The stars of movie “The Sun Is Also A Star” got raw and real when reflecting on their immigrant families.
Charles Melton and Jake Choi play brothers Daniel and Charlie Bae in the film, which premieres in theaters on Friday. The movie centers around the budding romance between Daniel, who’s a college-bound Korean American son of immigrants, and Natasha, an immigrant from Jamaica whose family is fighting a deportation case.
The actors, who are both close with their immigrant moms, sat down with HuffPost to discuss their own Asian American roots and assess American attitudes toward immigration.
Melton told HuffPost that his mother, who’s from Korea, is his “hero.” She came to the U.S. back in 1990 and years later, she got her citizenship, he said. The actor summed up her journey, starting with the struggles of “being in an unknown land” by herself, then pregnant with Melton, as his father, a member of the military, was fighting in the Gulf War, to getting her citizenship.
“Fast forward to when I was 11 or 12 years old, seeing my mom getting her citizenship in San Antonio, Texas, quizzing her every day for weeks leading up to the exam ― You see the stories, the real people who deal with these issues that are going on today,” he said of the challenges people face when moving to a new country.
Choi’s parents are Korean immigrants, who ended up putting down roots in Queens, New York ― much like his character’s family in the movie. While his father left when he was 10 years old, the actor said his mother made sure he’d maintain his Korean culture. He felt conflicting feelings about his identity as an Asian American because of it, wrestling with how to prove his Americanness while going home to a household that clutched the values and traditions of their motherland.
Choi noted through the years he’s been able to take a step back to reflect on his parents’ journey.
“Growing up you don’t really understand the sacrifices made for you ― giving up their dreams so their children can achieve individuality and their own dreams and this life of self actualization,” he said.
The significant amount of time spent looking back on his family’s story in the U.S. has also made the actor cognizant and outspoken about the treatment of immigrants as a demographic in the country. Choi explained that though many empathize with immigrants, there are still too many Americans who fail to do so.
“A lot of people can’t, especially white Americans whose families have been here for many generations, they feel threatened by immigrants and call immigrants derogatory terms like ‘illegals’ ― I think that’s very dehumanizing,” he said. “The only non-immigrants in this country are Native Americans, but there’s a huge hate, a disdain for immigrants in this country even now and it’s tough to see that.”
The majority of Americans feel that immigrants strengthen the country, according to a Pew Research report. But more than a quarter of the public still feels that immigrants are a burden to the U.S. as they take jobs, housing and health care, the survey said. When looking at unauthorized immigration, Americans are divided. Roughly 75 percent of voters who supported the GOP candidate in their congressional district during the midterms said unauthorized immigration was a large issue while less than 20 percent who supported the Democratic candidate felt that way.
“I hope this film starts conversation. There are conversations now happening and hopefully it can help people to be more compassionate towards immigrants and their struggles and why they’d be coming to this country. There’s still are a lot of work to be done,” Choi said.
“You don’t have to go through someone else’s experience first-hand to be empathetic to them.”
For Melton, negative attitudes towards immigration can be, in part, traced back to issues with representation.
“I think there’s just not stories being told outside of the media and this is something that humanizes [immigrants],” he said. “Instead of seeing the policies of someone being an immigrant ― they’re people too. They have dreams and aspirations.”