May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! This started in the late 70s, only being celebrated during the first week of May, but was expanded to a whole month. It is meant to celebrate AsAm/PaAm diverse histories, cultures, and communities in Asia, but especially in relation to United States and Canada. With growing news of whitewashing in Hollywood to racism to hate crimes, it seems like despite being the largest region in the world, AsAm/PaAm are still so underrepresented and invisible. To celebrate the diversity of AsAm/PaAm and Asians in general, let’s look at what the tag, #MoreThanExotic, means.

Asian men are unattractive and Asian women are hypersexualized. They are being carved into that image, stripping them down of what they can be and confining them into that category. Throughout history, women have been seen as sex objects where they are portrayed as exotic, submissive, and controllable, a rare find in a men’s fantasy. All over the internet, there are various sites that further exploit them. In comparison, the media further perpetuates the idea that Asian men are not desirable. Nerdy, foreign, and undateable–that’s how they’re portrayed.

That is why #PraisinTheAsian, started by 17-year-old Filipino-American, Caitlin Delim matters. (She’s been featured in BuzzFeed recently!) She cites her inspiration as being surrounded by media her entire life. Every TV show and movie she adored never seemed to have many or any Asians in it, which led her to believe that she wasn’t worthy to be in the same ranks as white people. Hatred for herself and her culture stemmed at a young age when there were no familiar faces in mainstream media and her cultural differences were only heightened when other kids took notice, too. Each comment about her food being weird or that she had cute, small eyes was a constant reminder that she was different and no one wanted to be different at that age.

When she was six, she started playing the guitar and other instruments, and then she went off to a high school specialized in music and performing arts. It didn’t take long for her to realize that representation was an issue with the career path that she wanted to go down. She’d even go as far to say that Asian underrepresentation steered her away from being a performer since the only faces media ever pushed were those of white people.

Choosing a topic for her English class project made her more passionate about Asian representation. She believed that a great way to make her knowledge more impactful would be to educate others and spread awareness through social media especially in this digital area. Her presentation day also coincides with AAPI Heritage Month, so it would be the perfect opportunity to make her project and her campaign soar. She had doubts at first, but at the night of May 5th, #PraisinTheAsian spread like wildfire! Even if the hashtag is mostly used for selfies and cultural pride as of now, she hopes people will start talking about the issues behind the hashtag and spread the message that Asians are worth just as much as everyone else. #MoreThanExotic also follows a similar goal in mind.

The #PraisinTheAsian’s selfie approach as a form of self-expression of one’s individualism. Personally, being Asian myself (Filipino), not all of us embrace how we look. We’re either not tall enough, our lips aren’t like that, our nose aren’t like that as well not given enough opportunities for education or employment and we point the fingers at our Asian-ness. Because Asians can be the butt of the joke and it’ll just pass on as “alright”, we’re nearly as invincible in real life as we are in the media. I loved Starship Troopers as a child, but never knew that Johnny Rico’s character is actually originally Filipino until recently. It’s an example of erasure. We are not just underrepresented; we are also being erased.

“All Asians look the same” is a stereotype that we are so used to hearing. The majority of people seem to think that Asians are only either Japanese, Chinese, or Korean. It’s another example of underrepresentation. #eseabeauty (East and Southeast Asian Beauty) proves this stereotype wrong as much as #PraisinTheAsian and #MoreThanExotic do. Because of Irene of @PocBeauty‘s encouragement, high school senior and Japanese-American, Claire finally decided to do it during AAPI Heritage Month. Irene and Claire wanted to look for representation for everybody. She also cites #blackout as an inspiration, which they owe the very idea of social media day of visibility. East and Southeast Asian beauty is needed because they are rarely see or varied representation in media.

Claire believes that people need to be able to see that cool and beautiful people that look like themselves exist. With these recent tags, instead of accepting what the media tells us about our ethnicities – that we are invisible, stereotypical, similar – we take control over our own images and replace those narratives with positivity and self-love. Shameless self-taking (which we have nothing to feel shameless about) encouraged appreciation of one’s own features and one’s own self-worth. We shouldn’t allow the media to mold us into what they want us to be.

At least not anymore.

Read and be part the #MoreThanExotic, #PraisingTheAsian and #eseabeauty movement, appreciate and understand the beauty of our culture and heritage. Because we are not what you make us to be, what you carve us to be. We are more than that.

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