Sparks Magazine Issue No. 19 | University of Central Florida

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Issue 19

Fall 2020

The University of Central Florida Presents

Somewhere In Between

Weighing on My Mind

All Sugar, No Substance

The Asian American Adoptee Experience

The Fetishization of AsianAmericans and Body Image

Unpacking Boba Liberalism


UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA EDITORIAL EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Zohra Qazi MANAGING DIRECTOR Adrian Lee FINANCIAL DIRECTOR Natalie Nguyenduc LEAD DESIGNER Chi Pham

CONTENT WRITERS Asma Ahmed, Andrea Cabezas, Chelsea Della Caringal, Kissimmee Crum, Zainab Jamal, Natalie Nguyen, Mayumi Sofia Porto, Liana Progar, Fariha Rafa, Angelika Suansing, Farzana Talukder, Chi Tran PHOTOGRAPHERS Isabella Billones, Laura Cardello, Denise Ferioli, Timothy Nguyen DESIGNERS Asma Ahmed, Denise Ferioli, Ilise McAteer, Angelika Suansing, Skyler Shepard PUBLIC RELATIONS

PUBLIC RELATIONS DIRECTOR Paolo Agahan PR STAFF Asma Ahmed, Isabella Billones, Janine Do, Jared Diago,

Zainab Jamal, Christina Le, Ilise McAteer COVER

PHOTO Isabella Billones DESIGN Chi Pham MODEL Caressa Billones

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Emma Ross MANAGING EDITOR Alexandra Giang FINANCIAL DIRECTOR Amanda Hoffman COPY EDITORS Mumtaz Abdulhussein, Michelle Lee DESIGN EDITOR Brianne De Los Santos PHOTO EDITOR Laura San Juan PUBLIC RELATIONS DIRECTORS Xinni Chen, Stephanie Chang WRITERS Cherie Chick, Amanda Hoffman, Eileen Calub, Hanzhi Chen,

Glenna Li, Karen Zhang, Cindy Duong, Marika Dumancas, Marium Abdulhussein DESIGNERS Rachalle Way, Maggie Dungey, Arun Jairam, Mercy Tsay, Kaela Marie Varias, Aryam Amar, Rutva Patel, Julia Guerrero PHOTOGRAPHERS Daniyah Sheikh, Josie Cruz, Hanzhi Chen, Nidhi Bhide, Lexi Lutz, Tejasvi Dudipalla, Nima Goodman

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Amy Nguyen MANAGING EDITOR Zahra Saba FINANCIAL DIRECTOR Isha Harshe PROMOTIONS DIRECTOR Roshnee Patel PROGRAMMING DIRECTOR Amy Pham CONTENT EDITOR Raisa Zaman DESIGN EDITOR Dencie Devora PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR Zeba Khan CONSULTANT Samia Alamgir GRAPHIC DESIGNERS Trianna Nguyen

WRITER Isha Harshe, Olivia Hemilton, Khoa Hoang, Amy Nguyen, Amy

Pham, Zahra Saba, Neha Sajan, Sanikaa Thakurdesai, Raisa Zaman

NATIONAL BOARD

FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA! FACEBOOK/sparksucf INSTAGRAM@ucf_sparks_mag TWITTER@ucf_sparks_mag

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EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Jason Liu CHAPTER DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR Aleem Waris CHAPTER DEVELOPMENT MANAGER Bryant Nguyen DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR Chelsey Gao ADVOCACY DIRECTOR June Lee MARKETING DIRECTOR Ingrid Wu SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER Sally Zhu SENIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER Esther Zhan STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER V Chau WEB DEVELOPER: Chris Tam


Letter from the Editor Dear Readers, This semester, just like this year, has been unlike any other: social and political protests, campus closures, financial crises, murder hornets, election anxiety, and the persistance of COVID-19. Yet, despite everything set against us, we’re daring to call out aspects of our society and ourselves, we’re daring to challenge and change and continue. At Sparks, we came in search of our own authentic voice that’s been hidden away deep within us and now dare to redefine that, whatever that may mean. Sparks Magazine has always been a place for growth, on a personal and intellectual level, but this semester there was a noticeable and tangible change in us brought out by the discomfort of our reality. With our ever-changing world and confusion left to silence, we couldn’t sit around and wait for an answer, we couldn’t let the heat of that abandoned soup on the stove spill over onto the stovetop. It was time for a necessary change. So, we leaned into the discomfort— the anxieties, the fears, the questions— and embraced the potential it held, letting it mold us into something strong and new. Even while stewing in that discomfort isolated in our dorm rooms and homes away from one another, we were anything but alone. Many of the stories in Issue 19 are poignant, honest, daring, and, above all, necessary. Ranging from topics on the identity of Asian American adoptees to the truth of Asian American Liberalism to the physical and mental toll of fetishization, we ventured through our understandings of who we are and began to imagine new ways of being. Despite it all, we continue and will continue to persist. Perhaps it’s the only thing we really know how to do at Sparks Magazine— persist and thrive in the despite. This issue is a glimpse of that needed change and it’s an honor to present you with Issue 19, created and sculpted, despite the anxieties, despite the fears, despite the questions, and despite these troubling, daring, and discomforting times. We only hope that you, too, invite the discomfort and tide you into anew, the way this year has dared to change us all.

Sincerely, Zohra Qazi Editor-in-Chief

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table of

contents 6

We Bare Bears & Discrimination in America by Amy Nguyen

11

8

Family Matters

11

Somewhere In Between

14

Spoiler Alert: There’s No Mushu

by Cindy Duong

by Liana Progar

by Kissimmee Crum

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22


16

Weighing on My Mind

20

Behind The Fake Lashes

22

All Sugar, No Substance

26

Awakening the Sleeping Giant

by Andrea Cabezas

16

by Alexandra Giang

by Asma Ahmed & Zohra Qazi

28

by Amy Pham

28

The Rise of K-Pop by Chi Tran

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We Bare Bears & Discrimination in America: A Personal Essay

T

he sweet aroma of phở wafted my face. I placed the steaming bowl of Vietnamese beef noodle soup onto my dining table as I waited for my little sister to join me. I passed her the Hoisin sauce, squeezing a generous amount of Sriracha into my bowl. “What do you wanna watch?” I asked preoccupied.

“We Bare Bears,” she retorted. “You can pick the episode.”

THE BEARS AND CULTURAL REPRESENTATION

While the show was famous for its endearing nature, it introduced a wide range of cultures to its younger audience. Episodes were devoted to the bears meeting the show’s side characters from all over the globe. What resonated with me was the unapologetic, untranslated dialogue between these multicultural characters and their families. The audience was left with context clues to decipher the Korean, Japanese, or Spanish dialogue. Representation meant

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THE BEARS AGAINST DISCRIMINATION After running on air from 2015 to 2020, the series ended with the feature film We Bare Bears: The Movie. I was disappointed to see one of my favorite animated shows ending. While watching the finale film of the franchise, I noticed a clear distinction between its TV show counterpart. The TV show prioritized cultural representation and brought awareness to the different backgrounds of its characters. The movie, running an hourlong, was more explicit in its anti-discriminatory message. It encouraged its viewers to not fear those who look “different” but to welcome them with open arms, criticizing current antiimmigration sentiments. Current events have made this message vital to teach to the younger generation. We Bare Bears serves as

design/Trianna Nguyen

We Bare Bears, an animated TV series premiering on Cartoon Network, followed three gregarious bears on their journey to fit into human society. The bears consisted of Grizz, Panda, and Ice Bear, adopted brothers living in modern-day America. Each 15 minute episode centered around their cute antics, often accompanied by human and animal side characters. Even watching casually, I picked up on the show’s diverse characters. It was astonishing to see Asian American representation on an influential platform for children. This influence came from creator Daniel Chong, a Singaporean Chinese American animator devoted to spreading a message of love and positivity. The show rose to fame in Asia, cementing the bears as lovable household names. Mass production of merchandise called for a demand of the three bears. Special appearances from K-pop idol group Monsta X and Leslie Odom Jr. only heightened the excitement for the cute brothers.

These glimpses of Chloe’s family gave the show’s audience insight into the Asian American experience. The juxtaposition between Chloe’s school life at her American college and her family life at home was very familiar to me. The double life I lived as a Vietnamese American was being validated on screen. Though the long hours of science lectures wore me out, I knew I’d always return home to red New Year’s calendars and the smell of cooked rice noodles. I went from telling niche jokes with my college friends to stumbling over my parents’ mother tongue. The Vietglish sat in my mouth like an after mint. Like Chloe Park, having friends over meant introducing new dishes and telling them to remove their shoes before entering. Having this unique experience reinforced as a child would have meant the world to my eight-year-old self. I always experienced identity crises living in a country where the typical “American” family never included an experience like mine. Even though We Bare Bears premiered 12 years too late for me, I was happy to see my little sister and other Asian American youth get the representation they deserved.

art/Amy Nguyen, Daniel Chong

I nodded and opened my laptop up to see the three familiar cartoon bears appear on my screen. It was our dinner ritual. The only thing more comforting than the hot bowl of phở was the three cuddly bears on Cartoon Network. We finished dinner, bursting into fits of laughter between loud slurps of noodles.

Introduced as a ten-year-old prodigy studying Organic Chemistry in college, Chloe befriended the three bears after observing them from afar. The audience was able to follow her family life as the bears visited and interacted with them. They respected and followed her family’s cultural traditions, making sure to bow and greet her parents in Korean before coming inside their house. Through clumsy trials, they learned and adapted to Korean culture for the sake of their young friend. Although the bears were unfamiliar with several aspects of Chloe’s culture, they were willing to respect and accept the traditions introduced to them.

by Amy Nguyen

She paused abruptly, taking in my question. Her hand gripped Hoisin sauce mid-air.

that these characters did not have to sacrifice their native tongue. This was most prevalent in the case of Chloe Park.


a reminder to parents that it is never too early to educate children on important issues. Relaying messages of empathy, humanity, and acceptance is necessary to teach younger children how to respect their peers.

who were uncomfortable with my existence. There will always be people who are scared of things that seem “foreign” to them. For other people of color, this meant enduring racial profiling, police brutality, family separation, and inhuman detention facilities.

