This Facebook Group Helped Me Embrace My Identity
A tribute to the memes and videos that helped me accept my multi-cultural background
When you look at me, I’m obviously Asian, but being born and raised in the States I didn’t know what it meant to be “Asian”.
To 13-year old me, I was “American”. Duh. I was a proud US citizen who celebrated Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July.
I was just a different kind of American.
My family usually ate rice for dinner instead of bread or pasta. I went to Chinese school on Friday nights instead of the movies. I didn’t grow up with Nickelodeon or Disney because that version of cable cost extra (ridiculous, I know!) Instead, I watched my favorite VCR film, Mulan, on repeat.
In 2018, my sophomore year of college, a Facebook Group called “Subtle Asian Traits,” also known as SAT, became an internet sensation.
Almost every Asian person I know has now heard or seen posts from SAT. Members share photos, memes, videos, or quotes to celebrate and share their Asian identity. (By Asian, I’m referring to primarily East Asians and some South Asians.)
I remember studying linear algebra in the library with a white friend. During one of our breaks, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across this meme. The Chinese pinyin is translated as “because you don’t sleep early enough”.
This brought flashbacks of my mom telling me:
- To sleep earlier so I’ll grow taller
- To eat more fish to become smarter
- To jump more so I’ll grow taller
- To just drink the Chinese herb concoction she’d spent 48 hours brewing so I’ll become smarter
My friend leaned over. “What are you looking at?”
I showed her the meme, still very amused at the picture’s accuracy.
She scrunched her face, “I don’t get it… but my mom definitely made me chicken soup when I was sick!”
I tried to explain the significance of the pinyin, the reasoning behind using ginger and that specific cough syrup, but I soon realized that there was just too much culture, too much history — inevitably too many subtle Asian traits.
One conversation cannot replace years of living through these experiences.
Subtle Asian Traits became popular because people were sharing a bunch of experiences and jokes that are just so damn relatable that you don’t need to explain the nuances with others. We just get it.
I’m not trying to shame my friend for not understanding because we come from different backgrounds and cultures. Diversity is one of the aspects that I love and makes the US special.
Even though I’d grown up around other Asians, I’ve never before been able to connect with this many strangers so quickly AND over the internet.
I realized that it wasn’t weird that:
- Family hellos are always followed by “have you eaten yet?”
- My childhood song was Tong Hua by Jay Chou (this means fairytale)
- Chores weren’t part of my allowance because it‘s my “family duty”
- We borderline hoard plastic bags and unused napkins
- We also subtly avoid the number 4 (because in Chinese it translates to death, which is why this list is five, not four bullet points)
Many SAT members are first/second/third-generation Asian Americans, so we’ve been born and raised as Americans with an Asian background: Am I American? Am I Asian? Is both an option?
Growing up in the States, there weren’t many Asian role models or public figures. I didn’t realize until now that Asians are often overlooked or stereotyped. We aren’t represented in politics and we don’t get much media attention or exposure. We’re often stereotyped as math/science nerds with bad eyesight and like boba.
But, we’re much more than that.
Just like the Black, Hispanic, Latinx, Muslim, and many more communities who’ve been more vocal about their identities, we have a unique history and culture too.
Our parents ask us “have you eaten yet” not because we’re hungry but because when they were growing up food was scarce. It’s their way of showing love.
Chores aren’t paid because our families want to teach us the foundations of hard work and the importance of contributing to the family. It’s their way of cultivating a sense of community.
We’re frugal not because we’re poor, but because financial stability is built upon the discipline of being able to save. It’s their way of ensuring our well-being even after they’ve passed.
I found tidbits of myself within these memes and videos that were being shared among others that were grappling with the idea of being Asian and American.
Looking back, I know why I loved Mulan so much. She was a strong, hardworking, and independent woman. Most importantly, she looks like me — physically and culturally.
I still don’t know what it means to be “Asian” — one article cannot replace centuries of history and culture.
To today’s 21-year old me, I know that I’m proud to be Asian American because both is an option.