The Rise of the Million-Member Subtle Asian Traits
July 1, 2019 12:22 PM   Subscribe

How ‘Subtle Asian Traits’ Became a Global Hit: "Powered by global immigration and the borderless procrastination magnet of social media, the Facebook group has become a gathering place for laughs and reflection on the complicated experience of first generation Asian immigrants who have grown up reconciling the expectations of their heritage and the identity of the country they call home.

Subtle Asian Traits has grown to more than a million members, all sharing memes about the intangible experience of being part of the Asian diaspora. It's also inspired countless spinoff groups, from the Asian Creative Network to Subtle Asian Dating, where members of the group attempt to find partners for their friends in a way that's reminiscent of marriage markets in China.

Despite the outpouring of love for the group, some have reservations. The group has been accused of focusing on frivolity and boba to the exclusion of more serious political and cultural considerations, as well as colorism and anti-Blackness.
posted by storytam (41 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
OMG, this meme about having a fake white name. It's so fucking relatable.

A salon that I have been going to for the last 15 years only knows me by my fake white person name "Seth Jones". I was tired from microaggressions of having to explain where I am from, what my name means, and just spelling a name to white people so I just gave them that name.

What's funny is that my mom has gone to this salon in the past and she gave her real name, so this entire salon knows I'm using a fake-ass white person name. I don't even fucking care.

I wish there were social media spaces/communities like this when I was growing up. They just hadn't been carved out (or maybe I just didn't know about them). It's good to know that we have safe spaces to share our experiences. Thank you for posting this.
posted by Fizz at 12:31 PM on July 1, 2019 [23 favorites]


I really enjoy SAT. SAT has come at a time for me when I've been feeling pretty isolated and finding myself constantly having to explain to white people in my grad program the non-white (yet also non-black/Indigenous) experience and how frustrating it is when other people ask me where I'm really from or the problems with how wellness culture is appropriating stuff. And most of the time, I just find myself spinning my wheels fruitlessly when said white person hears me explain why I feel frustrated/annoyed/upset and then quickly and thoughtlessly responds with, "But that's not how I see it," and then walks off.

So yeah, it's refreshing to pull out my phone and see that I'm not really alone in experiencing this. It's also been pretty great to see how weirdly prevalent my experiences growing up have been, even when I couldn't see that for myself when I was in high school.
--
I was tired from microaggressions of having to explain where I am from, what my name means, and just spelling a name to white people so I just gave them that name.

One funny byproduct of having a rarer name is people asking me where "Asta" comes from. I always make a point to mention how it's actually a super white name since it originates from Scandinavia.
posted by astapasta24 at 12:41 PM on July 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


It's also been pretty great to see how weirdly prevalent my experiences growing up have been, even when I couldn't see that for myself when I was in high school.
It is interesting to reflect on the fact that I wasn't as alone as I thought I was. I think that many people just kept quiet about this stuff because it wasn't acceptable or safe to talk so openly about these types of things. At least that is my experience having grown up in the deep south in the 80s & 90s.

It doesn't change how I feel or how I experienced various difficulties as a person of colour but it makes you feel less alone knowing that other people were enduring the same things and gritting their teeth in a similar fashion.
posted by Fizz at 12:45 PM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


It is interesting to reflect on the fact that I wasn't as alone as I thought I was. I think that many people just kept quiet about this stuff because it wasn't acceptable or safe to talk so openly about these types of things. At least that is my experience having grown up in the deep south in the 80s & 90s.

Oh man, yeah! I'd say this extends to the '90s and '00s for me too. The suburb I grew up in in Texas has a pretty big Asian (south and East) population, and I went to school with a fair number of other Asians through middle school. However, that was really before I developed any sort of nuanced awareness of what was going on. Then, I went to a different high school without many other Asians and stopped going to weekend Chinese school around the same time, so I think that's why I ended up feeling pretty on my own.
posted by astapasta24 at 12:53 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I really enjoy SAT.

