“For Asian kids, to see themselves and their families reflected on the screen is a big deal”

The cast of Kim’s Convenience have discussed Asian representation in a panel

At Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, the cast of Kim’s Convenience formed a panel to discuss the importance of representation.

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who plays father and husband Mr Kim on the show, said he found difficulty in his former years as his ethnicity was not represented.

“I wanted so hard to fit in, to assimilate, that I actively pushed away my heritage because it was never seen,” he said. “When you don’t see yourself reflected on the screens, you are very subtly taught that your stories don’t matter or that you are an outsider.”

“For Asian kids, to see themselves and their families reflected on the screen is a big deal. It normalizes the families and it shows that they are not alone, that these are common stories,” he added.

Describing himself, Lee said, “I am round; I am smooth on the top, I have no hair; I’m warm, not just in body heat but personality; and I give great hugs and I love getting hugs. I am like a big stuffed teddy bear — with no hair!”

Simu Liu, who plays Jung, the son of the family said he was moved by Ins Choi’s play, which the sitcom was based on. Liu recalls that seeing the play “was the first time I ever saw [my own culture] depicted onstage … and I remember leaving the theater in tears because it was truly a look into my parents’ life.”

“[The play] made me feel a lot closer to my parents, it made me understand their perspective a lot more so it did actually bring us much closer together,” Liu added.

Andrew Phung, who plays Kimchee, Jung’s best friend, said the strength of Kim’s Convenience lies in accurately portraying a relatable family. “The great part about our show is it’s about the realities of this family,” he said. “It’s groundbreaking that this family is on television and gets to tell their particular story. The message is the same as other shows: family, hard work, the struggle to have a better life.”

Lee added that the show has taught non-Koreans about Korean culture. “A lot of non-Korean people tune into the show and say, ‘I didn’t know much about Korean culture, but watching your show is a really great introduction to it,’” he said.

“When you are normalized and you see more of yourself reflected in these different diverse characters, you are more willing to empathize with them or be with them because you have this common ground.”

Kim’s Convenience season 3 will be available on Netflix from 3 April 2019.