In an exclusive interview, the creator Chong expressed his desire to properly explore the intricacies behind the franchise. With the time allotted, he was able to dive into the allegory he spent four years cultivating. The bears were more than adorable characters to him. They were a culmination of his experiences in America.

We Bare Bears: The Movie highlighted the struggles of assimilating into America as an immigrant and learning to deal with bigotry as a citizen. Though the bears received their happy ending, there are still over 500,000 immigrants detained in ICE camps over the country. These camps are conducted under inhumane and severe conditions. Family separation occurs daily, with many of them unable to reunite with their loved ones. This was a direct parallel to the three bears being deported at the end of the film. Similarly, people who have resided in America their entire lives are deported to lands they’ve never known. The movie’s heavy themes of family separation, deportation, and discrimination were all addressed and criticized. Chong executed this in a way that made it digestible for his younger audience. Though my sister did not register the parallels between the movie’s detainment camps to ICE detention centers, she understood enough to know the bears were wrongfully imprisoned.

“...it has always been evident to me, as an Asian American, that sometimes individuals are treated unfairly for no other reason than looking different,” Chong stated on his Twitter. “And although the premise of three Bears trying to fit into human society is largely a comic one, it is to me an allegory for what it feels like to be a minority in America,” he added. The film followed the three bears on their adventure to Canada as they escaped persecution from Agent Trout. Trout was the main antagonist from the National Wildlife Control, who was hellbent on getting the three bears deported. After one of their silly antics went array, they faced the fear of leaving the only place they’d ever considered home. In an adventure consisting of poutine, cute animals, and anti-discrimination, the three bears fought for their right to exist on American soil. In the climax of the film, Agent Trout apprehended the brothers. The audience was forced to watch as the bears were trapped in cages, ready to be sent to distant, foreign lands.

Though things may be rough, the film reassured that there will always be people who welcome those in need with open arms. This franchise allowed for cultural representation and shedded light on anti-racist and anti-discriminatory messages, all without seeming overly didactic. Following creator Chong’s messages of love and positivity, the three bears and their silly antics have taught a new generation that being “different” is okay. Being different, in this case, was not as uncommon as some people make it out to be. I’ll definitely be tuning in for the spinoff.

The movie flashed a chilling image of dozens of lethargic bears trapped in cages at a detainment camp. Void of life, most of the bears accepted the cruel conditions their oppressors placed upon them. Fearing the separation of his family, Grizz, the eldest brother, broke free of his restraints and incited an escape. In an epic turn of events, the three bears were able to burn down the detainment camps for good. The ending scene followed the aftermath of the movie’s chaotic climax. The bears previously trapped in the camps were depicted shopping, eating lunch, and interacting with humans. They were no longer void of life and defeated. As Grizz, Panda, and Ice Bear looked around their city, they realized their bear counterparts were able to integrate into human society just as they did. “We may be fitting in a little better these days,” Panda happily noted.

THE BEARS AS MINORITIES IN AMERICA In between tears of joy and realization, I paused the movie to explain to my sister why I was sobbing. Chong’s allegory was evident in the last ten minutes of the movie. As Grizz faced Agent Trout during his escape, he yelled that Trout was only scared of things that he wasn’t used to. This statement rang clear in my head. Living in America as a minority meant dealing with people

This story is by THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA

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FAMILY MATTERS H

eavy eyes peer at headlines in boldface. Hands grasp devices like armor. Drowsy mutters of native Mandarin, intermediate Mandarin, and “Black Lives Matter” exchanged over sips of coffee. Freyja, the housecat, hisses from her usual spot on the windowsill.

Ada Yan, a 20-year-old information systems and piano performance double major at the University of Florida, usually discusses the news early in the morning with her mother. Black Lives Matter is the fervent response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many more. After the staggering accumulation of acts of racial injustice this past summer, deep-rooted systematic issues regarding racism, police brutality, and white supremacy have become daily topics at the breakfast table.

Tori Chin is a 21-year-old public relations major at UF. Her father is Chinese Jamaican and her mother is from Hong Kong. “I’m lucky to grow up with relatively progressive parents,” Chin said. “Usually, we’re on the same page, but we have different solutions. They don’t feel the same as I do about some topics because I grew up here, and learned different things in school about racism. Sometimes, what they find extreme, I don’t find extreme. But they’re always willing to listen.”

This dissonance traces back to the media sensationalizing protests as harmful to society – dubbed the “protest paradigm” by scholars Douglas McLeod and James Hertog in 1999 – to increase views. For example, focusing exclusively on looting and rioting instead of the cause of Black Lives Matter.

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design/Rachalle Way

Last June, 42% of respondents from FiveThirtyEight’s poll believed that protestors were too violent. However, 93% of Black Lives Matter demonstrations have been peaceful, according to the U.S. Crisis Project.

photography/Nidhi Bhide

For the Asian American community, conversations extend beyond race to what the appropriate response is, given the complex history between Asian American and Black communities.

by Cindy Duong

DISCUSSING BLACK LIVES MATTER WITH ASIAN AMERICAN FAMILIES


BEING POC DOESN’T AUTOMATICALLY MEAN UNDERSTANDING YOUR BLACK NEIGHBOUR

“The news skews the protests,” said Kevin Bui, a 20-year-old accounting student at Florida Atlantic University. “It’s contradicting to my parents because it’s like, why resort to violence if you’re fighting for peace?” Such media tactics lead to a dangerous lack of sympathy for the movement as a whole. The divide between truth and false perceptions of the truth hinder proper discussion and action to stand up for the Black community, specifically wedging itself between family members. This difficulty to communicate has subsequently led to lukewarm responses.

“It’s not even a discussion,” Bui explained, frustrated. “My dad just gives his opinions and I have to listen. If I have a different perspective, he tells me to be quiet. It’s annoying because he usually watches Fox News and Vietnamese YouTubers who translate American news, so there’s no variety. I don’t have a voice.” With unregulated social media platforms such as YouTube, where anyone can say anything, families might fail to distinguish fact from opinion. The solution seems obvious– consume various and reliable news sources. However, it’s not that simple. Along with news sources, language barriers also heavily influence the path discussions take. Many Asian Americans struggle to have civil discourse because their arguments are often lost in translation. “I don’t blame my dad. He’s not fluent in English so I get why he’s looking up these Vietnamese YouTubers to translate what’s going on, but I have no idea if they’re reliable or not,” Bui said. “I’m not fluent in Vietnamese, so these strangers on the internet can say whatever they want and I won’t know. I can’t even argue with my dad about this because I don’t know the right words to get my message across.” Bui is not the only student with this experience. Yan has parents who mainly read Chinese news. “Black Lives Matter is covered less in the mainland, so there’s less of a presence,” Yan said. “I’m more aware of it because I was born in the United States. I get to witness social and political matters firsthand, and be on platforms that cover the issue more such as Twitter and Instagram. It’s also hard to accurately express my thoughts in Mandarin, as I often have to use an online translator to explain my stance to my family.” Unreliable journalism and language barriers are just two of several reasons why Asian American families might not be supportive of Black Lives Matter. “Stereotypes about crime and colorism contribute, I think, to the discrimination against Black people in the Black Lives Matter movement,” Yan said. “It may seem like since we’re minorities, we should be more able to understand each other’s struggles, and to support each other within those struggles. Yet we still discriminate against each other.” The prevalent anti-Blackness within the Asian American community is exemplary of the different experiences the two minorities face in the United States.

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Both have dealt with long histories of discrimination due to White supremacy, which should have contributed to the solidarity between communities as fellow people of color. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. “The model minority myth says Asian people are put to a higher standard, and are more adjacent to White people and the privilege they have,” Chin said. “And so, it’s easier to fall into the mindset of “why don’t they (Black people) just act like us?” But this myth just oppresses us, because we’re conforming to White supremacy.” The Black Lives Matter movement has many Asian Americans fumbling with how to properly and effectively practice their allyship. This conflict begs difficult questions: Should the Asian American community attempt to connect with the Black community through their shared oppression, or is that an unfair comparison? Is showing comradery making Asian Americans overstep their boundaries in a narrative that isn’t about them? Despite long, overlapping histories against unfair institutions of power, the label “people of color (POC)” doesn’t adequately represent the specific challenges within different communities. In 2013, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) was created as a more inclusive term that recognizes the vastly different experiences Black and Indigenous people deal with in their daily lives, as grouping all people of color without acknowledging their separate identities and struggles is simply erasure. Liz Ibarrola is a Ph.D candidate in Anthropology and the Director of Immigration Concerns for the Human Rights Coalition of Alachua County. “Anti-Blackness is pervasive,” Ibarrola said. “Being POC doesn’t automatically mean understanding your Black neighbor. There’s a racial hierarchy with white people at the top and Black people on the bottom that’s inherited, and hard to overcome. There’s also this immigrant experience of a culture that disguises inequality. As in, the mentality that if you work hard, you’ll be rewarded. But who is that really for? What is the rule and what is the exception?” It’s crucial to recognize that POC allyship is intersectional with class, gender, sexual orientation, geography, and much more. POC is just one lens to keep in mind when questioning rules and exceptions. Quincy Surasmith, host and producer of Asian American culture podcast “Asian Americana,” was also part of the Thai translation team in the Letters for Black Lives project: a crowdsourced, multilingual initiative that aims to begin conversations with loved ones about the unique problems the Black community encounters, focusing on empathy and understanding. He shared similar sentiments. “I think, ultimately, it’s examining our core values,” Surasmith said. “How do you justify whether people do or don’t deserve basic rights and opportunities? There’d be no Asian American movement without the work of Black and Brown communities to make that kind of work and space possible, right? There’s a sort of legacy that I think is important for us to be aware of and to pay back not as in like, a debt, but to continue that work.” The first step to allyship is education on these issues, and actively practicing to reduce anti-Blackness within ourselves and the people around us. Researching, diversifying sources, donating, protesting, and having these serious conversations are only some of many ways to stand with the Black community. “With different discussions, there’s very different strategies,” Surasmith said. “If one strategy doesn’t work, then change your strategy. You’re not meant to have just one discussion. These conversations need to keep happening.”