Ok I must not be the only one that took a double take thinking you enjoyed those tests that much? Scholastic Assessment Test trolling? Oh WAIT Subtle Asian Traits... ok yeah I have definitely lived in Chinese American SAT class PTSD...
posted by xtine at 1:51 PM on July 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


(Sorry for intruding like this but (a) this makes me happy for Asian mefites (b) this is why media representation is so important: it makes you realize that you're not alone, not even in the in-betweens.)
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:54 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


While I don't subscribe to Subtle Asian Traits for the fact that it posts too much for my liking (I'm not into most meme posting groups for this reason), I do enjoy when people share certain posts because it is definitely too relatable at moments.

Things like yeet hay, Danish cookie sewing tins, feather dusters, these are all things that I didn't realize others were also experiencing. And yet! There's a real sense of belonging and connection when we do find out that "yes, we went through this too." And you feel just a little less alone knowing someone else went through all that esoteric strangeness compared to white american culture.
posted by xtine at 2:02 PM on July 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


One funny byproduct of having a rarer name is people asking me where "Asta" comes from. I always make a point to mention how it's actually a super white name since it originates from Scandinavia.

I have an archaic European name, and I've definitely had people try to pronounce it the way they assume it would sound in Chinese, to the point of randomly assigning tones to the syllables. It's usually well-intentioned, often funny, and always awkward.
posted by pykrete jungle at 2:26 PM on July 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


Honest question, and I apologize if this is insensitive: if it's a microaggression to ask someone with a name that is unfamiliar to you to spell it, but it's also rude or even a form of bullying to say someone's name wrong, what's the right way to make sure that you get someone's name right?
posted by the legendary esquilax at 2:44 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


if it's a microaggression to ask someone with a name that is unfamiliar to you to spell it, but it's also rude or even a form of bullying to say someone's name wrong, what's the right way to make sure that you get someone's name right?

So this is going to be different for everyone YMMV but for me, it's not so much that I'm being asked (though there are days where it is that), it's mostly how I'm being asked. Also, the main thing that always makes me view this question as a microaggression is what comes AFTER someone has asked me to pronounce my name:

I always get some variation of:
• “That's an interesting/weird/different name.”
• “Where are you from?”
• “What does that mean?”
The thing to keep in mind is that, the person you're asking has the right to not answer or be annoyed because while your asking may be in good faith, the fact that we're being questioned for the nᵗʰ time is what makes it feel so aggressive. That we're having to justify ourselves to someone else, our difference, our name, our just being.

Ask out of kindness and so that you can say a person's name correctly and with respect, but just know that it can still feel like a kind of micro-aggression.
posted by Fizz at 3:11 PM on July 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


if it's a microaggression to ask someone with a name that is unfamiliar to you to spell it, but it's also rude or even a form of bullying to say someone's name wrong, what's the right way to make sure that you get someone's name right?

And I'll add, in social situations, pay attention to when they introduce themselves. If you're still not sure, ask politely for them to repeat it (especially if it's a bit noisy) and pay super close attention to how the pronounce their own name. Like I know I have an uncommon name, so will need to repeat myself sometimes.

For example, I pronounce my name with the "As-" sounding like the start of As-ter-oid. The microaggression for me comes in when they immediately pronounce it "Awhs-ta" after I repeat how I pronounce my name because to me it seems like they just went, weird foreign sounding name I'm not going to bother learning how it sounds.
posted by astapasta24 at 3:24 PM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


what's the right way to make sure that you get someone's name right?

Not for a social situation, but use YouTube. Last week I interviewed someone for a job with a name I was mostly unfamiliar with. Searched YouTube and one of the top hits was a prof carefully introducing herself and giving a short tutorial on how to pronounce her name. (Tells you often people butcher it that she had to go to such lengths.)

In social situations I over enunciate my name. I expect people will try it and get it wrong. Then we try again. I never mind if people ask me to repeat. It's hard. Or, I just "localize" the pronunciation to match what people can easily hear and say, especially if it's a kind of one off I'll never see this person again situation. It's OK. I'm used to it. It's kind of a drag when people then say how difficult it is afterwards, even though I know that's probably meant as an apology or sympathizing.

Very common Irish name is very hard for some people outside the Euro/Anglo sphere. All names are easy some places and hard elsewhere.
posted by Gotanda at 3:53 PM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think it's really interesting how a lot of the in-jokes and memes shared in the Subtle Asian Traits group really speak more to a common American immigrant experience more than specifically Asian-American touchpoints. Like the Danish cookie sewing tin, parents being simultaneously unable to say "I love you" but also working ridiculous hours to save up for your college tuition, the "if you slack off in school you'll flip burgers at McD/Burger King/etc" lecture, etc.

