Awkwafina hosted Saturday Night Live this weekend, making history in the process. During her opening monologue, the Crazy Rich Asians star took a moment to reflect on the journey that brought her to this point — becoming only the second Asian American woman ever to host SNL in its 44-season history.
In 2000, Awkwafina said, she came to 30 Rockefeller Plaza to see her idol, Lucy Liu. At the time, Awkwafina was an 11-year-old from Queens still going by her given name of Nora Lum. Liu was the first Asian American woman in history to host SNL.
“I was a kid and I didn’t have a ticket, so I knew I wasn’t getting in. But I just wanted to be near the building,” Awkwafina said. “And I remember how important that episode was for me and how it totally changed for me what I thought was possible for an Asian American woman.”
The audience cheered, and Awkwafina worked to maintain her composure as the gravitas of the moment became clear.
“Standing here tonight is a dream I never thought would come true. So thank you, Lucy, for opening the door. I wasn’t able to make it in the building back then, but 18 years later, I’m hosting the show,” she said before happily shouting out, “I love you, Lucy Liu! Be my friend!”
The fact that Awkwafina was only the second Asian American woman to host SNL wasn’t the only reason her appearance as so profound. Her approach to hosting also made a big difference.
In 2000, Liu’s monologue proved to be a product of the time, largely playing on Asian stereotypes. In 2018, Awkwafina’s monologue poked holes in those stereotypes.
She started by introducing herself, noting that she was “just your average Asian trumpet player turned rapper turned actress… very stereotypical.”
She also alluded to her NYC upbringing, saying, “I’m actually from New York. I grew up in Queens. My dad still lives there. People assume my dad has an accent, and he does. He sounds like Donald Trump, because they’re both old guys from Queens.”
Like Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina’s SNL gig holds a lot of cultural significance — both speak to just how much representation matters. And, hopefully, those roles happening within a short time span mean we’re moving toward programming that is far more inclusive and better reflects our nation’s diversity.
It would be a true shame for 18 more years to pass before Asian American girls and young women see another touchstone person hosting the iconic sketch series.