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This story is by THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

AS IN, THE MENTALITY THAT IF YOU WORK HARD, YOU’LL BE REWARDED. BUT WHO IS THAT REALLY FOR? WHAT IS THE RULE AND WHAT IS THE EXCEPTION? –LIZ IBARROLA


SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN: The Asian American Adoptee Experience

A

China announced its one-child policy in the late 1970s and began to enforce it nationwide in the 1980s. The one-

With this policy in effect, there were thousands of children left to orphanages, most of them being

girls. Parents wanted boys who would be able to pass on the family name and take care of their parents when they grew older. The one-child policy created greater sex discrimination, women became “expendable.” Many international couples, especially American couples, chose to adopt from China following this policy. According to the U.S. Department of State, 82,456 Chinese children were adopted and brought to America between 1999 and 2019. In addition, following the 1953 Korean War, “between 1958 and 2001, more than 100,000 Korean children were adopted by families in the United States,” as stated by the Evan Donaldson Adoption Institute. From 1999 to 2015, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs reported that more than 20,000 babies and toddlers were adopted from South Korea. Similarly to the Korean War,

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design/Denise Ferioli

Situations like these occur often for Asian Americans, and for Asian adoptees, these situations can be even more awkward and uncomfortable. In the 21st century, there have been thousands of children adopted from various Asian countries, most predominantly from China, South Korea, India and Vietnam, as recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs.

child policy was created in an effort to control China’s then, rapidly growing population. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, China was more lenient towards those who lived in rural areas versus those in the cities. The government implemented various methods to help enforce their policy, such as “making various contraceptive methods widely available, offering financial incentives and preferential employment opportunities for those who complied, imposing sanctions (economic or otherwise) against those who violated the policy, and, at times (notably the early 1980s), invoking stronger measures such as forced abortions and sterilizations (the latter primarily of women),” Britannica mentioned.

photography/Laura Caradello

A short, unwanted Thai lesson later, she escapes back to her family; her mom didn’t see anything wrong with the interaction, her aunt, however, found his actions to be racist, implying that her niece didn’t belong in America, was “other.” The waitress had overheard the interaction and apologized for his actions and made sure the girl was alright, she told her it was alright, after all she was used to being stereotyped.

by Liana Progar

young Asian walks into a sushi buffet with her white family. A white business man calls her over to her and asks her where she’s from, she’s a bit weirded out but keeps smiling nonetheless. She tells him she’s from China, the Philippines and Thailand. He tells her she’s very beautiful which causes more discomfort to swell in the 16-yearold. He questions her about her Thai language skills; she was adopted from China at 9-months-old, she does not know any language but English.


during the final days of the Vietnam War “Operation BabyLift” airlifted about 2,600 Vietnamese children to the U.S. for adoption, according to History.com. The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs also found that there had been 5,946 adoptions from India from 1999 to 2017. Over 5,500 babies have been adopted from Vietnam from 1999 to 2019 according to the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs. Oftentimes, race isn’t something adoptees think about till they’re older and begin to develop a sense of self. Living in America, adoptees lacked the cultural upbringing they would have experienced in their mother country. Some adoptees understand and are comfortable with their national identity, American, but lack an understanding and comfort of their ethnic

identity, Asian. Being raised in America while also being Asian complicates an adoptee’s identity. “The ethnic identity development of transracially and transnationally adopted individuals is complicated by the fact that they are confronted with the paradox of having grown up in a White family and community and typically having been treated as an honorary White, but being perceived by others outside of these milieus as an ethnic and racial minority. This contradictory set of life experiences may undermine ethnic identity development, because conflicting feelings of belonging and rejection can lead adopted individuals to disavow and to not want to explore their ethnicity and heritage,” Richard Lee noted. According to Wun Jung Kim, the differences between adoptees’ two identities generally causes three different scenarios: the adoptee isn’t majorly interested in their ethnic identity and identifies more with their national identity, the adoptee is uncomfortable about their race and may wish they were white or not Asian, or the adoptee is comfortable with their ethnic identity and actively explores their ethnic identity. For some adoptees, they similarly align with the first scenario. They make slight efforts to explore their Asian identities such as celebrating the Lunar New Year and Gotcha Day, a celebration of the day when adoptees were adopted; but overall due to the lack of large Asian communities, time and resources, their ethnic identity remains largely unknown. “I don’t think I’ve done a great job of balancing my understanding of my identity. I feel like I’m kind of just stuck somewhere in between,” Abigail McKnight said, a freshman at the University of Central Florida majoring in architecture. She was adopted from Dianbai, Guangdong, China at 15-months-old. “In America, I feel like I’m judged by my skin color, but if I were to visit China, people would be able to tell that I didn’t grow up there because of my mannerisms and

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“In America, I feel like I’m judged by my skin color, but if I were to visit China, people would be able to tell that I didn’t grow up there because of my mannerisms and the language barrier. At times it feels like I don’t belong to either race.” the language barrier. At times it feels like I don’t belong to either race. I feel like sometimes people find it difficult to understand because they’ve never encountered or considered that kind of family situation before,” McKnight said. Not all adoptees feel like McKnight does, as their concept of identity can vary on the spectrum of acceptance to confusion. Lucinda Connor, a freshman majoring in hospitality management at UCF, for example, leans more towards the acceptance end. She generally doesn’t feel that different from her peers, but occasionally feels like she doesn’t belong. Connor was adopted from Chenzhou, Hunan, China at 9-months-old. Connor’s father was also adopted, giving her someone who could somewhat relate to her situation. “Since both my parents are white and they’re really preppy, like really preppy, I almost have that ‘white DNA’ in me, it seems that way,” Connor said. “When I was going through the recruitment process, I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb. When you’re in Greek life, or just in a predominately white thing, it makes you feel different in an awkward way.” “I don’t think they really care about what race you are, but it just feels awkward for me sometimes, personally.” UCF freshman Savannah Osburn, majoring in computer science, had similar experiences as Connor as she also has someone to understand her situation. At 3-months-old, Osburn was adopted from Da Nang, Vietnam. Her family later adopted another daughter who is a year younger than Osburn from China. “I would probably identify more as I guess Asian American just because I don’t know, I feel like most of the


stuff I just do is more like traditionally American, I just look Asian,” Osburn said. American media and history has created an Asian stereotype which is typically applied to Eastern Asians. There are several stereotypes against Asian Americans such as, but not limited to: all Asians being good at school, especially in subjects like math and science, being bad at driving, behaving in a quiet and reserved manner, eating cats and dogs and even all Asians looking the same/being related are all things that are a part of microaggression. Microaggressions are commonplace comments that are seen as “normal” when they are actually just offensive, whether the speaker meant to be rude or not. A stereotype applied to Asian Americans, especially adoptees, is the comparison to Twinkies or Golden Oreos due to their upbringing: yellow on the outside, but “white” on the inside. “I’ve heard the cat/dog jokes and bad driving stereotypes. When I was younger, kids weren’t aware of what they were saying and they would kind of call me out just based on my difference in appearance,” said McKnight. “Now, I’ve found that most people my age are very accepting and don’t treat me any differently, and that it’s adults that can be the most insensitive. Once a teacher asked me if I mixed up test answers ‘due to a translation issue,’ which was a question based solely on my race rather than my previous work.” Some adoptive parents’ decisions to adopt from an Asian country was influenced by the behavioral Asian stereotypes and the racist favorable image Asians have, according to Tony Xing Tan and Michael Nakkula. This favorable image is known as the model minority myth, a myth that paints all Asian Americans to be the same type of person who “achieve universal and unparalleled academic and occupational success,” earning them a “honorary white” status, as described by Sam Museus and Jessica Fry. “The stereotypic perception of Asians as quiet, trouble-free, responsible and achieving people may also have contributed to the increasing popularity of Korean children,” wrote Wun Jung Kim.

The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs reported that 20,966 children had been adopted from South Korea between 1999 and 2019. The highest year of adoption being 1999 with 1,994 children adopted. These stereotypes and myths follow adoptees though their whole life. Without an adoptee’s family present, people are unable to physically see that adoptees are adopted which can lead to misunderstandings and uncomfortable confrontations. “Asian American transracial adoptees, for instance, might be presumed to come from recently immigrated families and have knowledge about different languages and cultures. These types of assumptions can make Asian American transracial adoptees feel even more isolated and unsettled in their identity,” Fry recorded. Being a part of an interracial family, adoptees can imediately be spotted. This distinct difference can often lead strangers and acquaintances to ask intrusive, uncomfortable questions about birth parents: “where are you from from,” or “can you say anything in your native language?” “Adoptees are often questioned about their “real” parents, leading them to believe that their family is perceived as inferior to traditional, biological ones,” as stated by Jaeran Kim, Beth Hall and Katarina Wegar. “When people are adopted, they always ask ‘oh, would you ever want to meet your birth parents?’,” Connor said. “Me, personally, I don’t need to meet my real parents, the parents I have now are my real parents because obviously I understand when I was adopted the one-child policy was going on, so I’m sure they probably kept a boy or just couldn’t have a child or whatever, but they gave me up for a reason, now these parents are my parents and they are my actual parents. I don’t feel like

I have another set of parents out there, like the parents I have now are my parents.” Being an Asian American adoptee is a confusing experience with conflicting identities and stereotypes being thrown around. For all of those who do not fit stereotypes, there are those who do; for each person who accepts who they are, there are people who are still confused. Coming to terms with one’s own identity is a rocky path, but with support and understanding the journey can be made more smooth. If adoption becomes more normalized, adoptees might be able to feel more comfortable with their mixed identity, as the people from the in-between.

