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The Not-So "Subtle Traits" Found in Subtle Asian Traits
By Nadia Le
If you are someone of Asian descent, or if you are someone with a friend or two that is of Asian descent, chances are that you are probably familiar with the ever-so meme group on Facebook that is known as “Subtle Asian Traits” (stylized in lowercase as subtle asian traits). The initial purpose of subtle asian traits was to share relatable memes of one’s personal experience(s) growing up in a family atypical with immigrant parents, important and valuable traditions and values to follow of one’s own culture, and high expectations for our future that were set by our parents. Created in September 2018 by six young adults hailing from Australia, ranging in age from high school to university, it has since turned into one global conglomerate, with New Zealanders, Americans, Canadians, and Asians in other Westernized countries, into the mix.
In late December 2018, the group celebrated its milestone of reaching 1 million members, but after approximately 4 months of re-posting the same repetitive, stale memes of boba milk tea and “gweilos”, a Cantonese slur used to describe white people, is there anything else to celebrate in subtle asian traits, other than its “subtle” reinforcement of racism, struggle with self-identity, and the pejorative of one’s self? Alas, subtle asian traits triggers a number of recurring issues that many of us still experience today. Due to the “slacktivism” that is perpetuated in this group, I really don’t believe there is nothing “subtle” about subtle asian traits.
How many times have I seen “surprised Pikachu” over and over?
You’re not a real Asian, unless…
Many of my friends who joined or got invited into subtle asian traits said that due to the content that was posted in the group, it was easy for them to relate to it. As an Asian-Canadian kid growing up in Vancouver, which is one of Canada’s largest metropolitan cities with a substantial Asian population, I was still prone to the vulnerabilities of having other kids making fun of me because of who I was, ethnically. Being born Canadian wasn’t the golden ticket to fitting in with the other kids in class. It didn’t stop others from getting me to eat lunch or hang out with them during recess because I held different customs or beliefs compared to others, or wanting to assimilate into White culture once I hit my prepubescent years in elementary school because it was the cool thing to do. Therefore, once I saw the memes in subtle asian traits from those who also felt excluded from others during their primary school years, or questioned who they really were under the hegemonic umbrella that we live in under a Westernized country, for the first time in my life, I felt like I truly belonged somewhere, and finally found my people.
But even then, with the influx of such memes and relatable content in the stagnant Facebook group, lies a stigma that you needed to be a true Asian in order to fit along with what was posted here. I think my biggest struggle here is that although I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, and have my roots dated back to Southern Vietnam, I unfortunately cannot comprehend quite a bit of the Vietnamese related memes I get the chance to see in subtle asian traits, because of how I was, and continue, to be raised today. At the same time, I also practice a lot of Westernized customs and beliefs.
I probably discovered Migoreng only 4 ½ years ago…
From here on, what does this mean? Do you have to be a particular type of Asian in order to participate in subtle asian traits? Whenever one hears the word “Asian”, they automatically think of those of Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, or even Filipino or Korean descent. After all, that’s what the majority of such posts are intended for, and the group might as well be renamed to subtle southeast asian traits then. As a result of all of this though, spinoff groups have been created to serve other visible minorities on Facebook, such as “subtle curry traits” for the Indian users on the social media platform. Although the inclusiveness, or the attempt at inclusiveness towards Asian ethnicities is there, there must be a better job when it comes to highlighting the ethnic heterogeneity of this group.
subtle asian dating
Unpopular opinion before I continue further: subtle asian dating is trash.
You will understand why I believe the spinoff group to subtle asian traits (that we will now abbreviate as SAT for the rest of this article) has actually done more harm than good towards the westernized Asian community online.
To those who are unfamiliar with subtle asian dating, or SAD for short, the Facebook group of ~318k members (at the time this article was written) originated in Seattle, WA, by a friendly group of college students attending the University of Washington. Just like the creators of subtle asian traits, or SAT for short, the founders of SAD were just looking to have fun in this group. The difference, as opposed to SAT, would be that a member could actually find their soulmate in SAD. After all, the group is called “subtle asian dating”. Well, when you add in these ~318k users in SAD, turned nothing short of a nightmare. The last thing the founders didn’t expect, was to watch their group turn into an auctioning frenzy consisting of overzealous and exuberant young Asians who aren’t looking for their “rave bae” after all, but rather, just roasting their friends into a crispy pork belly.
