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‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’: a reflection with my Mexican-American mother

todayJune 13, 2022 72 4

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By Sofia Psolka

KTSW Contributor

*Spoiler Warning*

 

A black background highlights a bolded white font reading “Everything Everywhere All at Once” in an elongated all caps.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” title screen / Sofia Psolka KTSW

 

Earlier this year, I went to go see A24’s dadaist, multi-verse movie “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” I had seen a few nondescript trailers alluding to a story centering on a Chinese-American family capable of inter-dimensional travel. (A trope that is becoming overused; nonetheless, never fails to fascinate.) The trailers had a looming black everything bagel repeatedly popping up on my Tik Tok/Instagram timeline. 

Any indie film fans out there are fully aware that A24 hardly lets their viewers down, but I absolutely knew I had to see this film when my roommate cried over the mother-daughter relationship between Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and Joy Wang (Stephanie Hsu).

Within the first segment of the movie, “Everything”, my mouth was hanging open— co-directors and writers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schienert absolutely nailed the Gen Z experience with immigrant parents; not even a quarter into the movie, I was already experiencing serious introspection about my identity as well as a challenge towards my perception on what life must be like for my mother.

Joy’s struggle with experiencing too much of the world at every moment is something that a lot of Gen Z struggle to compartmentalize and decipher. Our identities get tangled in the vast interwebs. Sadly, interracial children are especially susceptible to loss of self.

Evelyn’s struggle with being a citizen in a foreign country, learning a new language, and trying to raise a daughter who experiences a culture entirely different from her own made me contemplate whether or not my own mother dealt with similar complications.

When I walked out of the theater, satisfied with the film’s ending, I began to feel a spiral of questions swirling in my head; what if I could unearth the root of my own maternal conflicts? Using quotes from the movie as a basis for each question, I conducted an interview with my mom about her experience as a Mexican American mother in the United States.

 

Part One: Power of Language

In the film’s first sequence, Evelyn is at a meeting with her tax auditor, Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), in which her daughter was supposed to mediate. But, after an argument, Evelyn refused to receive help from Joy, going alone with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and her unwell father, Gong Gong (James Hong). After a moment of inter-dimensional dissociation, Evelyn is left confused about Deirdre’s warning of “gross negligence”.

 

“You always trying to confuse us with these big words,” Evelyn said. 

After a moment’s hesitation, Dierdre condescendingly enunciates her response.

“I thought you were going to bring your daughter, to help you translate,” Deirdre said.

 

My mom grew up in Juarez, Mexico until she moved to El Paso for college after my abuela had obtained a worker’s permit, allowing them to live in the United States. Being from a border town, English was not foreign to my mom; however, she went on to study art at the University of Texas at El Paso. The difference between social English and academic English frustrated and shocked her. For my mom, college memories conjure classroom nightmares, even if she can laugh about them now.

Today, she is fluent in English, but there are times she asks for my help editing her work emails to avoid miscommunication. Watching Evelyn reject Joy’s assistance made me wonder if my mom ever felt animosity towards my ability to speak English.

My fears were wiped away as she laughed at my question. She felt nothing but relief when she came to me for help. “Your English is excellent,” my mom said. “I needed help. And you are better at writing and expressing yourself in English than me.”

Flattered as I was to hear my mom say this, there were several moments of tension in our relationship, due to a lack of understanding. The rift our respective first language created leads to miscommunication of our feelings towards each other– inevitably leading to an argument. 

Despite the ability to express myself in the English language, certain phrases don’t make sense to my mom. Likewise, there are Spanish expressions that do not make sense to me. I often wondered if there was something my mom wanted to say to me but couldn’t because I would not fully understand the words’ impact. Without hesitation, my mom instantly let her mother tongue flow.

“Que te voy a querer esta con el ultimo aliento de mi vida Sofia,” she said. A phrase like this in English would be: “I will love you until my last breath.” As much as I wanted my mom’s words to reach me after triumphantly translating, the power and weight was lost.

 

Part Two: Dreams of a Young Girl

 

My mom is in a all black dress while posing for a photo while in ballerina school.
My mom, age 14, performing in a Spanish ballet recital.

 

A few moments later, Evelyn is warned of the multiverse villain, Jobu Tupaki, who is set on finding her. To avoid whatever malicious deed Jobu Tupaki wants to inflict, Evelyn learns how to harness any ability she may need, by traveling to an alternate version of herself. 

During her quests, Evelyn catches glimpses of the numerous lives she could have led. Upon witnessing all these objectively successful versions of herself, Evelyn realizes that she is living her worst life possible. This is only exacerbated by Alpha Waymond, as he attempts to prevent her mind from splitting.

 

“Every rejection, every decision, has led you [Evelyn] here to this moment,” Waymond said. “But you here are capable of anything because you are so bad at everything.”

 

Evelyn is left with a pit of regret toward her missed opportunities, as she experiences the infinitely “better” versions of herself. Like every young girl, my mom was a dreamer; she wanted to be a ballet dancer, an artist, a teacher… but above everything, she knew she wanted to be a mother. Two of her dreams have been accomplished: she is a mother of two and a middle school Spanish teacher.

That does not imply she has zero regrets; her biggest regret is not defying my abuela’s protestations toward my mom’s desire to take a college-level Spanish language course. If she had taken the course, my mom could have potentially advanced her career from a middle school Spanish teacher to a university-level professor.

I asked if my mom, if given the opportunity, would she travel to an alternate version world , in which she was able to take that Spanish course, potentially leading her to a more objectively successful career. “The only thing I would go back and do it again is to put my foot down [to my abuela] and say ‘no! I’m gonna study Spanish,” she said. “My life would be very different.”

 

Part Three: Motherhood or Career woman

Following the climax of “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, Evelyn and Joy are finally able to see eye to eye. Evelyn realizes that despite the multiverse deeming her a failure, her current reality is the only one where she has created a successful family; and for the first time, she is able to articulate how much her daughter means to her.

 

“Of all the places I could be, I just want to be here with you,” Evelyn said.

 

Taking this scene, I challenged my mother with a tricky question: If she were provided the chance to live a life where she did take that Spanish course, would she, even with the risk of losing her present family?

“No,” she said. “More than being a successful Spanish professor, was my desire to have a family. My children are my motivation. I don’t care what you offer me—my kids are first thing.”

I don’t think further elaboration is necessary!

 

The setting sun highlights the clouds with a pink hue against the sky’s dark blue backdrop. In the center, a two-year-old girl with a confused expression is sitting on the lap of her mother, who smiles at the camera.
Me (left) and my mom (right) sit on a dock in Maryland. / Lydia Psolka

 

Of course, this is only a snippet of a much larger conversation; there are many stories she told me that I will cherish privately. This psychological experiment threw me far from my comfort zone, but the quality of this intentional conversation surpassed my initial discomfort.

Aside from the originality, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” brought in a cinematic world of superheroes and high-budget action series, what I loved most are the conversations it raised between mothers and daughters, fellow daughters, and fellow mothers throughout the country. 

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” compacted the universal familial struggle of wanting to fully understand, as well as be understood by each other within two hours and 19 minutes of complex, wacky, heartfelt story-telling. 

I encourage those dealing with difficulties with their parents to watch this film– however many times, break the cycle of silence and reach out to them while you still can. You just might be able to unlock the mysteries of your relationship.

Written by: ktsw899

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