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photo: Disney

by Kissimmee Crum design/Mayumi Sofia Porto

Spoiler Alert: There’s No Mushu A Film Review on Mulan (2020) Disclaimer: All opinions are my own.

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he hype surrounding Disney’s painstakingly long-awaited live action remake of “Mulan” makes it, arguably, one of the most-anticipated Disney movies in quite some time. Add in the massive delay from the escalation of COVID-19 turning into a pandemic and you’ve got even more mystery and excitement surrounding the film. The story of Mulan is a piece of everyone’s childhood, for both Western and Eastern audiences. Mulan, as a folktale and an animated feature, left imprints on anyone who knew the story of the girl who took her aged and crippled father’s place in war, overcoming all status, gender and filial inequalities placed upon her from birth. Knowing that the live action counterpart to the original was going to be one of the first few to navigate this new era of Disney had those who treasured the film on their feet rejoicing -- until they weren’t. The 2020 remake of “Mulan” follows the same story of a girl, shamed from failing to impress the matchmaker, taking her father’s place in war with the Rourans. Straying from the original

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animation, magic plays a huge role in how the tides turn for Mulan. However, just like previous live action remakes, this movie was a mistake. From the plotline to the crew to the magic of Disney, every potential “Mulan” had fell short and felt utterly underwhelming. Talk around this movie has been brewing long before the movie had even been released. From lead actress Liu Yifei and her support of the Hong Kong police violence against proDemocratic demonstrations to the entire production team being dominated by non-asians to the film being primarily shot in New Zealand issues. To be clear, the boycott surrounding the film’s release is understandable and worth the effort. Although there are controversies encircling the film, this review will be based entirely on the film alone (including the making of and final product). Going into the film, it’s already disappointing that some of our favorite characters have been sidelined, even completely


cut. Who we are left with from the cast, however, sorely rips to shreds any snippet of joy (or literally any other emotion) that the original animated film gave us. Yes, there’s edge, yes, there’s high stakes—but, does that mean it’s okay to skimp on character development? Definitely not. With a cast full of renowned pioneers of Asians in film, the characters they were given are completely disappointing, and frankly, a travesty to watch. For starters, the new character additions lean more as dramatic effect rather than well thought-out plot points. Award-winning actress Gong Li, for example, played Xianniang, a shape-shifting witch with all the potential in the world to be a symbol of female empowerment and deliver a wrenching character-arc. Instead, the film focuses on her morphing into a flock of birds over and over again rather than giving her the dialogue and screen-time needed to illustrate her true motive. The phoenix served no purpose but to be a pretty bird in the sky; it was continually distracting. The bird would fly in an exaggerated circle and then disappear for ages, only to return for another few dismal seconds. How this feathered friend replaced our fun and fresh and flawed Mushu, the world will never know. Despite the lack of substance, spectacle makes this movie memorable. It should be impossible, but somehow Disney has turned the most badass character they could have created into the drabbest personality of the entire film. Whether it was this new Mulan Disney had written or actress Liu Yifei, our beloved war-hero was completely bland. The live action skips over that grueling training the 1998 animated Mulan challenged herself to rise up to, rather choosing to give the new Mulan “chi.” “Chi” is a common idea in Chinese spirituality. It represents the life force within someone and in the context of the movie, it provides mystical powers to those who are overflowing with it; unfortunately, this idea of “chi” tramples over any growth Mulan could go through. Not only is it a representation of her spirit, but it gives her incredible agility and strength and fighting ability without blinking an eye. Mulan’s transformation is undercut by opening the entire film with her doing flips off of awning to catch a chicken sans breaking a sweat. Does having superpowers make for a better story than the good ol’ hardwork of proving oneself as a woman? According to Disney, the answer is yes. Besides the elimination of major roles to the 3 stooges—Chien Po, Yao and Ling (hearts are STILL breaking)—there is something to be said about the imagery and cinematography of the movie.

Director Niki Caro, cinematographer Mandy Walker, costume designer Bina Daigeler and many more great minds who worked on “Mulan” clearly have poured their heart and soul into working on a visual masterpiece. The film is immersive into a traditional Eastern atmosphere with gorgeous costuming and breath-taking sets. The final battle sequence on the half-built construction site between Bori Khan, played by Jason Scott Lee, and Mulan is sublime, as are most of the action scenes: they’re every bit heart-palpitating and full of suspense. Each moment makes you miss sitting in a theater, fully soaking in the majesty of the visuals. Unfortunately, the vividness of each scene just leaves stronger imprints of how the substance of “Mulan” is a let-down. With such striking imagery, it’s hard to forget the unsavory plotline that accompanies each scene. Gone are the beloved sing-alongs the 1998 film gave us; however, in their place are big-band orchestral power-pieces that suit the more dramatic edge of the film. Harry GregsonWilliams, composer of the movie’s score, sends you to another dimension with these stunning instrumentals. The soundtrack is cultural, entrancing and evokes more emotion than any character performance featured. The underlying cadence each song provides throughout the film builds intensity yet also soothes. The music follows Mulan’s journey and mirrors her inner turmoil and “growth”. The revamped rendition of “Reflection,” had goosebumps rising from its power. The most pleasant surprise hit right at the photo: Disney end of the credits. Disney had decided to include a mandarin version of “Reflection,” performed by Liu Yifei, which really brought the entire movie home. Even though it was featured at the very end, it’s existence is a beautiful stepping stone for inclusion and diversity. Picturesque scenery and rich melodies sadly do not make up for the lacking storyline and characterization . The final product is almost laughable because the blueprint to success already existed in the 1998 version. Humor and drama and gripping characters were expertly interwoven throughout the entire animated feature. The 1998 “Mulan” has been a wellloved symbol for multiple minority communities. Themes of feminism, being yourself and unexpected friendship are just a few life lessons the live action version brutally waters down—or worse, cuts out entirely. This new, somber rendition of Mulan just doesn’t live up to the gifts the animated film gave us. The live action “Mulan” leaves much to be desired and much to be erased.

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Weighing on My Mind

The Fetishization of AsianAmericans and Body Image

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-Liz Villeneuve Villeneuve, a Kinesiology Major at the University of Central Florida struggled to identify with her Filipino background due to stereotypical portrayal of API/A women in the media. She believes Western beauty standards to be heavily rooted in colonialism, and their recognition of other races highly based on pop culture. “If you look at ‘Charlie’s Angels’, Lucy Liu is very feminine, very petite. You have Constance Wu who is also portrayed as the typical fair, petite and dainty Asian beauty standard.”, she commented. “You just kind of see the same cookie cutter vision of how an Asian woman should be in America.”

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design/Skyler Shepard

“I didn’t really identify as Asian, because I never saw Asians that looked like me in movies growing up.”

photography/ Isabella Billones

Media, especially from the Western world, has a large influence over how different communities and countries are perceived, due to Hollywood’s global outreach. These perceptions play a huge role in both creating and perpetuating exaggerated and offensive stereotypes that harm Asian communities.

by Andrea Cabezas

he Fetishization of Asian Women is a descendant of Western Society’s embrace of stereotypes and the misogyny and devaluation tied to them. Asian PacificIslander American (API/A) women seem to agree on the effects it has on their self-esteem and issues with body image. One’s body image holds a significant space in selfconfidence, as it involves how a person perceives their own body and attractiveness in comparison to societal standards. Faltering confidence in this perception can lead to several mental health issues and disorders, including dangerous eating disorders and behaviors that can negatively impact physical health. As a minority group constantly interacting with the Western world, this population is also bound to suffer repercussions of a torn identity and the situation their juxtaposing cultural values create; in this case, an unfortunate perplexing concept of beauty and the customs tied to it. But just how do these factors of needless sexualization of racial minorities and opposing cultural beauty standards feed into changes in body image and risk of eating disorders?


Indeed, Western media has had somewhat problematic portrayals of Asian women, as they typically reinforce the “China Doll” and “Dragon Lady” archetypes. Both harmful perceptions, the “China Doll” is seen as submissive and overly emotional, while the “Dragon Lady” is cold and threatening; both harshly categorizing a diverse minority and stripping them from a complex human nature, rather than just simply soft or aggressive. This extreme black-or-white media representation exoticizes and brings an inherent social dominance over Eastern women. Eventually, which Hollywood stereotype you fall under is irrelevant, for both archetypes are submissive to Western society as a whole. Even the hostile “Dragon Lady” is chained to a standardized image, and automatically victim to Western ideals. Asian women are stunted by their expectations to be docile and comply with the dominant Westerner in media, and this is reflected in a mirrored societal demand. Neither of these representations even begin to encompass the diversity found within the API/A community, nor does it do a good job at acknowledging their cultural strengths and beauty. Instead, by placing this community into a box of what Asian women are expected to be, it limits all that they can be. The exotification of these women eventually leads to their objectification, condemning them to fetishization. Once objectified, there is a harsh physical objective placed upon API/A women which heavily influences their self-perception and warps the image of what they should look like or want to look like. Sarah Truong*, a VietnameseAmerican junior studying at UCF recalled being fetishized in her workplace at a young age. Working as a waitress, an older Caucasian man began making inappropriate comments about her perceived ethnicity and kept trying to “subtly” touch her back. Her co-workers and boss were there to protect her and

help avoid further interactions, but it didn’t take away from the reality of being blatantly preyed on. “Each instance of fetishization I’ve had, it’s usually an older white man”, Truong recalled, “I feel they fetishize that youthful, slim look that Asians usually have. East Asian women are seen to be submissive already, and that demeanor is what appeals to them.” The “China Doll” archetype strikes again. The use of infantilizing and sexualizing of those of Asian descent proposes a non-existent need for Western interference. It creates a fallacy that the youthful and dainty call for a supposedly “stronger” caretaker, someone who will protect and guide them. This false notion creates an imbalanced power hierarchy, where East Asian women become a “lesser than” contender, and in fact become more vulnerable to being needlessly sexualized solely on the basis of racial features. Since slimmer and petite body types have an unfortunate connotation of being easier to control and direct, fetishization of Asian women is directly a product of Western society and its savior mentality. The slimmer and petite figures become the expectation, a sort of mold that Asian women are counted on to fit into. This raises concern for how women of the API/A community might try to force themselves into this standard given its connections with Eastern beauty standards and eating habits.

