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Asian Culture in the West: Is It Really Appreciation?

LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 8:  Singer Gwen Stefani and dancers the Harajuku Girls arrive at the 2004 Billboard Music Awards on December 8, 2004 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS – DECEMBER 8: Singer Gwen Stefani and dancers the Harajuku Girls arrive at the 2004 Billboard Music Awards on December 8, 2004 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Growing up Asian American, I’ve been subject  to plenty of ignorant commentary. Although worse things have been said to me, recently, I have been thinking about the times where people claimed “they were more Asian than me” because they did things like watch anime or eat kimchi (funny enough, I’m not even East Asian so none of it was really part of my culture anyways).

Initially, the outbreak of those interested in all things Asian flattered me. I figured our rich, diverse cultures deserved to be appreciated (which I still believe is true). But somewhere over time, a fragile line was crossed and people became disruptive of our culture (more commonly so East Asian culture), appropriating it, disrespecting it, and implementing themselves into exclusive groups. The effects of all this are far from positive.

Misuse of Asian Culture

People tend to exploit cultures and traditions, rich with significance, and refer to it like it’s a fashion trend. Especially in the Western world, Asian culture is commercialized to fit Western standards of “acceptable.” It has become a reoccurring trend: Asian culture in the West being misinterpreted and misused.

A prominent example of someone with an Asian “obsession” was a Swedish YouTuber called VenusAngelic (whose account was taken down but you can find a re-posted video of her’s here). If you haven’t heard of her at the peak of her popularity, basically, what she does is dress like an anime character full time. One of her most viewed videos was a makeup tutorial called “How To Look Like A Korean Girl.” Already, the title is problematic and the rest of the video doesn’t fare too well either. Throughout it, this woman showcases a seriously warped idea of what it means to be Korean. It is obvious, from the makeup she uses, that she believes all Korean women’s appearances are equivalent to the appearance of anime characters. And to make matters worse, at some point during the tutorial, she even says, “The natural Korean hair colors are dark brown to black. If you’re wearing a wig, make sure it’s style is classy and sweet.” That phrase alone set warning bells off in my head.

Like many of those who are “enamored” with Asian women, they collectively envision a certain look: pale, petite, sweet, innocent, submissive, frail. A doll-like woman. Consequently, this entire mentality morphs a giant population of Asian women into a constricting stereotype where we’re perceived as docile and sweet and more importantly, only East Asian, discrediting the existence of South and Southeast women (Asia isn’t just made up of Japan, China, and Korea guys. Please look at a map for once).

Additionally, in matters less extreme than trying to pass as a Korean woman in the most cringe-worthy way possible, consider those who appropriate Asian fashion and traditional wear. For example, Coachella is notorious for people who wear bindis and deem it “indie chic.”  But when someone points out the appropriation, they swear they’re just “respecting” the culture. How does wearing a bindi to Coachella signify respect? What does it accomplish? There is religious tradition and value behind the bindi, it’s been explained time and time again. Not only is it offensive and demeaning to the tradition, it simply is not logical to be an outlier of a religion yet continue to adorn it’s symbols. This is basically parallel to someone who doesn’t believe in Christianity wearing a crucifix.

Furthermore, another common trend non-Asians tend to follow is chopsticks as hair ornaments. This one is especially funny to me because literally no Asian person does this, it’s not a thing in Asia. It would be like putting forks in your hair. Chopsticks are eating utensils, they’re for eating.

Evidently, when Asian culture is taken and exploited in places outside of Asia, the aspect of culture taken is almost always perceived in wrongful ways. VenusAngelic seems to believe Korean women resemble anime characters (Note: This belief is probably guided by the fact that anime and cosplaying is the most prominent projections of East Asians in the West. Therefore, anime becomes a misguided representation of real East Asians. Our media doesn’t really include too much Asian representation for people to learn from but that’s a different discussion). And bindis are degraded from something with significant meaning to “just fashion.” This theme of misuse extends to almost all cultural arts and traditions that have been “adopted” by the West.


Delving away from the fetishization of fashion trends, I’ve noticed a mass group that has grown exponentially over the years: “weeaboos” (someone who’s obsessed with Japanese culture but ends up disrespecting it) and “koreaboos” (those obsessed with Korean culture). I’m sure everyone has come across at least one of these people in their lifetimes.

Anime, manga, K-pop, and Korean BBQ are normally crucial to these people’s well beings. And because they aren’t exposed to other components of Asian culture, they think that’s all there is to being Asian, consequently making uninformed comments like “I’m more Asian than you.” And a lot of people can brush this off as some silly comment and say that I’m being “too sensitive.” But contrary to popular belief, this idea is harmful and demeaning to Asian culture. When you say “you’re more Asian” than an actual Asian person because you do things like watch anime, it reduces the complexity and large number of diverse Asian traditions and reinforces the idea that East Asia is merely a land of neon lights and anime and art when in reality, that’s only a teeny-tiny glimpse of what East Asia is. And as I mentioned before, these ideas exclude the rest of Asia. When people say “Asian” they oftentimes think of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean and as a result of this, people assume I’m anything but Vietnamese.

I’ve also been bothered by another thing. Weeaboos and koreaboos are not Asian culture specialists yet the amount of times I have been cut off in a discussion about Asian tradition by these people is appalling. And the worst part, because they’re part of an Asian fandom like K-pop, they think they have a right to exclusively Asian discourses. Which they don’t.

It’s anti-Asian to include yourself and scrutinize traditions you are not part of. Weeaboos and koreaboos are happy to take modern East Asian pop culture and fetishize K-pop idols yet they are so quick to call our traditional foods disgusting. They comment things like “oppa” or “saranghae” to their K-pop idols but simultaneously slander them for not knowing English (side note: It’s not their job to know English, you chose to be a fan of music sang in Korean, work with it).

Essentially, this sense of entitlement and condescending nature stems from one thing: imperialism. Speaking from an American point of view, we grew up in an incredibly Western-centric environment. We have this mindset that everything belongs to us and there isn’t any detriment to “cultural borrowing.” I know that participating or knowing about a culture outside of yours appeal to a lot of people—a lot of times, there is this urge to appear cultured or well-informed or maybe you think knowing about “Asian” things makes you seem refined. It doesn’t. Most people can see right through your pretentiousness, most people can tell you know nothing about Asian culture other than random tidbits that you gather from anime. And although there are many people who genuinely have a thirst for knowledge and seek to understand other cultures and can do so without overstepping, I have not come across enough of them. Please remember that without critical analysis of your actions towards the culture you’re learning about, you will not be tolerated for long.

And to my fellow Asians: don’t be afraid to demand accountability. Your culture is more than what it’s commercialized as.

(sidenote: I repetitively reference weeaboos who enjoy anime throughout this article because that’s the type that was more common in my experience. However, there is more than one way to fit the “weeaboo” or “koreaboo” category. Also, consider the ways you might be abusing cultures aside from East Asia. Just because you don’t like anime or K-pop doesn’t mean you’re not wrongfully involving yourself within other Asian cultural arts or traditions)


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