Ostracized to Romanticized: The Swift Reversal of how East Asians are Portrayed in American Media

Jessi JiaXin Zheng, Grade 9, Staff Writer

 

As East Asian media begins to become more widespread in America, East Asians themselves have been brought into the limelight. This new attention is controversial in the Asian American community.


Asian American men have been surrounded by negative stereotypes, often viewed as nerds with strange accents. Now, there are millions of avid fans flocking to buy the latest merchandise of their favorite group of Asian men, like K-pop group BTS. This drastic change highlights one of the determining factors in the general opinion of the American public—the media.


“Overall, I’m glad that we’re [Asians] getting represented in the media more,” said Olivia Wong, a senior at HSAS and the co-founder of Asian Mythbusters Project (AMP), an organization dedicated to breaking down Asian stereotypes. “Hopefully it’ll teach more people to respect Asian culture and the Asian entertainment industry.”


Many are quick to point out how peculiar this sudden change is and how it has led to more negative consequences such as the fetishization and romanticization of East Asian culture. For instance, at the beginning of quarantine, a TikTok trend encouraged people to go to Asian grocery stores and try Asian snacks. Social media feeds were filled with countless pictures of people posing in snack aisles surrounded by Asian candies and foods. This outraged a large portion of the East Asian community as they openly pointed out the blatant appropriation of their culture. Posing with Pocky is the equivalent of posing with a Twix in a Walmart. Perhaps all this attention is not for the best.


As schoolchildren, many Asian Americans can recall several instances of being labeled as the black sheep due to their race. Rena Chen, another senior at HSAS and co-founder of AMP, recalled one instance in which “obnoxious kids liked to joke that [she] was a communist because [she is] Chinese.”


Additionally, Asian children in the past often did not feel comfortable bringing their own food from home to eat during school hours because it looked or smelled ‘weird.’ However, this does not seem to be the case anymore. Suddenly, Asian foods have become trendy.


So, what changed? How come when a third-grader brought dumplings to school in 2010, they were met with unkind glances and pinchings of noses, but when a grown woman makes salmon rice with seaweed, her video has millions of views?


The determining factor at play is a shift in perspective. The combined popularity of K-pop and Asian TV shows and movies has led the American public to openly embrace East Asian culture. Chen sums it up perfectly saying, “Some horrible people may have switched from being racist to fetishizing Asians, [but] this does not accurately reflect the general trend. Their actions should not discount the genuinely positive progress other people make.”


As East Asians are brought farther into the limelight, their social media presence has gone from negative to positive.