Eastern Beauty Standards and Food To categorize Eastern beauty standards as one sole ideal would be dismissive of its diversity. The Eastern world includes so many different cultures and distinct beauty standards, it’s hard to group them into one. To focus on East Asian beauty standards for women, some generalized expectations include conveying a gentle and delicate femininity. These expectations are achieved through keeping to an overall minimal look: “natural” smooth skin, large doe eyes, a slim heartshaped face and slender body type. To a certain degree, there is a desire for a more childlike and innocent appearance. These features contrast heavily from the Western desire for a fierce and heavily altered look. In what ways do Eastern beauty standards reinforce this unjust submissive role for Asian women? This topic runs into conflicting ideas.

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American values regarding growing body positivity and constant food waste, it tears down the understanding of what should be valued overall, and leaves one even more vulnerable to becoming submissive to society’s expectations and ideals. Painfully, these familial and cultural ties to body image hold the power to grave mental and physical health consequences.

design/Skyler Shepard

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photography/ Isabella Billones

Caiti Bradbury, a psychologist at the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at UCF who specializes in Caiti Bradbury understood Eating Disorders (ED) to be working with API/A students and eating disorders, explained anything related to one’s food habits that get in the way of their day-to-day life. how food is a large part of Whether it be Bulimia the relationship dynamic “It keeps us connected in the family, it is very much in Asian culture. Nervosa, Anorexia involved in everyday life, even a sign of love and Nervosa, Binge Eating or expression. It’s very much a love language in this This ritualistic and Body Dysmorphia, all of community.” celebratory importance these disorders negatively —Caiti Bradbury, CAPS Psychologist of food often contradicts interfere with relationships Eastern beauty standards. and lifestyle. Growing up, Villeneuve remembered constantly receiving comments from aunties Bradbury described EDs as hard to detect in other on her eating habits. Even at a young age, remarks about people, mainly because the measures they take are often her eating too much and not being able to resemble other very secretive and hidden. However, if you do ever grow Asian children because of it persisted at the table. On the suspicious of someone potentially having developed an ED, other hand, there’s also a nagging idea of needing to be it’s important you express your concern in private without appreciative of food and not letting it go to waste. trying to force or pressure them into therapy or eating, since this can cause them to become more distressed. “My mom was strict about finishing everything on our plate, because otherwise we would be ungrateful, which is pretty Having struggled herself for many years with an ED, she funny because you either eat too much, or if you don’t eat knows how cultural conflict often is enough to distress everything, you’re selfish, too,” said Villeneuve. one’s own body image. She described Asian cultures as being very shame-based in expressing emotion. This can This dichotomy can only result in a crisis of having to lead to feeling trapped, and pushes for a need for control. sacrifice meeting beauty standards, or appearing to be grateful. Paired against the process of assimilation to

by Andrea Cabezas

The demand for a minimal slender look calls for need to adjust relationships with food and eating habits. Since physical slenderness is directly tied to a number of factors, including genetics, athletics and eating, this can often play a role in developing certain ideas around food that can be psychologically damaging.


“Eating Disorders are about Control, people with ED are able to choose what to put and purge out of their body, it helps them cope with the emotions they don’t feel they’re able to express in the family,” said Bradbury. She also explained how it’s common in Asian communities to comment on others’ physical appearances, something both Truong and Villeneuve have shared experiences about. “My family has complained about me working out a lot, I have bigger thighs than Asian women adhere to, said Truong. “I’ve explained that ‘I’m healthy, I feel good, and I look good, and you’re not going to change that.’” Villeneuve mentioned, “I would always restrict myself or not want to eat in front of my family because I knew that they would comment on that.” Bradbury goes on to agree that a lot of her own issues stemmed from topics of cultural shame, control, beauty standards, and submission: “Expectations and pressures may lead to submissiveness (…) you can feel very trapped and unaccepted, I know I did. Because you can express yourself in ways that don’t fall in line with your culture.” Luckily, Bradbury manages the Empowering Asian Voices group therapy at CAPS, a group she started in order to reach out to those going through the same struggles she had.

students have campus counselors they should reach out to for resources, and group therapies can really help you to realize you are not alone. It is an unfortunate insight to understand the ways in how Fetishization of a minority group can push one far enough to develop an Eating Disorder and an extreme perception of their own body. Alongside cultural pressures and expectations, Western vs. Eastern beauty standards and even Cultural relationships with food, these combined factors are extremely harmful to the API/A community. Even so, there are ways to try and break free from the chains Western society has bound Eastern Women to. Truong recommends not being afraid to speak up and challenge the submissive stereotype by trying to be honest and upfront, starting with the family. “Asian Women aren’t really seen to speak out and all. I have been rebelling against that recently, especially since going to college,” said Truong. “Luckily with my parents, I can have that conversation, even though it might get frustrating and we may argue, but I’ve become more vocal about it” Villeneuve offered advice to other girls going through body pressures and beauty ideals: “Realizing that we all have our own perceptions of beauty, and one can respect another’s way of feeling beautiful and happy with themselves, I think that is reaching the unreachable, and I would call that my beauty standard. It’s learning to love yourself versus striving for an aesthetic”.

“I created this space for their voices to be heard. Growing up, I know how distressing it was to feel like you don’t have a voice. I think there is a reason I came into this field, because I struggled a lot, and my cultural background definitely had a part in it too.”

Fetishization is a major social issue today, and whilst we work together to tackle it and bring down stereotypes, we can start helping ourselves by breaking free from these expectations.

She encourages anyone struggling to not be afraid to reach out and speak to someone for help. College

*Sarah Truong is a pseudonym for a source who wishes to remain anonymous.

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BEHIND THE F

A look behind a popular trend and stereo

There is an abundance of stereotypes that attempts to itemize and restrict the rich diversity of Asian cultures. The term Asian Baby Girl, or ABG, is one of the newer ones. ABGs are colloquially known as female Asian “gangsters,” perhaps because their style and image are notably intimidating in other people’s eyes.

Sofia Ilagan, a 20-year-old sociology major at the University of Florida, expanded on the definition.

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Ilagan had similar thoughts. “I think if you look at it through society’s eyes, it’s a negative connotation because Asian girls are usually taught to be submissive and more feminine and lady-like,” Ilagan said. However, even though the term ABG may be offensive, some use it to empower themselves. “I’ve never been called an ABG but I don’t see it as negative at all. I enjoy going out and having a good time. I like to dye my hair often and wear makeup and have several tattoos,” Ilagan said. To her, actions like dying her hair and wearing makeup are things many college students do– not just ABGs.

design/ Josie Cruz

ABGs characteristically apply heavy makeup, including false eyelashes, and frequently attend social events. They are known to wear thin clothing that is revealing. Many have an affinity for expensive brands. Some even have tattoos, as the term “gangster” might imply.

Jenny Aura Im, an Asian-American social media influencer, expressed her concerns with these stereotypes. “I think the negative connotations associated with being an ABG mostly consists of substance abuse, partying, and the excessive makeup,” she said.

photography/ Maggie Dong and Josie Cruz

If this scenario seems offensive and cliché, that's because it is.

“I think some of the negative connotations that come up with being an ABG is that people think they’re slutty, attention seekers, and hoes,” she said. These harmful stereotypes may have been born from the idea that many ABGs attend parties and raves.

by Alexandra Giang

A typical day for an ABG consists of a morning, afternoon, and evening boba run, shopping for the latest trends at the mall, an expensive dinner with her friends, and a long Uber ride downtown to a rave. After her fun, she’ll Uber back home and collapse in bed, exhausted. This is not the first time she will forget to remove her heavy makeup and iconic false lashes.


FAKE LASHES

otype dominating the social media scene the abg lifestyle is just another side of asian culture – Sofia Ilagan, 20 “I’ve been called an ABG many times, but mostly by people that don’t personally know me,” Im confided. “I don’t think much about it because I feel like my current appearance and lifestyle is a phase I’m going through.” Im uses her large following on social media to promote a positive perception of ABGs on the Internet. Based on the overwhelming positivity of her growing audience of 50k followers, it seems like her social media techniques are working. Dr. Lisa Lundy is an agricultural education and communications professor at the University of Florida. She did not have much experience with the term ABG itself, but she was intrigued by the growing trend due to her expertise in social media and public relations.

“Trends tend to be shortlived, but if those developing this content evolve with their audience and continue to grow and share new and interesting content, the trends can extend for some time,” Lundy stated. Some social media users, like Ilagan, believe that influencers have a responsibility to their audience to abolish the stereotype and transform the offensive term into an empowering movement. “Social media influencers can show that ABG is just a regular type of lifestyle like anything else,” Ilagan said. She believes that college students her age having fun doesn’t warrant a harmful stereotype. “The ABG lifestyle is just another side of Asian culture.” Although the ABG stereotype is harmful, it is fortunate that many in the Asian American community choose to expand the label instead of letting it define them. Hopefully many others struggling in the shadows of this stereotype can find inspiration in their courage and spirit.

