"I feel more connected to my community than ever before," the Asian-American actress tells PEOPLE of connecting with fans of the Netflix franchise

By Dana Rose Falcone
February 18, 2021 02:26 PM
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In the beginning of To All the Boys: Always and Forever, Lana Candor's character Lara Jean goes on a family vacation to Korea to discover her roots and connect with her late mother. In real life, Condor, 23, took a similar trip when she visited her native Vietnam for the first time with former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2019 to promote girls' education.

"When we landed my skin, my hair, my vision, every part of my physical being felt it knew it was in the environment where I was born," the Netflix star tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "My hair looked so good!"

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While in Vietnam, Condor visited the orphanage where her parents, Bob and Mary, adopted her and her older brother Artie from when the actress was four months old.

lana condor
Credit: Jonny Marlow

"We retraced our steps, my parents' steps to finding us. We went back to the orphanage and we met the manager of the orphanage. He's the one that gave Artie and I away to our parents," Condor recalls. "We saw every part of our past life. And if it wasn't for To All the Boys, I don't think Mrs. Obama would have asked me [on the trip]."

To All the Boys: Always and Forever
Kitty (Anna Cathcart), Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Margot (Janel Parrish) in To All the Boys: Always and Forever.
| Credit: KATIE YU/NETFLIX

Leading the hit Netflix franchise as an Asian-American woman has also allowed Condor to connect with people who share a similar background.

"The people that come up to me, they share with me their experience in high school and about how they felt seen and represented in the movies," she says. "My identity has deeply been enriched because of these experiences. I feel more connected to my community than ever before."

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The actress knew from the time she starred as an "iconic Asian mutant" in 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse that representation would be an ongoing part of her career. "And it's something that I very much welcome because I want people to feel less alone. I want people to be seen. That's all I care about," Condor says. "It's not pressure in that sense of I'm overwhelmed because I'm not. I'm actually quite thrilled and honored that I have this opportunity."

And she recognizes "the Asian-American experience is not just one experience."

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Growing up as the only Asian student — aside from her brother — at her school on Washington's Whidbey Island left Condor thinking, "I guess this is it," she says. "When you don't see anything else, it's almost like you don't know how different you are."

Condor remembers the first time a peer made called her "a derogatory name for an Asian person."

"I didn't know what it meant, but I knew that it didn't make me feel good," she says. "It cuts you down for sure."

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Coming off of the three To All the Boys movies and looking forward to starring in and executive producing the upcoming Netflix comedy Boo, Bitch, Condor hopes to dedicate her career to making sure others feel accepted in a way that she didn't as a kid.

"I hope I have a long career," Condor says. "And if I'm so lucky to, I want it to be solely focused on making people feel less alone."

She continues of TATBILB, "The amount of people that have come up to me and been like, 'Oh man, I wish I would've had this when I was younger.' I'm like, 'Well, now your kids would have it. And that is progress. Even if it's baby steps.'"

To All the Boys: Always and Forever is out now on Netflix.