It blew my mind as a little kid when I found the "High Expectations African Parents" meme, which is broadly similar to the popular "High Expectations Asian Father" meme. It was the first time when I realized that being a second-generation kid was a shared cultural experience for people of many different heritages. Still though, it's incredibly validating to find a community that you can relate to on a level that you can't really explain or talk about in a White-majority context.

...It's also interesting when I find a joke that I can't relate to since it causes me to reflect on how my parents were different than other Asian immigrants to the US & how that affects our relationship today. The latest one I found was a joke on twitter about Asian parents never saying "I'm sorry" but offering a plate of cut fruit in apology. Is this really a thing??? (Apparently so, judging by the comments!)
posted by devrim at 3:57 PM on July 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


I've been in the Subtle Asian Traits group long enough that a lot of the memes are mostly repetitive to me, but there's usually some relatable gem going on in there that make me feel Seen. I actually had to stop following the group after a while because it'd be too easy to just keep on scrolling endlessly.

> The latest one I found was a joke on twitter about Asian parents never saying "I'm sorry" but offering a plate of cut fruit in apology. Is this really a thing??? (Apparently so, judging by the comments!)

My parents just give me a plate of cut fruit whenever they're already cutting some fruit themselves. :) But they also never say "I'm sorry" :( Oh well. They did and still do a lot for me. And I still get the fruit!
posted by rather be jorting at 5:01 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


SAT is great. Back in my day (late 90s early 00s Connecticut) all I could relate to was Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear and The Chosen. Like what, it seems like all these kids with educated high-expectations parents end up wanting to play baseball; good enough for me!

> The latest one I found was a joke on twitter about Asian parents never saying "I'm sorry" but offering a plate of cut fruit in apology. Is this really a thing??? (Apparently so, judging by the comments!)

I cried when I realized that I cut up carrots instinctively for my boyfriend because my dad always cut up carrots for me when he was preparing dinner: my dad doesn't eat raw vegetables but he saw that I liked them, and I think that was one of the ways he expressed his love and understanding for me.
posted by batter_my_heart at 5:05 PM on July 1, 2019 [15 favorites]


> I was tired from microaggressions of having to explain where I am from, what my name means, and just spelling a name to white people so I just gave them that name.

Yeah, same. One of my white friends also did this - he had a fairly common Eastern European first name, but it was just easier to pick a 'more American-sounding' name for coffee orders. It was nice ordering coffee together one time and realizing that we both had our respective coffee aliases.
posted by rather be jorting at 5:09 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I cried when I realized that I cut up carrots instinctively for my boyfriend because my dad always cut up carrots for me when he was preparing dinner: my dad doesn't eat raw vegetables but he saw that I liked them, and I think that was one of the ways he expressed his love and understanding for me.

My parents definitely show their love for me and my brother through food. Sometimes it's fruit, and other times it's our favorite dishes. His wife (white, super Midwestern stock) doesn't seem to get it, and this actually causes a bit of friction between her and my parents. When we're all home for the holidays, my parents will stock the house with all of our favorites, even if we're just home for a day or two, too short to really be able to eat through everything. However, my brother's wife always seems to be on some diet or watching her weight around the holidays that she never really touches anything, which upsets my parents (but of course they'll never tell her about it). I'm not sure if my brother's talked to her about this, but my gut says no because I've seen this play out for as long as they've been together.
posted by astapasta24 at 6:29 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Outline piece linked under the fold of the FPP brings up a bunch of valid points, but the following in particular really sticks out to me: "White people feel the urge to contribute, and in their posts, Asianness emerges as an aesthetic, even an affectation."

What's up with white people being in the fb group? (As in, not people who are partially white or white-passing.) Even if the have Asian friends who added them, why remain in a group ostensibly devoted to being part of the Asian diaspora if you're not at all part of that diaspora yourself?