Based on her experience and research, Lundy expects this trend to catch on, specifically to those who follow issues related to the Asian American community.

This story is by THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

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All Sugar, No Substance: Unpacking Boba Liberalism

What is Boba Liberalism?

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design/Asma Ahmed

Boba Liberalism is a relatively new concept, first introduced into Asian American and liberal/leftist discourse by Twitter user @diaspora_is_red who defined mainstream Asian American Liberalism as one that is shallow and consumerist. On Plan A Magazine’s podcast, they describe Asian American Liberalism as “a sweet, popular thing. It’s not very offensive […] thinking the university Key Club and API Is this who we are? Is this what we repstudent associations will lead the way in resent? Is this all it means to be Asian fighting for the dignity of the Asian diasBoba Liberalism attempts American? pora, in securing real material benefits to unify Asian Americans to their communities, and rectifying the under an umbrella of Asian- colonial crimes of the host country... The concept of the Asian American identiness, narrowly focused on ty has always been a part of life for many thinking t-shirts, products and merchanyoung members of the Asian American assimilation into mainstream dise are the main way of affirming one’s community. Many Asian Americans grew American culture and seeks racial identity. It’s capitalist consumption up having a complicated relationship presented as API-ness…and wanting to the privileges associated with their cultural heritages, from being reconnect with your roots by [...] drinkwith it through consumerism. ing bubble tea, getting added to Subtle alienated by peers for being different to rejecting one’s Asian culture in favor of Asian Traits and organizing fundraisers their American one. for your Asian student association, but never studying your history and feeling solidarity with your Over the years, with the growing popularity of Asian media homeland against imperialism…All Sugar, No Substance.” and pop-culture representation, many young Asian Americans have learned to overcome their internalized racism Boba is used as a metaphor for this brand of liberalism as and embrace their identities. Kids who were once ashamed it is sweet, inoffensive and a unifying element of the Asian of bringing their ethnic lunches to school became hotpot American diaspora, making it easy to identify with. Howand Korean barbeque chain regulars, the ones bullied for ever, it’s a drink that is mostly sugar and contains “empty their interests became trendsetters for their proximity to calories.” With no real nutritional value, boba is detrimenAnime and K-pop, and boba tea, the once simple, sugary tal in the long run. Similarly, Boba Liberalism attempts to

photography/ Asma Ahmed

Groups formed all around the now bustling boba shop; friends of friends clustered in a corner to play Chinese board games, the girls at the neighboring table sang along to the K-pop songs playing on the speakers and groups of people lined up with boba-themed captions in mind posed against the picturesque walls. And while you were sipping on milk tea, as your friends typed away on their stickercovered laptops, you wonder:

drink with tapioca pearls, became a unifying element for young Asian Americans to identify with. This new wave of self-love among first and second generation Asian Americans led to the drive to fight for acceptance as Asians, but also as Americans. They are no longer hiding their Asian-ness but celebrating it—forming clubs and communities of their own. However, with a newfound sense of community comes a new, complicated identity: The Boba Liberal.

by Asma Ahmed & Zohra Qazi

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hursday evenings were ideal for social gatherings: meeting up with friends from your university’s Asian student organization at a local boba tea shop was the perfect setting. The ambience of the shop was inviting. The menu’s welcoming font detailed the limitless options— mochi waffles, Thai tea, taro macarons, Taiwanese boba and other choices from various cultures—helped create the ideal atmosphere to hang out with friends and meet other Asians from your school.


unify Asian Americans under an umbrella of Asian-ness, narrowly focused on assimilation into mainstream American culture while seeking the privileges associated with it through consumerism. This type of Asian American Liberalism promotes an identity to adopt that is sweet and without the “nutritional” value of putting in the work towards understanding one’s ethnic background, culture or history. The term Boba Liberalism critiques Asian American politics as coming from a place of privilege, one that appears to address social issues while simultaneously benefitting from the systems that are the root of them. Instead it highlights the specific aspects that benefit them while ignoring the issues that don’t affect them directly. Boba Liberalism typically points towards middle and upper class light-skinned East Asians who are often seen as the ‘face’ of Asian Americanism. This, in turn, directly reflects the issues they experience—media representation, the model minority stereotype and outward racism and xenophobia—as the only issues Asian Americans face. Their struggles are often made more palatable to their White Liberal counterparts, giving them easy to solve, surface level social issues without challenging the status quo and feeding directly into the model minority stereotype. The mainstream perception of Asian ‘activism’ then becomes one that is demure and nondestructive, creating a false equivalency to weaponize against other minorities and social justice movements.

As Boba Liberalism highlights a singular type of Asian American as representative of all Asians, erasing the experiences and struggles of other Asians, it leads to a refusal to acknowledge the other, larger issues within the Asian American community. This builds the perception that all Asian experiences are monolithic and allows Asian Americans to keep relying on the umbrella of Asian-ness, further cementing the “interchangeable-Asian” stereotype. In an attempt to create unity among Asian Americans, these efforts only divide the community further as other Asians, such as non-East and mixed-race Asians, working-class Asians and Asian activists, are alienated and devalued for not fitting into the boiled-down, compartmentalized idea of what counts as Asian. Boba Liberalism is an Asian American extension of neoliberalism, an ideology that emphasizes free-market competition, adopting some aspects of social liberty but only for consumerist gain. Likewise, Boba Liberalism believes that the way towards social justice for Asians is through the market, tying one’s identities to store-bought and massproduced affirmations of identity. They take popular and profitable parts of different Asian cultures as a way to represent all of Asia and appeal to the Western market while also selling these aspects to each other as ways to show off how “in-touch” one is with their culture. The boba industry is a prime example as it is a popular (East) Asian product where its consumption is directly tied to one’s Asian-ness. Of course, Boba Liberalism, at its core, has some semblance of social activism, but it is far from Asian activism itself and has little space in it. Asian activism refers to the social justice, political and coalition-building work done by Asian Americans to combat oppressive institutionalized systems in the Western world, such as imperialism, racism, and classism, among others. Unlike Asian activism, Boba Liberalism is a commodification of the Asian identity under a Westernized lens and is directly responsible for narrowing what is and isn’t Asian based on a limited perspective. This paints Asian identities as something that can be adopted and reaffirmed by consumption. However, Boba Liberals fail to recognize that there are institutionalized systems built into the American framework as means to oppress Asian Americans and other minorities; rather, they try to assimilate into such systems instead. An example of this is the belief that media representation is a “win” for all Asians without considering why it took so long or about the systems in place that made representation such a milestone to begin with. Asian Americans will celebrate the changes to systems once they are allowed to participate and forget the harm they caused and continue to cause, while also extending the harm onto groups that are still struggling against the systems. This leads to a shallow perception of activism where Boba Liberals believe that showing off your support is a form of activism—in other words, performative activism.

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Commodification is a major component of Boba Liberalism that depends on trends to survive. Boba Liberalism rose with the growing visibility of the Asian Identity in the Western world, which made it fashionable to show off. As awareness and activism grows within the mainstream consciousnesses, performative activism becomes more rampant. Now, presenting oneself as “woke” and being an activist is a trend, a way to make oneself look better and something that can be mass produced, sold and bought to affirm their stance.

firsthand what it’s like to be discriminated against, but have yet to extend sympathy to other minorities. Instead, such discrimination is weaponized to gain sympathy for their own benefit and sometimes even to justify their discrimination towards others, making their claims of solidarity a transaction rather than true support.

design/Asma Ahmed

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photography/ Asma Ahmed

Much of performative activism is rooted in virtue signaling: Taking visible efforts to display one’s good character or moral superiority for their own benefit while doing nothing to address the issues they appear to advocate for—instead putting themselves at the focal point of the issue. Boba Liberals take this trend as an opportunity to use activism to look good while using their minority status as a shield against criticism. There have been several instances where social media influencers used activism for their own gain. They would share infographics and information about relevant movements, a way to signal to onlookers of their political and social awareness. In the end, Intersectionality is at the heart of all this is all just a guise to attract more folmovements, and while there is no doubt lowers without putting much effort or care This unique struggle that Asian Americans contributed totowards the issues they claim to advobetween identity and wards civil rights movements, there is a cate for. Even a few businesses, owned by Asian Americans, are guilty of this as they acceptance is what holds history of Asian Americans co-opting and centering movements for their own gain would create an image of “wokeness” and Asian Americans back and ignoring the issues within their own solidarity as means to drive up sales. This from becoming true communities, such as A n t i - B l a c k n e s s performativity, essentially, gives these acand colorism. counts and businesses the virtual brownie advocates for their points and traction they wanted; once community. As the 2020 Black Lives Matter moveagain taking pieces of their identity to benment neared its peak in the summer, efit themselves, without putting in any real many Asian Americans circulated the effort. phrase “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power” in order to show So why are there so many Boba Liberals if it only harms solidarity with the movement. However, many people are them in the end? Boba Liberalism is a safe spot between unaware of the history behind the Yellow Peril movement seeming “woke” and the discomfort of activism. Many Asian and its premise of the threats Asian American resilience Americans have grown up struggling to value their cultures and minority solidarity pose to mainstream American culand have only just begun to love the ‘Asian’ part of their ture, White Supremacy and imperialism; instead reusing it Asian American identity. However, they are in a precarious as a quirky catch phrase. While there is nothing wrong with position between glorification and negligence. Shielded by using the phrase, it disservices both the movement and the umbrella of Asian-ness, there grows a refusal to ac- the individual to adopt a movement without knowing what knowledge the more difficult parts and complicated his- it stood for whilst having views opposite its premise. It is tories of one’s background, preferring to only accept the hypocritical to co-opt an anti-White Supremacy group while shinier, marketable parts, thus leaving them with a vulner- participating in upholding the very systems that allow White able and superficial sense of self. Learning the truth behind Supremacy to exist. one’s cultural background, their history and traditions, can be overwhelming given the potential it has in changing one’s By blindly co-opting Yellow Peril and the Black Lives Matworldview. In order to truly be accepting of your identity, it is ter movement, many Asian Americans not only revealed the important to acknowledge its imperfections as well as have performative nature of their activism through hypocrisy and ignorance, but centered the movement onto themselves. Bea deeper understanding of what you do acknowledge. cause Boba Liberalism aims to make a place within the sysThis unique struggle between identity and acceptance is tems that oppress them rather than dismantling them, turnwhat holds Asian Americans back from becoming true advo- ing Yellow Peril into a catchphrase while denying systemic cates for their community. Most Boba Liberals understand racism proves contradictory. As the BLM movement aligned

by Asma Ahmed & Zohra Qazi

The real difference between Boba Liberalism and Asian American activism is intersectionality. Not only is there no effort put into learning one’s background, but there is also little work put towards understanding the struggles of others because they are not the ones benefiting from it. A lack of intersectionality alienates minorities within the Asian community and those that don’t fit the westernized perception Asian Americans, such as darker-skinned Asians, Southern and Western Asians, mixed-race Asians, LGBTQ+ Asians, Asians of different faiths, et cetera. In intersectional issues, Boba Liberals have a tendency to center the activism around themselves and speak over other minorities. This, in turn, harms Asian Americans and other minorities, creating further division among and within minority and Asian American communities.


