Two years ago, my best friend added me to a Facebook group that would change how I use and interact with the platform forever. That group was called “Subtle Asian Traits.”
If I had to describe “Subtle Asian Traits,” I would describe it as a meme-heavy group connecting Asian diasporas across the globe. It’s an online space where Asians, especially those who live in Western countries, can share jokes and experiences on what it means to be subtly and unapologetically Asian.
With a current total of over 1.8 million members, “Subtle Asian Traits” is clearly a space many people have been looking for. For those unfamiliar with the group, you may be wondering, what does being subtly Asian look like? What exactly does this mean?
A few examples of subtle Asian traits are:
Taking off your shoes before entering the house
Storing and reusing plastic bags and tupperware
Throwing up peace signs in every photo
Grabbing an item all the way at the back of the store shelf
Slapping every watermelon and jasmine rice bag in sight
Being lactose intolerant and/or having eczema
Only using the dishwasher as storage space for pots and pans
Bringing oranges and other fruits everywhere you go
I, an Asian American, recognize all these traits and tendencies within myself and my family. From the moment I joined the group, I thought I had found a community that fully appreciated and understood me. As “Subtle Asian Traits” members, we also bonded over shared struggles such as getting mistaken for other Asians, constantly disappointing our parents, and dealing with microagressions and fetishizations.
The group, however, is far from perfect and has faced valid criticisms on how it approaches “Asianness.” “Subtle Asian Traits” is very East Asian-centric and could do more to include and highlight other regional Asians, especially Central and South Asians. Others accuse the group of creating a monolithic, superficial Asian culture that doesn’t exist and instead, erases more marginalized and often forgotten Asian identities. It may feel weird to some to see Asian culture seemingly reduced to drinking bubble tea and eating rice. For many Asian immigrants living in predominantly white countries though, it can feel comforting to find a unifying culture we never had before.
Some have referred to “Subtle Asian Traits” as a “digital manifestation” of the in-between cultural hybrid space second-generation immigrants occupy. I know at times, I have felt too Americanized to feel completely Asian, and yet too often treated as a perpetual foreigner to feel completely American. Nevertheless, this looks different for each person. Many diasporic and/or mixed Asians still may not feel satisfied with the Asian community “Subtle Asian Traits” promotes. It’s important to remember that there isn’t just one way to be Asian. There is so much cultural history and diversity across Asia and the diaspora, making it impossible to clump us all together and summarize our experiences and backgrounds in any single meme. A great response to this problem, I believe, has been the formation of unaffiliated spin-off groups of “Subtle Asian Traits.” This includes but is not limited to “Subtle Curry Traits,” “Subtle Viet Traits,” “Subtle Queer Asian Traits,” and “Subtle Filipino Traits.” These more specific Facebook communities can present more relatable content and offer a closer sense of belonging.
“Subtle Asian Traits” has much room for improvement, but on the whole, I am glad it exists. This group has dominated my Facebook feed to the point where I don’t remember how my News Feed looked before 2018. Besides being a digital community to post and share lighthearted Asian-related memes, “Subtle Asian Traits” has a lot of potential. There needs to be a space where Asians can congregate to initiate and engage in meaningful discussions on a wide range of serious topics. Topics such as confronting the rise in anti-Asian racism and discrimination in the light of COVID-19; demanding more diverse and authentic media representation; rejecting the harmful model minority myth; dismantling colorism and anti-Blackness within our community; prioritizing our mental health; and increasing our presence in social activism. I don’t know if “Subtle Asian Traits” could ever be the best place for this, but I do believe that reclaiming our heritage and taking pride in every little thing that makes us Asian is the right first step.