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The Commodification of Asian Americans

It is strange to be a commodity.

When I was younger, I didn’t like the fact that I was Asian. Even as someone who is half-Japanese, I still found myself envying the thick, blonde curls of my favorite Disney princesses. I wished that I wasn’t so dark-skinned or tan easily so I could look more like my childhood friends. And I wished that my last name didn’t sound so foreign and feel strange on the tongues of teachers and classmates. I was never very Asian-presenting, and I have accepted that I never will be. But it was always the little things that tied me back to where my family came from. It was the way that kids would tug at their eyes on the playground, it was the way my friends called me “yellow,” and it was the way that my classmates would knowingly ask, “Aren’t you Japanese?” right before a lecture on World War II.

It really was easy to conceal everything and pretend that my self-image wasn’t in some shape or form affected by the weight of others’ words. They say that ignorance is bliss, and spending my whole childhood trying to act oblivious to my ethnicity was certainly that. But now, during a time where globalization is made increasingly possible by social media and smartphones, that veil has begun to lift.

Which brings me back to my main point: it is really, truly strange to be a commodity.

The Westernization of Asian beauty has made Asian culture and Asian people alike extremely appealing and desirable to American audiences. East Asian culture in particular is all the rage, and as a generation of mass consumers, Gen. Z simply cannot get enough of it. Anime and K-pop both dominate social media and have resulted in the cultivation of a generation that identifies as “weeaboos” or “koreaboos,” both of which are defined as the Western obsession of Japanese and Korean culture respectively. It seems that so many young teens want their own “anime girlfriend” or “Korean idol boyfriend” to post to their Instagram or TikTok.

To be quite frank, it has never been so fashionable to be East Asian. Years of hate crimes and oppression can be seemingly swept under the rug in the time it takes to make a quick post online from anyone with Asian features. I’ve seen it with my own eyes: hundreds upon hundreds going wild over a single post featuring an Asian teen and claiming, “Oh, you look like my favorite K-pop star,” or “You look just like this one anime character!”

Even those who aren’t Asian want a taste of the craze. Just earlier this year, the “fox-eye” trend gained both traction and controversy as non-Asians altered themselves to create the same slanted eyes that Asian Americans have been taunted for having for generations.

The thin line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is wavering, fragile, and blurred. While I absolutely love sharing sukiyaki recipes or showing others how to fold paper cranes, to have someone befriend me explicitly because I’m Japanese is a reality that I do not want to face.

It shouldn’t be this way. Young, impressionable Asian boys shouldn’t have to think that their only worth comes from comments on a TikTok post saying that they wish they could, “date an Asian guy.” Teenage girls shouldn’t worry about whether or not they fit the “Asian Baby Girl” (or ABG for short) beauty standards in order to be deemed as likeable.

The production, labeling, and commodification of Asian Americans needs to stop. We are not an import made to suit your whims, and we should not be complicit to a system that perpetuates these unobtainable standards. We are not your idols, your anime characters, or your tokens. And as much as our current media wants to push it, we are not a trend.

We are human.

 

© 2021 Kyra Karatsu

Asian American identity Japanese Americans