with the rise of Anti-Asian sentiment due to COVID-19, “Yellow Peril” became a way to center anti-racism efforts on Asian Americans and speak over Black voices instead of standing alongside them, making solidarity a transaction and trivializing coalition efforts between the two communities. So how can Asian Americans break away from Boba Liberalism and become better allies and activists? Activism in any form involves a constant uphill struggle of learning, unlearning and relearning. The first step towards distancing ourselves from Boba Liberalism is putting in the effort to engage with your community. This can be done by establishing ties with your local community and getting involved with clubs, campus resources and online resources. Taking the time to continuously learn the complexities and truths hidden within history and critical texts is an integral part of becoming a well-rounded and intersectional activist. A key step in this learning process is learning about your own history—both Asian American history and the history of your home country—and cultural background to develop an understanding of the role they play in the lives and identities of Asian Americans. It is also important to learn about the systems that oppress us and other minorities, the histories behind them and their impact, and what can be done to reform or dismantle them in order to better serve society as a whole. Activism exists on every level of society where every single action, no matter the size, makes a difference; making your own learning intersectional is vital to breaking out of the narrow focus of Boba Liberalism.

Intersectionality fosters equality within the Asian community as we are not a monolith but a group made up of various cultures unified by the country we live in.

Not only is activism a personal struggle, it is a collective effort. Learning about the people around you in a country as diverse as America is imperative as the histories of every group are intertwined. Intersectionality fosters equality within the Asian community as we are not a monolith but a group made up of various cultures unified by the country we live in. Acknowledging and understanding the disparities between different groups within the same communities will allow us to better uplift the minorities that exist within our own communities. There are many things we can do as Asian Americans to call out our own actions that harm other minority groups. Critical thinking and engagement asks you to question your actions, both online and offline; ask yourself how posting a black square is effective, or what’s the purpose of and intention behind posing for a picture at a peaceful protest? Reflecting on our own actions will only help us become better activists, and even better global citizens. There is much work that needs to be done in order to stand against and fight the oppressive, institutional systems that affect not only our lives, but the lives of other minority groups—our neighbors, our friends, our allies—and if we want to see an impactful change, we’re going to have to look at ourselves and question if there’s substance to what we’re doing, or if it’s all just sugar.

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Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Mobilizing the Asian American Vote As the fastest growing racial group, the Asian American electorate is a sleeping giant that must be awakened.

Historically, Asian Americans have experienced low voter turnout for a multitude of cultural, social, and political reasons. In fact, according to Griffin in 2017, Asian Americans only comprised seven percent of the 2016 presidential election voting electorate, the lowest of any other ethnic group. Low voter turnout in the Asian community is generally attributed to voter apathy; however, there are many factors involved.

The majority of Asian Americans are foreign-born and immigrated to the United States. This plays a large role in their political participation as it is not the norm in most Asian countries. Voting is

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“Voting is considered a luxury that is only afforded to the elites in some Asian countries...In America, voting is a right.”

However, even if Asian Americans want to vote, there are many hurdles in their way. Language barriers and clerical errors in voter registration make it difficult for Asian Americans to vote. Asian American voters must navigate voting even with a lack of multilingual voting materials. This is a significant barrier to the Asian community as a third of the Asian community have limited English proficiency. There are many discriminatory voter policies that suppress the Asian American vote. The

Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program is employed by more than half of the states and is used to generate lists of possible double voters based on first and last names. According to Uprety in 2018, Asian Americans have a “1 in 7 chance of showing up on a Crosscheck list.” Asian Americans tend to have common last names and are likely to be purged. Additionally, according to Kambhampaty in 2020, discrepancies in signatures could serve as a block to Asian American voting as many immigrants did not have a signature until they arrived in the United States. This can be due to differences in transliterated names or their signature not matching across all necessary documents. In fact, Asian Americans Advancing Justice organization reports that Asian Americans have high rejection rates when using vote-by-mail mainly because of “signature mismatch.” This is incredibly worrisome, especially for this year’s election. With many Asian American voters casting mail-in ballots, the language barrier or their signature could prevent their vote from being counted.

The Sleeping Asian Giant

Kamala Harris. Andrew Yang. Mazie Hirono and Tammy Duckworth. Bobby Scott, Doris Matsui, Judy Chu, Ami Bera, Tulsi Gabbard, Grace Meng, Mark Takano, Ted Lieu, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Stephanie Murphy, TJ Cox, and Andy Kim. In this year alone, we have seen the first Asian American Vice-Presidential

design/Dencie Devora

Roots of Asian American Voting Rates

considered a luxury that is only afforded to the elites in some Asian countries, which is in stark contrast to the American mentality. In America, voting is a right. For example, in Hmong culture, most of the population does not have the opportunity to vote. Furthermore, many Asian countries are not truly democratic; for example, China is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, and Vietnam is a one-party socialist republic. Since voting was not a major part of their lives in their homeland, Asian immigrants may lack the inclination to vote. When they immigrate to the United States, they may pass this mentality down to their children leading to low Asian American voting rates.

by Amy Pham

O

nly a month ago, reaching over each other to grab bean sprouts or Hoisin sauce for our pho, my parents proudly declared that they had officially mailed in their voting ballots for this 2020 Presidential Election. Nearly forty years ago, my father and mother left Vietnam with their families and immigrated to the United States. Like many Asian Americans, my family underwent the years-long process of completing forms, paying fees, interviewing, and passing the naturalization exam before they could finally call themselves American citizens. As naturalized citizens, they acquired the important right and responsibility of voting in our representatives. And yet, many Asian Americans do not exercise this right.


candidate, three Democratic Presidential Primary candidates, three senators, and fourteen congressmen and women. Not only has there been a rise of Asian American Pacific Islander representation at the federal level, but an increasing number of Asian American candidates are also running for election in state legislatures. According to Do in 2018, “70 percent of Asian American candidates won state legislative office.” Andrew Yang’s #YANGGANG represented a major shift in Asian American participation in politics and brought Asian Americans into the national view as political actors. In fact, according to Do, in 2020, “158 Asian Americans are running for state legislatures,” which is an increase in the number of Asian Americans that ran in the 2018 midterms. Seeing other Asian Americans active in politics and running for office empowers more Asian Americans to participate in the civic process. As the fastest growing racial group, the Asian American electorate is a sleeping giant that must be awakened. According to Yu in 2020, “six out of 10 Asians in the US will be able to vote in November’s presidential election.” Kambhampaty in 2020 explains further that in the upcoming election, more than 11 million Asian Americans will be eligible to vote, comprising about five percent of the voting population. Yet, even as a key voting demographic, Asian Americans are not receiving engagement that could mobilize their vote in the upcoming election. In comparison to other voting blocs, Asian American voters receive very little outreach from political parties and candidates. According to a 2020 Asian American Voter survey, only 30% of Asian voters were contacted by the Democratic Party and 24% had some contact with the Republican Party. Even in the current election, political parties fail to connect with Asian American voters. Candidates put themselves at a disadvantage by not reaching out to Asian communities and

INCREASE IN ASIAN VOTE TURNOUT FROM 2016 TO 2020

engaging them on important voting issues. COVID-19 represents an opportunity to address issues that are vital to Asian American voters because they have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 response. In the last half-year, there has been an increase in anti-Asian sentiment from the community in the form of discrimination and attacks. Asian businesses in areas affected by COVID-19 have lost a significant amount of business. Additionally, according to Le and Tarloy in 2020, as the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community comprises 8.5% of essential health care workers, they have been working the front lines of the COVID-19 hospital response. In fact, Georgian health care workers have been greatly affected with a 36% increase in AAPI fatalities. If political candidates address some of these major concerns for the Asian American community, it is very likely that they can garner support from the Asian American Pacific Islander voting bloc.

