It’s March 2020 before Covid-19 broke out and everything shut down. The room is quiet with only light chatter and the sound of typing on keyboards. Today, my history class was in the library to work on our research papers. I’m sitting next to my friend who is talking to this guy next to her. I’m not really paying attention to them, my main focus is on the paper but I listen to their conversation sometimes and join in. As I turn to them, the guy says to me, “I bet you listen to K-pop and watch Mukbangs.” I furrow my eyebrows in confusion since it was so random. I froze for a moment, I didn’t know what to say.
It’s true. I listen to K-pop sometimes but I never watch Mukbangs. He was half right and half wrong. I felt guilty that he was right that I did like K-pop. It felt like I was promoting a stereotype about Asians and allowing him to assume that because I like K-pop, the stereotype that all Asians like K-pop is true. The main thing that bothered me was why he said it, not about whether he was right or wrong. I’m still confused on why he said it in the first place since the conversation wasn’t about K-pop or Mukbangs at all. It felt like when he mentioned K-pop and Mukbangs, both Korean things, he was grouping me into a category just because I’m Asian and those things are Asian too.
I was a little offended but didn’t want to show it. I ended up just answering “not really” but he shot back, “stop lying” which annoyed me even more, even if he was joking. I explained how I only listen to one K-pop group, so does it really count? In a way, it felt like I was defending myself. And I never watch Mukbangs, I did once but didn’t find it interesting. The conversation stayed on that for a while before it moved on and I refocused on my research paper. It was a small moment, one he probably doesn’t even remember, but it stuck with me.
When I was younger, I was insecure about my Asian identity. Now that I’m older, I’m not insecure anymore but some things still make me self-conscious. I value other people’s opinions so when I learned more about stereotypes, I became worried about how others saw me. I’m Vietnamese but grew up always having to correct people when they think I’m Chinese. It felt like other people didn’t care if I was Vietnamese but just because I’m Asian, I should automatically like these other things that are Asian. I’m used to hearing Asian stereotypes but a lot of the time it was easy to brush off because it didn’t apply to me and I knew they were wrong anyway. In these situations, I was able to say it wasn’t true and it’s bad to assume something based on stereotypes.
Now that a stereotype did apply to me, I didn’t know what to say. I knew he was assuming that I listened to K-pop because I’m Asian and I wanted to deny it to show him that he’s wrong, but I couldn’t since it was true. I was left in confusion, wondering if it was such a bad thing to be Asian and enjoy K-pop. I didn’t want to talk about it for too long which was why I said, “not really.” Even though I explained later how I like K-pop but not Mukbangs, I wanted to say more to him and explain how even if I like K-pop, he shouldn’t assume that every other Asian likes K-pop too. I was stuck in a moment of confusion, insecurity, and guilt.
As time went by, I started to accept myself more with what I liked and disliked. Back then, if someone asked me what kind of music I like, I usually would name a singer that was trending and hot on the charts but now I’m more comfortable telling people about K-pop and other Asian artists I listen to. There are things that I like that fit into the Asian stereotype and there are things I dislike that break me from the Asian stereotype. With stereotypes and assumptions built into society, it felt like I was trapped into a cookie-cutter image that I wanted to break out of, yet sometimes I fit into it. I learned that I shouldn’t feel guilty about fitting into stereotypes. I should be able to like and dislike things regardless of whether or not I’m fitting into people’s assumptions about me.
I realized that the problem isn’t me but stereotypes themselves. I can’t keep changing myself and feeling guilty so that people can see I’m not the Asian stereotype. Remember that every time you speak or think about a stereotype, you’re the problem. It should just come as a given, no Asian person is the Asian stereotype society deemed them to be. Even if someone fits into the stereotype in a certain way, there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if stereotypes exist, we should be able to acknowledge everyone’s individuality and not just see them based on their race. I don’t feel guilty about liking K-pop anymore, I am just enjoying music. I shouldn’t paint it as something bad just because of societal beliefs.