin, to be white", Chong says.
"He was definitely the opposite of Shanghainese.
He wasn't proud to be Chinese-Canadian at all."
As a result, he married a white Scottish-Irish
woman and did his best to `Westernize.'
Though his family lived in Chinatown for a portion
of Rae Dawn's childhood, her grandfather shared
little of the Chinese culture with them.
Though he spoke fluent Cantonese, he refused to
teach any of his children or grandchildren.
We grew up desperate to know anything
about our Chinese culture,' Chong relates.
Eventually, she met extended family who
were very proud to be Chinese-Canadian.
Later in life, even her grandfather saw the
error of his ways and embraced his heritage.
One bit that did not escape from her was the use
of chopsticks, the first utensil she learned to eat with.
She recalls Grandma Chong as often cooking
excellent Chinese food for her grandfather.
But "Race" and `Ethnicity' were only two of
the prisms that shaped Chong's life views.
She also lived a life of celebrity.
"It was filled with adventure.
It had tragedy and lots of humor",
" I wanted him to be more
of a dad and less of an icon."
Her father married multiple times, often seemed distant,
and was, of course, heavily involved in the drug culture.
All in all, many times it made him less than accessible.
"It's been lovely on a lot of levels, and painful and
just super, super hard on others", Chong admits.
Still, having a parent in the entertainment
industry opened doors for Chong and her sister.
Soon, she rose to national fame in her own right
with roles in films like `Commando' opposite Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and `Quest for Fire'.
This year also marks the 20-year anniversary
of the Steven Spielberg epic, `The Color Purple'.
Though she was `lucky to get swept up in that wave,'
she says her experience with the film was `a mixed bag.'
The big, big scene we auditioned for, the one that might have
been considered maybe an Oscar scene, got cut,' she says.
As a result, the film had little impact on her career.
Most recently, Chong filmed `Deadly Skies', a made-for-
television disaster movie also starring Antonio Sabato, Jr.
Chong plays the lead, a scientist trying to save the earth
using a super secret military laser to shoot down
a giant asteroid about to collide with Earth .
Chong says she had a really good time making the film.
" I carried this thing like it is Shakespear", she says.
Though it's only a disaster flick and not an awards-contender,
Chong says, " I worked my butt off, and I'm proud of it."
Chong is also proud of her 23-year-old
son, a senior at Brown University .
She says her father was an example
of what not to do as a parent.
"I was given the gift and honor to have my baby and be
given the responsibility of raising him", Chong says.
"I knew my son was going to be priority, more than anything.
If it meant a job or an opportunity versus taking care of my kid,
being with him or being his mother, I always picked my son first."
"I've never been one to think of my body of work
as anything more than 90 minutes of popcorn",
Chong says of her acting career.
"That may be one of the reasons they've never
done one of those `Intimate Portraits' about me.
Not that I don't think my work is good, but
just because I don't do it for that reason."
Rae Dawn Chong's Lineage is considered to be that
of Quarter-Racial and consists of being 1/4-White;
1/4-Black; 1/4-Asian; and also 1/4-Amerindian.]]
Chinese, Scottish-Irish, Cherokee Indian and Black
February 28, 1961
Vancouver , British Columbia , Canada
Daughter of Tommy Chong of Cheech & Chong and Maxine
Sneed, son Morgan and divorced to actor C. Thomas Howell
SOURCE: 'ASIA WEEK' MAGAZINE