By: Jungmin Lee
Photo Courtesy of: ‘Dear Girls’ Book Cover
In her new memoir “Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life,” comedian Ali Wong pens a series of endearing, hilarious and brutally honest letters addressed to her daughters to read when they’re old enough. In the meantime, fans get to have front-row access to the woman who performed not one, but two wildly popular Netflix comedy specials well into her pregnancies, subsequently inspiring Halloween costumes every year since. As the title suggests, Wong’s first book doesn’t hold back, which says a lot for someone who has gone onstage and likened her vagina to a “[…] public park that has hosted many reggae fests,” among other unapologetically risqué jokes.
In a similar fashion, her book shares the sexual trials and tribulations of being a single 20-something looking for love — or at the very least, a good lay — in New York City. Branching out of her regular territory, Wong also reveals a sensitive side with poignant reflections on several topics that women of all ages can relate to. For example, she dedicates several chapters to her experiences with motherhood, covering everything from miscarriages to “mom guilt.” As a wife and new mother of two toddlers, Wong discusses with refreshing candor the challenges of keeping it all together while managing a thriving career that requires her to tour the country or work on a movie set for 14-hour shoots.
In chapters about her college days, she encourages young people to get out of their comfort zones and to study abroad, like she did in Hawai’i and Hanoi, Vietnam during her time at UCLA. She sprinkles in tongue-in-cheek nuggets of wisdom throughout the book, like to never take a grown man’s virginity. Wong also offers more sincere guidance on other matters, such as making it in Hollywood as an Asian American woman. She tells aspiring creatives, “Let go of seeing yourself as nothing more than an Asian American woman. Don’t just drink boba, go outlet shopping and talk exclusively to other Asian Americans. Expose yourself to how other people in America live, and you’ll discover the universal struggles that connect us.” At the same time, she stresses the importance of having a support group of fellow Asian Americans in entertainment who have each other’s backs and says, “What I’m saying is you need both—your community and what lies outside it.”
There is a deep appreciation for the author’s roots weaved into her stories about growing up as the youngest wild child of a rambunctious Chinese-Vietnamese household in San Francisco. Wong acknowledges that it wasn’t always this way. Like many first-generation kids of immigrants, she struggled for a long time to deal with the formidable generational and cultural gap between her parents and herself. Now on much better terms, she cites starting her own family, her father’s death and an eye-opening trip to her mother’s homeland in Vietnam as catalysts towards forgiveness and healing from old childhood wounds.
In many ways, the memoir is also a love story about Wong and her husband, Justin Hakuta, who was made famous in her stand-up sets as the handsome Harvard Business School graduate she “trapped.” From their meet-cute at a mutual friend’s wedding to their journey into parenthood, the letters dedicated to “Mr. Wong” as well as an epilogue written by the man himself gives an inside look at the couple’s life together. Their relationship dynamic — though far from perfect, Wong admits — represents an alternative portrait of marriage that breaks free from gender roles and social norms. She praises Hakuta’s virtues as a true feminist husband, which she defines as someone who “doesn’t see a woman’s money, power and/or respect as a reflection of his own lack of success … [and] embraces his wife’s ability to provide by celebrating her and stepping up.”
Wong’s distinctly unfiltered voice continues to add a necessary perspective as one of the loudest and boldest Asian American female presences in today’s cultural zeitgeist. As expected, her book will entertain dedicated followers and new fans alike. But ultimately, it provides much more than laugh-out-loud moments. “Dear Girls” is a heartfelt gift filled with sage advice, often learned the hard way, from a woman who has been there, done that and has lived to tell us all the tale.