Mobilizing Our Vote

Recently, Asian American leaders and youth have begun mobilizing the Asian community through the development of several non-profit organizations and initiatives. #TheNew is a campaign organized by RUN AAPI to empower AAPI youth to vote this November. Endorsed by several Asian American celebrities, Chloe Bennet, Lulu Wang, Brenda Song, Harry Shum Jr., The New seeks to engage the invisible minority through the first political opinion poll targeting young Asian Americans and spreading awareness through social media. This is one of several campaigns that are forming to increase voter registration and voting in the Asian American community. Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) is another organization that aids Asian Americans

GEORGIA

+141%

in exercising their right to vote. They have developed a voter hotline to help break the language barrier for many Asian voters and provide training to end barriers to Asian American voting. In this year’s election, Asian American voters will be vital in determining the victor in some swing states. As Gandhi in 2020 explains, New American Economy discovered that nearly “305,000 currently unregistered Asian Americans liv[ed] across the seven states in question.” However, if these voters take advantage of same-day registration in states like Michigan and Minnesota, they will have a large influence on the November 3rd outcome. In North Carolina, where President Trump and former Vice President Biden are going head to head, Marston in 2020 reports that Asian Americans comprise 3.5 percent of the electorate. Additionally, according to Marston in 2020, in Pennsylvania, another swing state, about 4 percent of the voting population are Asian American. Thus, awakening the Asian American vote is more important than ever. A change in mentality regarding voting in the Asian American community and in political parties is necessary to mobilize the Asian American electorate. The sparks have already been brought to life. It is now time to feed the fire. Asian American should no longer be treated as invisible. We are a growing voting block that is now being awakened.

FLORIDA

NEVADA

+103% +126%

(2 DAYS BEFORE ELECTION DAY)

This story is by THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA

SOURCE: TargetSmart

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The Rise Of

K-POP By definition, K-pop stands for Korean Pop music. Today’s style of K-pop is a fairly new form of music created around the 1990s that was influenced by Western music and pop groups. K-pop is an umbrella term that includes many styles and genres of music such as hip-hop and rock. The majority of performers within the K-pop genre are

K-pop groups made up of male and female “idols,” the first of which was believed to be Seo Taiji and Boys who debuted in 1992. Now in 2020, the billion-dollar industry is host to hundreds of K-pop groups under large and small entertainment companies, all vying for a spot in the global audience’s eyes. Unlike other musicians and bands within Western industries, Korean idols and groups are often marketed as “perfect” individuals. Each group is made up of members who hold positions of singer, dancer, rapper or visual. K-pop sets itself apart from other styles and forms of music as it is not only an auditory experience

design/Chi Pham

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as Beyonce. But before knowing how groups such as BTS have now become household names that consistently sell out large stadiums such as New York’s Citi Field and London’s Wembley, we have to take a deep dive into what K-pop is and how it’s taken the world by storm.

by Chi Tran

B

right flashing strobe lights, bass levels loud enough to feel within your bones and the deafening screams of thousands upon thousands of people within a stadium: Concerts are an experience that one will never forget in their lifetime. No concert experience is like another, but those that exceed your wildest dreams and leave you violently sobbing at the end are few and far between. Yet, that was exactly what thousands of fans experienced after a two and a halfhour long concert by the international sensation, BTS. K-pop concerts exude a visual grandeur and experience akin to some of the biggest Western artists such


but also heavily relies on its visual components. Each K-pop group is styled to perfection with intricate choreography that mesmerizes the audience. With the meticulous execution of addicting beats and visually pleasing performances, it’s no wonder that K-pop has now come to take over the world. Contrary to what some believe, K-pop was never an overnight sensation. It steadily grew from a national scale to a global scale through targeted expansion into other Asian music markets and then to the West. Many K-pop groups today include members from other countries,

the majority of which coming from Japan, China and Thailand. These idols often increase a group’s popularity in their home country as the general public can connect with the idols on what seems like a personal level. When companies deem a group ready for expansion, the groups will often debut in Japan with an album completely in Japanese. Japan is the second-largest music market behind the U.S. and is notoriously difficult to chart in as there are many idol groups of its own. Despite that, many of the most popular foreign musical acts in Japan are K-pop groups.

Groups like BTS, TVXQ and Twice are now consistently ranking on the Oricon Charts (Japan’s Billboard) and holding sold-out concerts in Japan’s largest stadiums like the Tokyo Dome. With its combination of flashy visuals and addicting beats, it isn’t a surprise when K-pop quickly outgrew the Asian market and expanded to the West. Before groups like BTS, BlackPink, SuperM and many others made their home on American charts, K-pop was already beginning to infiltrate the Western market in the late 2000s. Pop singer BoA became the first Korean act to land on the Billboard 200

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Photo: Big Hit Entertainment

THE RISE IN THE GLOBAL POPULARITY OF SOUTH KOREAN CULTURE IS REFERRED TO AS THE “HALLYU (KOREAN) WAVE.”

at #127 with her self-titled album in 2009. That same year the group Wonder Girls became the first K-pop group to perform on a U.S television show when they appeared on “The Wendy Williams Show.” The rise in the global popularity of South Korean culture is referred to as the “Hallyu (Korean) wave.” By the 2010’s it was clear that K-pop was leading a new wave of Asian entertainment around the world with the explosion of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and the establishment of the annual Korean music festival, KCON, in 2012. K-pop’s global rise not only boosted the genre’s status but also Korea’s overall image and cultural representation as well. The impact of the Hallyu wave has morphed it into foreign diplomacy for South Korea and is used as a means to promote South Korean culture to foreign countries. Former President Barack Obama mentioned boy group SHINee when talking about the friendship between South Korea and the United States at 2017’s 8th Asian Leadership Conference. Even boy group EXO greeted President Trump last year when he arrived at the Blue House for a banquet dinner. Outside of politics, K-pop has greatly impacted the economy of South Korea through its exportation of goods and tourism. Back in 2019, Forbes revealed that BTS produced a whopping $4.65

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billion of gross domestic products, which puts them in the same league as top conglomerates such as Samsung. This year BTS became the very first Korean act to top the Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, debuting at number one with their English single, “Dynamite.” This feat, according to a report by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and its affiliate Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, generated an economic effect of about $1.4 billion and the creation of nearly 8,000 more jobs. With such astonishing numbers, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that K-pop is the leader of Korea’s rising economy and power in the global field. As with any entertainment industry, the K-pop industry hides plenty of its own demons. Between idol scandals, mental health issues, mismanagement and stalker fans, there’s much more blood, sweat and tears that go into the illustrious performances that are seen by the public. A simple search on Google will reveal article after article of exposés centering around the K-pop entertainment industry and its scandals. Yet, it is important to take a step back and wonder why the K-pop industry is so often stigmatized and scrutinized by Western tabloids when it is covered. For every article that would speak on the positive impact of K-pop, there would also be one that reiterated the dark side of its industry.

There can’t be smoke without fire, and just as the “Me Too” movement has pulled back the curtains on Hollywood’s glamorous image, the myriad of K-pop idol controversies and suicides within the past few years has sparked much-needed debate on mental health and the limits to what being a fan is. To be an idol, you must uphold the standards of the company you have signed with. Trainees often start the long process of becoming an idol at young ages, usually 12-13, and accumulate debt that they have to pay off once they debut. Idols often work grueling hours on strict diets, with only a handful from the top companies being able to make it into the public’s interest. Even then, the lives of superstar idols, such as BTS or BLACKPINK, are not ones to be envious of. The more popular the idol, the more they are scrutinized and judged by the public. In a collectivist culture such as Korea’s, the citizen’s opinions can make or break your life. Scandals and offenses seen lightly in America can mean years of jail time and the possibility of being blacklisted from the industry in Korea. Netizens often post harsh comments on article pages that cover an idol’s scandal, ranging from “kick them out the group” to “go die.” With comments such as these, it’s not hard to see how many K-pop idols choose to


Photo: SM Entertainment gave a first-hand glimpse into the dedication of K-pop fans when they showed how the BTS ARMY lined up days before the group’s sold-out Citi Field concert in the pouring rain. Such passion is difficult to comprehend which leads many outlets into labeling the fans as “crazy” or “absurd.” Photo: YG Entertainment

leave the industry and some, unfortunately, end up losing their lives. The loss of SHINee’s Kim Jonghyun in 2017 and the subsequent losses of former f(x) member Sulli and KARA member Goo Hara in 2019 has opened doors for mental health issues to be expressed and discussed in a country where such topics are typically considered taboo. With such concerns surrounding K-pop, it isn’t a surprise that the fans are often just as scrutinized as the groups they idolize. Different from other fans, K-pop fans show a level of dedication and passion for their idols that many have not seen before. Many news outlets, such as NBC,

The concept of a “crazy” fan is not new; the stereotype has existed since the days of “Beatlemania.” A combination of misogynistic views and social constructs over the years have painted fans of idol groups such as BTS into young impressionable teen girls obsessed only with the looks of their idols and not caring for much else. It’s a jarring juxtaposition to how the media portrays sports fans rioting in the streets as “passionate” as opposed to “crazy” that is reserved only for idol group fans. There is no doubt that some fans are truly obsessed to the point of stalking their idols. Yet, looking beyond the few bad apples in the bunch, K-pop fans are the prime example of a diverse community of young students, working parents and retired seniors, coming together to celebrate their love of music, regardless of the language. These fans are also now a driving force

in today’s new age of activism. Though it is not often talked about in the media, K-pop fans often organize donations and charity projects in the name of their idol in order to celebrate their birthdays and other anniversaries. These fans see it as a responsibility to uphold their groups’ values of spreading love and positivity in the world. As reported by Times, the BTS ARMY collectively raised over $1 million for Black Lives Matter, matching the group’s own $1 million donations. Feats of philanthropy and activism such as these showcases the true power of what it means to be a fan and just how impactful music can be. It is hard to see where the expansion of K-pop will end, but it certainly won’t be anytime soon. It isn’t far-fetched to say that K-pop will soon be joining Latin music on mainstream U.S. radio as a permanent edition rather than a passing phenomenon or trend seeing as the explosive popularity of groups such as BTS continues to grow daily. From late-night show appearances to performances at award shows that draw in millions of viewers, the Hallyu wave is as strong in 2020 as it had been back in 2012. K-pop seems to be on track for a full mainstream takeover of the Western music industry. One thing is for sure, whether K-pop will go mainstream or not, its legions of fans will still be as passionate as ever and continue to fuel the impressive machine that is the K-pop industry.

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