It's like when the Asian American Association at my college routinely had a white student in a leadership position - he was a nice enough person, but I did not understand his presence in the organization and I don't think it was ever explained. In retrospect, the optics are also rather mystifying: there's a student organization leadership position that would otherwise go to an Asian American student, but we're deciding our white friend is more deserving just because... he's our friend? Because he cares a lot about Asian Americans? (Nothing wrong with supporting the community, but can't that also be accomplished by attending organization events as a guest and finding other routes to promote diversity?) It continues to remain a mystery to me.
posted by rather be jorting at 6:58 PM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


The latest one I found was a joke on twitter about Asian parents never saying "I'm sorry" but offering a plate of cut fruit in apology. Is this really a thing???

I ate a LOT of fruit on plates, slowly and suspiciously, while somehow feeling cheated of apologies. I never made this connection until now.
posted by inkytea at 7:20 PM on July 1, 2019 [15 favorites]


What's up with white people being in the fb group? (As in, not people who are partially white or white-passing.) Even if the have Asian friends who added them, why remain in a group ostensibly devoted to being part of the Asian diaspora if you're not at all part of that diaspora yourself?

Probably some of them have family who are Asian? All those partially-White Asian kids come from somewhere after all...
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:49 PM on July 1, 2019


Word on the street / in the post comments is that the white people are our significant others / honorary Asians / friend who get it.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:22 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


All those partially-White Asian kids come from somewhere after all...

Yeah, you're talking to someone who knows and is related to numerous half-Asian half-white couples here. Having a relationship with an Asian person or being related to someone Asian doesn't actually confer a sudden change in racial identity, nor does it suddenly endow the non-Asian person with the blanket permission to enter spaces focused on an Asian diaspora and treat "Asianness" as an aesthetic or affectation. From the sound of the Outline piece, at least some of the white people in the fb group have opted to act like fetishizing alienators, rather than family members.
posted by rather be jorting at 9:23 PM on July 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


From the article: People of all ethnicities are welcome in the group so long as they abide by the rules. “We want to keep it as a safe space for everyone,” said Ms. Gu.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:48 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Speaking for myself, as someone who's had a couple of long term significant others of south east Asian origin, if I were to have followed a group like this at those times it would have been because I recognised my family in it and found that recognition amusing. I don't think I'd post but it wouldn't have felt weird to be in that world.
posted by deadwax at 10:20 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


People of all ethnicities are welcome in the group so long as they abide by the rules. “We want to keep it as a safe space for everyone,” said Ms. Gu.

The NYT article doesn't really touch on it, but the Supchina piece (also linked in the FPP) brings up a clearer picture of the difficulties in moderating the racism within the fb group. It's not pleasant to read, but the examples are described with enough detail that they help illustrate the pitfalls of the group's popularity more clearly than the brief allusion in the NYT or the Outline re: screening posts and comments for racism.

It's great that the group intends to be an inclusive, safe space. I don't think it's a categorical negative for white people to be in the fb group, but it is unfortunate that the white people I've read about making their presence known in the group are doing so through engaging in behavior that sounds like it's chipping away at the safety of the space, and likely adding to the Asian moderators' burden.
posted by rather be jorting at 10:49 PM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I would admittedly feel closer to a white friend if they brought up that they are nostalgic for haw flakes and are avoiding foods that are too yeet hay, and I've definitely messaged various Chinese-language puns and memes to white friends who know/are studying Mandarin ("How do Chinese cats laugh? ......L 猫"), but I personally wouldn't see the point in adding them to the Subtle Asian Traits group.
posted by rather be jorting at 11:10 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


HAW FLAKES

o m g that certainly takes me back. The worst is when there's any type of moisture and they stick together. And of course the white rabbit candies...

But on a similar note I have a close white friend that had dated a Chinese American (Cantonese) guy for like 6 years and picked up a lot of the culture along the way. So much in fact that once in a while I will send her a Subtle Asian Traits type meme and she will totally get it and we laugh and relate. There are foods and traditions we talk about that even some of my other Chinese friends don't get. Yet I don't think I would add her to the group (she's not on FB anyway), and I don't think she would feel like she would belong.

But I can't tell you enough of the joy when I found out that she also loved preserved egg and meat congee. Sometimes it's not so much the ethnicity but just understanding an an ethnicities culture through some lived in experience (even if it came through dating someone and interacting much with their mother). I mean we won't relate 100% of the way because she didn't fully grow up in the Chinese American immigrant parent culture, but even 50% is so refreshing compared to 0%.
posted by xtine at 12:20 AM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's always fascinating to see how the shorthand 'Asian' does and doesn't even apply to me, also another Asian, just not *that* kind of Asian*. But it's cool, I'm only a visitor to the experience. But I wonder how 'non-Asian Asians' engage with it? Or even you know, British Asians, which is almost always South Asian in origin.