What bugs me about SAD are two things:
1) The blatancy of “Yellow fever” that is seen in SAD, a derogatory term used to describe White males who only prefer Asian females due to preconceived notions and stereotypes that they might have heard from, and
2) The blatancy of those who are showing off one’s own “preferences” in the group – and there is nothing that the admins of SAD are doing to reduce the spread of this gross, unacceptable activity in the group to a minimum.
These are not “preferences”, these are problems, and it keeps persisting even though we’re the ones who don’t want it to keep persisting. I’m not shocked over the number of times I’ve seen Asian women post about how they don’t want to date Asian guys or they are lusting over a White guy anymore, I’m just rather disappointed. When our own race tries to delegitimize ourselves, you become the problem that we are trying to tackle – we’re having to go back to square one all over again. When the statement, “I don’t date Asians” isn’t just a statement, it turns into a degrading statement that is aimed at us. By saying things like “I prefer dating Asian women because of x or y”, or “I can’t date Asian people because of x or y” at all, you are unconsciously allowing your own internalized racism and influence show off. So now, moving forward, the best solution would be to of course, re-assess your statements, and keep them as constructive and mindful to the open space you have the privilege to be a part under.
Having self-confidence and support from my parents? Don’t know her.
Lastly, I will talk about the prominence of self-deprecation in SAT and SAD, and how that is used as a form of humour (notably seen through the usage of memes) to make ourselves feel better. Asian parenting culture is notoriously known through the practice of “tiger parenting”. If you have grown up and either followed a strict and demanding routine, had parents who held high but unrealistic expectations while you were in school or performing extracurricular activities, or were forced to emphasize family over everything in a literal sense, chances are you grew up through tiger parenting.
And to me, I believe this type of parenting is pretty toxic.
How so? Starting from an early age, parents of their children subject them to copious amounts of work, ranging from attending Chinese or language school every weekend, or forcing them to play at least three instruments proficiently. But these parents set this as a high priority to their children that they must be extremely good at what they put them through, so that they can bring honour and joy to their family. If a child disobeys their parents, they endure physical, mental, or psychological trauma and abuse that could carry them on for the rest of their life. A study done from 2010 to 2014 in Singapore showed the effects of tiger parenting on young children, that the child’s mental development worsens as they get older. Children who grew up under tiger parenting are more likely to face low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. They are also prone to be overly critical and sensitive of themselves, and find that it is difficult for them to possess basic social skills and are inept from making friends.
I am aware that we all have our own ways of coping with ourselves, and that can be done through humour. But the self-deprecating humour though that is seen in SAT and SAD that are drawn through these traits of tiger parenting in Asian culture, shouldn’t be one of them, because it is more concerning than it is actually humourous. Because when matters like these are being joked about, it raises the question what Asian culture and identity is really about, and how us, as a greater whole, is seen as.
But what do I know, this is just a silly and fun meme page for us young adult Asians. What I learned over the years as well from being online, is to “not take everything on the Internet so seriously.” However, that doesn’t mean that you should be joking about literally anything and everything that comes to mind – hey, do you want to bring shame and dishonour to your family? Due to the prolific size of these groups now, you won’t see radical change being done overnight. But you can start somewhere – educate yourselves on what is right and what is wrong, be aware on current issues going on in the Asian community, and continuously advocate and fight for change.
I will say though, if it hadn’t been for the advent of these groups, the sense of belonging and community towards our own race online wouldn’t have been established, and these issues I had mentioned above would still be on the down-low. Continue to sip that milk boba tea and feast on your Migoreng, and continue to prosper your way to your degree, studying for the MCAT or LSAT if you want to get into med or law school – whatever it is that you may be doing, all contributes to the “subtle” conformity of Subtle Asian Traits.
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