Let’s Talk Story: A Need for Speed

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Growing up, Alexander Larson had a need for speed. Make that Speed — the 1994 action film. It was the cars that drew him to the film (a subject he’s still passionate about as he pursues his degree in Mechanical Engineering as a senior at Colorado State University) but it was also something else. It starred someone who looked like him. Keanu Reeves is one of the best known Hollywood actors who happens to be part Asian, significant when only one out of 20 speaking roles goes to Asians and only one percent land leading roles. Alexander writes about these memories and more in his essay here. 

My name is Alexander Larson. I’m 23-years-old, live in Fort Collins, Colorado, and attend Colorado State University, where I am a senior in Mechanical Engineering. I am passionate about cars which led me to study the subject. I am half Taiwanese and half European, with German, Irish, and Scandinavian blood.

My father was living in Hsinchu, Taiwan when he met my mother. At the time, my father was a teacher, and studied martial arts himself. My mother was a fashion design student and part-time model in Taipei. They met, and had me in Sacramento, California.

But we soon moved back to Hsinchu, as the city’s land was formerly my ancestors’ in part before the Japanese came during World War Two.

We eventually moved to Fort Collins, Colorado where I have remained for nearly two decades.

Fort Collins isn’t exactly the most ethnically diverse city out there, and Denver, the state capital, isn’t for a major city. But I still like the Front Range and Denver’s greater area and urban corridor. The people have been nice to me. That said, I need to vent something and explain a very important personal story, my perspective, as someone who is hapa/Eurasian.

What it boils down to is that I didn’t feel like I fit in in Fort Collins nor Taiwan growing up. Since this isn’t Hawaii or California, which is very diverse, I sometimes don’t have a strong sense of my identity. But there was a moment when I did.

When I was 12 , I was playing with a toy truck, and I loved buses too. Normal little boy stuff, I guess. The film Speed came on TV on Fox31, Denver. Right then and there, the movie captured my imagination.

The scenes of the Los Angeles landscape reminded me of my father driving me through Denver Metropolitan on the elevated freeway system, and I just thought that something about the actor Keanu Reeves, who I didn’t know of prior, seemed special — like he had a familiar and cool look to him that engaged me. Later I learned he had mixed ancestry too.

My fully white father said that he had an intuition I’d mature to resemble Keanu Reeves. Over the years he brought home many Keanu movies to prove his belief. I had a more “full Asian” look as a kid until I was about 21 when my face changed a lot. My nose bridge got higher, like more archetypically white. Now I can see it in Speed, where Keanu is a bit heavier built and has a rounder, fuller face than the gaunter look of his films thereafter.

I’m not saying anyone would ever mistake us, but you get the drift: Keanu Reeves is one of very few part Asian, part white actors in Hollywood. With my mixed heritage, the fact that I have some resemblance to him is very close to me.

Update: Thanks for your input, lovely readers! While Alexander writes about identifying with Keanu Reeves based on his personal experience, wanted to clarify that Keanu Reeves is not just Asian and white — he also has Native Hawaiian ancestry. This article from Hawaii Affairs Magazine has an interesting point about Reeves’s multiracial, multicultural, multinational experience. – Sara

Written by Alexander Larson
Edited by Sara Hayden

Let’s Talk Story is a program about identity where you’re invited to share an anecdote from your lived experiences in the form of a live conversation, short oral history, or written essay. The goal is to keep a record that connects the past to the present, and bring our stories to life. Participate here.


4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Story: A Need for Speed

  1. The fact that so many can identify with Keanu as a hapa is great, but Keanu is not 50% Asian and 50% white. He has Hawaiian ancestry and it shouldn’t be erased.


  2. Reeves is only about 1/16-1/32 Chinese. That’s only about 3-6%. His father was a very mixed Hawaiian. His mom is English. He grew up in Canada. He looks very 50/50 hapa for someone with a very small percentage of Chinese.


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