(i'll try to describe my experience through this anecdote: back home, i'm from the ethnicity whose colonial reputation is that we're lazy and bad at maths, but in the UK, i'm supposed to be the smart one, and even as a joke, get given the tab to calculate the bill.)

(though the biscuit tin thing is universal!)
posted by cendawanita at 12:57 AM on July 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


One of the friends that I bond over things like the proper place of flip-flops as house shoes and how strips of dried mango are the perfect snack is a pale redheaded woman who grew up in Hawaii and whose family just picked up on a lot of Hapa traits as their form of normal. She wouldn't ever claim to speak for Asians in matters of race or identity, and like xtine's friend, I think she'd feel like an intruder in SAT, but I wouldn't be surprised if she related to a few of their memes.

Also similar to the ubqiuity of the Dutch cookie tin, I remember when the Ferrero Rocher immigrant tribute piece was posted here, I brought it up in a conversation with my team at work and became a sweet little bonding conversation with me (Filipino) and my South Asian and West African colleagues as we took turns explaining it to a couple of our White and African American colleagues.
posted by bl1nk at 3:45 AM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


> It's always fascinating to see how the shorthand 'Asian' does and doesn't even apply to me, also another Asian, just not *that* kind of Asian*. But it's cool, I'm only a visitor to the experience. But I wonder how 'non-Asian Asians' engage with it? Or even you know, British Asians, which is almost always South Asian in origin.

Not trying to be honorary South Asian here, or to speak for South Asian Americans, but a bunch of my friends are part of various South Asian American associations, where the club or group name features some variant of "South Asian" to distinguish them from the implicit focus on diaspora of East Asian origin typically associated with names only referring to "Asian" overall. My South Asian friends engage with networking and socializing events hosted by the non-specifically-South-Asian Asian professional groups as well, but sometimes the overall label of "Asian" is too broad and they get more out of being part of a specifically South Asian focused group or committee. In these cases, my South Asian friends and colleagues would consider themselves under the umbrella term of "Asian," but primarily identify more with "South Asian" than just "Asian."

(Identifying as "South Asian" outside of a professional association is less of a thing for friends of South Asian descent who immigrated from countries outside of South Asia, e.g. Mauritius.)
posted by rather be jorting at 7:49 AM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


oh damn y'all just reminded me I haven't had haw flakes in a while
posted by numaner at 8:01 AM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


[One deleted. Folks, especially if you're a white person, if you don't have the background or experiences talked about here, that's okay, just let this thread be about what it's about. If you want to know why people are tired of being asked "where are you from" or "where's your name from, oh neat", google up those phrases and there are many basic explanatory resources.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:10 AM on July 2, 2019 [7 favorites]


Modding in those spaces is definitely a work in progress. Many of them are also having to deal with an amount of cishet anti-queerness as well.

I do feel weird about some of the white folk participating in SAT, but it's like I said early on in the poc thread--some of them have always been taught that their opinions are so important and because they have an Asian best friend, well...
posted by anem0ne at 8:41 AM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


One of the friends that I bond over things like the proper place of flip-flops as house shoes and how strips of dried mango are the perfect snack is a pale redheaded woman who grew up in Hawaii and whose family just picked up on a lot of Hapa traits as their form of normal.

Yeah, I so feel this. I'm genetically 1/4 Korean and was raised in a half-Japanese household (spending more time with my Japanese grandparents than my other ones), but I'm totally white-passing, including an extremely white name.

Because of that last fact, I feel like I don't really belong in spaces for Asian POC even though I can definitely relate to a lot of their experiences other than the ones about facing racial and ethnic discrimination. Mainly because that's a really fucking significant other than, and I think it's extremely irresponsible for people who benefit from white privilege to talk over people who don't benefit from it, even if there's some technicality that "allows" them to.

