Good at math? Bad at sports? A new generation of Asian young people are aware of how they are seen from the west and know that this will have to change, writes Hong Kong teenager Anna Tang.
ASIA IS A PLACE in the Far East which consists of three countries: Japan, Korea and China.
Seriously? Of course not, but that’s the perception of many people in the west. It’s hard to blame folk. The mainstream media in the west obsesses over those three places.
Here are nine more observations about Asian stereotypes to think about:
2) Consider the #StopAsianHate movement. What is it about? Halting the violence against East Asians, apparently. The people from the rest of the Asian continent (the actual majority of Asians) apparently don’t count! What’s really happening in this situation? Why aren’t people digging deeper?
3) In the United States, we often hear the label “Asian-American”. But who is in that group? “Filipinos and other non-East Asians get pulled into the Asian American umbrella when we’re needed,” a young person from the Philippines told this publication. “In a way, I feel used.”
4) The positioning of East Asians is complicated and shifting. Are we “kind of” white? In the 16th century, East Asians used to be termed “white” by Caucasian Europeans, and even now you hear some say they are Asians “passing for white”.
THE ASIAN AESTHETIC
5) On the plus side, Asian culture is spreading, and the popularity of Kpop, Kdrama, manga, and anime have made parts of East Asia alluring to the west, but in specific ways.
6) It’s accepted that appreciation of culture is good – but when does it become appropriation of culture, which may not be a good thing at all?
Is it, perhaps, when singer Ariana Grande consistently includes Japanese characters on her merch, and acquires a tattoo which is supposed to say “7 rings” in Kanji, but instead says “BBQ grill”?
Is it, perhaps, when Katy Perry dressed up as a geisha during an awards show, with no indication that she saw the role as anything but another cool costume?
Is it, perhaps, when no credit was given to Hong Kong globally popular crime drama Infernal Affairs when an American remake of it, The Departed, won the Oscar for best picture?
Is it, perhaps, when Hollywood creates remakes of Kdramas such as “Crash Landing On You” and “W: Two Worlds” but misses the underlying cultural messages?
Too often Asian elements are appreciated for their aesthetic without regard for history or context.
STRANGE WORLD OF THE KOREABOOS
When taken to extremes, the “appreciators” or “fans” can be truly terrifying—and there’s now even a word for non-Asian Kpop fans who take things to extremes: Koreaboos.
The ultimate example is said to be a man named Oli London, who has had 20 surgical operations to look like his idol, a member of BTS named Jimin.
The equivalent for fans of Japanese anime is weeaboos or weebs. Unlike Japan and Korea, China tend to get negative press in the west, so Chinaboos (common in the days of Bruce Lee) are harder to find these days.
GOOD AT MATH
7) Young Asians face so many expectations. Our parents have huge expectations, to start with. But so do our friends from around the world. Eric Nguyen, an Asian-American of Vietnamese descent, told this publication: “We’re stereotyped as the smart nerdy kids with no friends. Can’t even lie. That’s probably what 70% of the school thinks of us. There’s a hierarchy which is so ridiculous and unnecessary.” He laughs. “We get placed at the bottom.”
However, while they may be low on the ladders of social popularity or sports, there are high academic expectations in certain areas: maths and sciences are supposed to be the subjects Asians excel in. But not creative topics. The Chinese are associated with copying things, right?
If you type “why are Asians…” into Google, it finishes the sentence for you: “…so good at math?”
WOW YOU SPEAK ENGLISH
8) Yes, we speak English. Even though stereotypes are often rooted in observation, it is when they are normalised that the issue becomes a problem.
Case in point: The fluent English of the present writer, a young Asian girl, sometimes baffles multiple English-speaking men on a single ordinary day.
“Wow, your English is so good,” they say.
“I go to an international school,” I reply automatically.
Even worse are the people whose eyes light up at the sight of a dark-haired East Asian individual and enthusiastically greets them with 今日は (a Japanese greeting, pronounced Konnichiwa) or 你好 (a Mandarin greeting, pronounced ni hao) and subsequently become irritated when said individual responds in English.
Too often it is the very same people who brag about the globalisation of the English language who are most surprised when they meet an Asian fluent in English.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
9) How we look may not be where we’re from. Alex Rothermal, 18, of Chinese ethnicity, has spent nearly his entire life in the U.S after being adopted by Caucasian American parents from a young age.
“Even though I have grown up in this country and I identify it as my home, people are still incredulous,” he said. “They ask me: ‘Where are you really from?’ When I reply with my state, they say: ‘No, where are you REALLY from?’”
A 16-year-old girl of mixed descent who’s lived in both Britain and Hong Kong, said: “I’ve always felt like I’ve needed to explain myself due to there being so many comments like ‘There’s no way you’re British’.”
She said that was hard “because I’d consider myself simply a British person and it took be many, many years of struggling with it, to accept who I am and feel comfortable with my skin and hair colour.”
10) But things are changing. Asians make up 60 per cent of the world’s population, yet people of our region have had little presence on the world stage in cultural terms – so far.
Now we can see that changing before our eyes, from the global popularity of Pokemon to the chart-topping status of BTS. The result, eventually, should be greater appreciation of the fact that the west is not the world.
And if anyone still believes that Asians are good at math but not at creative arts, just check out who just won the MTV Millennial Global Hit of the Year Award 2022 this week.
For those who don’t follow pop music, it’s a song called My Universe, featuring the western band Coldplay and the eastern band BTS. When east and west come together, the results can be pretty good.