Frankly, I have nothing but contempt for the white spouses and (ugh) "allies" who take up space in groups like SAT.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:01 AM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


Hmm... I'm 2.5 gen, and mixed race, so although "subtle asian" would totally describe me as a person, I can't really relate to most of these, except maybe the "white name" one (I legally switched to a white name when I was only 7 because I was already fed up with people misspelling/mispronouncing). Although Korean and Buddhist cultural elements were certainly the background radiation of my childhood (along with "lunchbox moments" and other racism), it's mostly just food and art-related, or little household habits like taking shoes off at the door. All this stuff about strict parents feels less Asian and more "middle-class immigrant parents who are statistically more likely to be driven over-achievers and that's how they could migrate legally."

Well there's one genre of experiences I have that I'm not sure if others like me have, but it's actually the culture clash between me and 1st gen asians when they assume I'm on the same page as them.

I was once having a conversation with my chinese coworker about our families. She was the oldest child with tons of younger siblings. When I said I only had an older brother, she said "Your family is a mom, dad, older brother and you? I'm so jealous, I wish I had an older brother."

I said, "oh you mean so you wouldn't have to babysit all your younger siblings by yourself? I understand."

She replied, "No because it's better if the first child is a boy. Your mom must be really happy."

I was stunned and didn't know how to react and just mumbled something like "i don't think she really had an opinion about it..."

Then there's the racism... Asians and whites look at me funny when I say I've dated black and brown people. But I come from a mixed family so how can I be expected to care? My parents sure didn't.
posted by picklenickle at 9:11 AM on July 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


tobascodagama, your comment completely resonated with me. I even hesitate to use the term "white-passing" because while my mom is Filipino, she's also mestiza and looks white herself. (Also the Spanish influence means that a lot of latin mom memes resonate for me as well). I've been thinking a lot about who I am but I haven't really found a comfortable place yet.
posted by brilliantine at 9:40 AM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


There is no comfortable place, from my experience, just vaguely fitting in but mostly feeling like an outsider everywhere.
posted by eurasian at 10:35 AM on July 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


> All this stuff about strict parents feels less Asian and more "middle-class immigrant parents who are statistically more likely to be driven over-achievers and that's how they could migrate legally."

Yeah, I can't really relate to strict parents either - mine weren't tiger parents when I was growing up, and they also weren't able to finish their education due to being forced to work manual labor during the Cultural Revolution, so they had to really pull themselves up by the bootstraps to make it in America after immigrating here. Over time, they managed to get up towards what I guess is the middle-class now? But mostly they were strict about money because we didn't have a lot of it when I was growing up, rather than like, strict with me as a person.

My favorite parent-related memes in the Subtle Asian Traits group tend to be things related to Cantonese expressions/puns, caring about free stuff ("you don't need to tell us if it's not free"), or more general "dad things" like "Man decides to keep box of cables he's had since 2002 for another year." (Dad... you're never going to use that old USB Mini-b (5-pin) cable for anything anymore...)
posted by rather be jorting at 12:37 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


rather be jorting: "Having a relationship with an Asian person or being related to someone Asian doesn't actually confer a sudden change in racial identity, nor does it suddenly endow the non-Asian person with the blanket permission to enter spaces focused on an Asian diaspora and treat "Asianness" as an aesthetic or affectation. From the sound of the Outline piece, at least some of the white people in the fb group have opted to act like fetishizing alienators, rather than family members."

Agreed. I did not intend to imply that having Asian family (or friends) gives anyone a free pass to splash their racism about. There's a big difference between having reason to have interest in something and making a space about you.

Anyway, I wanted to say thank you storytam for sharing this. My partner was having a Bad Day today because of stressful house renovation stuff and thanks to this post I got him distracted with conversation about Canadian Chinese culture, racism, food, White people behaving badly, and relatable memes. The fake-name-for-Starbucks meme got him laughing because (although he has a common British name and hasn't had to do this himself) his college classmate Zhan Zhan* used to go by "Stephanie" for coffee acquisition purposes ("But that's still a kind of complicated multi-syllable White people name. Why wouldn't you pick something simpler?" "Because fuck them that's why.").

Random sampling of things he mentioned:
  • Any time his elementary & middle school classmates saw an Asian woman at their school they'd ask "Is that your Mom?". The worst was an out-of-town field trip to Toronto... "Is THAT your Mom?". Like, no. And there are going to be a lot more Asian women around here than you're used to and none of them are my Mom.
  • School friends suddenly losing interest in staying for dinner when they found out that dinner was (for example) Lions Head.
  • Haw flakes. White Rabbit candy. Konjac jelly fruit cups.
  • Being in a room full of older relatives who are all chatting in Shanghainese, which he doesn't speak, and hearing "blah blah blah [his name] blah blah" ~laughter~ and then everyone looks at him.
  • His Mom practicing an allegedly classically Chinese method of showing she didn't like me by almost entirely ignoring me when I was in her house. Not speaking to me. Not even acknowledging my presence most of the time. (Things are better now)
  • His grandmother coming up with truly unexpected stories in the course of dinner table conversation. Like the time her father went out to buy a new camera part and bought a child instead**. Or the time her father was kidnapped and held for ransom. Or how it was her job when she was little to prepare opium for her Mother.***
  • The time his grandmother (whose own marriage was arranged) declared he and I engaged via email. "You have been good together for long time. It is time to make the decision. I am so happy for you!". His mom was horrified "Ma! You can't DO that!"
* I'm probably misspelling that.
** To be a playmate for his children, from a poor family who couldn't afford to support her.
*** A bit early 20th century wealthy Shanghai specific, and uh, perhaps not so relatable to the teens and 20-somethings on Subtle Asian Traits
posted by Secret Sparrow at 1:40 AM on July 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


Secret Sparrow, ah, got it! Yes, I also agree there's a difference between sticking around out of interest due to caring about Asian people in one's life, rather than entitlement (which was the main issue that had been bothering me). I'm still very skeptical of white presence in spaces focused on POC because I'm more used to hearing about bad actors than supportive allies, but I do appreciate a #wholesomepost. Thanks for sharing how you cheered your partner up.

(And omg at his grandmother's email about you two, wow. Did she ever send a follow-up?)
posted by rather be jorting at 11:17 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Well, about 5 seconds after he told his Mom about the email she was on the phone long distance to her Ma to have words about Not Doing That Again. It's even funnier when you factor in that partner and I weren't even dating at this point, just very very good friends. His Mom was grudgingly tolerating us sharing a two-bedroom apartment but was 100% not okay with her Ma not only deciding I was marriage material but trying to fast-track the process. So, there were no more emails on that topic. BUT, partner says the next time he was in Vancouver (we live 4000km away in Ontario) his Grandma pulled him aside and had a very earnest conversation with him. She felt that she and her husband had been very very good friends* and so our very good friendship seemed like a great foundation for a marriage, so, well, why not? It could be good!

Two updates, since partner and I continued the conversation today in the car on our way to Ottawa

1) Partner says "Ohmigod yes! Same!" about the Danish cookie sewing tins. Cookie tins at his Grandma's house had a 50/50 chance of being sewing notions. Cookie tin in the kitchen? Score! Must be cookies! WRONG! Buttons! Cookie tin in in the living room? Probably sewing stuff, but maybe look anyway? YAY! Cookies!

2) If your Mom self-publishes a book about your family's history & journey to the New Country, read it. Like, promptly. Because your partner might read it, and assume you've read it, and then start talking to you about stories in it while you're say, on a car trip to Ottawa. Which is how this happened:

Me: "blah, blah, so many great stories in your Mom's book. Like, [Story about partner's great-grandfather trying to keep the peace between his two wives, and sometimes failing]"
Partner: "Wait... what?"
Me: "She cut off the bottom half off ALL the drapes with a pair of shears. It was apparently a pretty big undertaking. Did you not read that chapter?"
Partner: "Sorry, his other wife?"
Me: [long pause] "Did... did you not know your grandma had two Moms..?"
Partner: "Nooooooo... This is 100% news to me."
Me: "Duuuuuuude."
[intermission for shared laughter]
Me: "Uhhhh, okay, so yeah... his first wife was infertile so it was decided that he should get a second wife and that was your grandma's Mom. Also, your great-great-grandfather had three wives, and unless they were really unlucky with fertility I'm pretty sure that was just for funzies. Surprise!"
[cue more laughter and me ribbing him for not reading his Mom's book]


* something which happened after they were married. Before their wedding they'd only met once briefly, and then they spent the first few years of their marriage "dating" and getting to know each other.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 10:27 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


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