How the explosion in Korean media in America has affected Asian-Americans

Liana Dong

Staff Writer

     On February 9th, 2020, Bong Joon Ho’s critically acclaimed Parasite, narrated in Korean, became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was no longer, and diehard fans of the film across the nation celebrated the historic win. For Asian-Americans, this was just one of many victories they had gained in recent years regarding representation, with successful K-pop acts such as BTS and Blackpink thriving in the American market. 

     Jennifer Lee (9), who was born and raised in the U.S. to South Korean parents, sees a big difference in representation compared to when she was a child.

     “When I was younger, not a lot of people knew much about Korea, so it was just like, whatever. But now if I say I’m Korean, people are like, ‘Oh! You’re Korean? That’s so cool!’ . . . When I would bring [ethnic food] for lunch, it was kind of out of the ordinary because most of my school wasn’t Asian. But now it’s more comfortable. They’re like, ‘Oh, kimchi! I know that.’”

     Even if they aren’t Korean themselves, many Asian-Americans feel similarly represented by Korean media. 

     “Back when I was in sixth grade, I helped another class out with a performance, and they performed a K-pop song. Because of this, I got into K-pop more and [it led] to myself getting involved with Korean media,” Anais Ng (11), a Chinese-American, explains. “I definitely feel represented. For instance, a lot of Americans are starting to do a bunch of skincare just like how Asians usually do it, and they try new food that is Asian. I feel important and not excluded at all.”

     Others, while appreciative of the strides Korean media has made, do not necessarily feel the same way about these advances.

     Math teacher Mr. Wong says, “I feel like we’re represented a lot more in the media, in terms of K-pop [and] Parasite. Black Pink performed at Coachella, and Big Bang is coming to Coachella this year. For me, I guess [I feel represented] in some ways. [There’re] actually Asian people on TV or there’re actually Asian people on YouTube doing a lot of stuff that we would think that stars would do. . . but personally I don’t really have that strong connection to K-pop–maybe [with] the older [groups] but not the newer ones.”

     While the explosion in Korean media has significantly improved Asian representation in the states, many Asian-Americans see a few downsides to the boom.

     “Every time I say I’m Korean, people always assume I like K-pop, and I do! But they say it like it’s a bad thing,” Lee (9) says. “And they always ask me if I’m from North Korea, which is weird. They’re like, ‘Are you related to Kim Jong-Un?’”

     Ultimately, the newfound popularity of Korean media contributes both positives and 

negatives to the experience of being Asian-American.

     “I feel like, because a lot of the guys in K-pop are feminine, it kind of decreases the male masculinity factor for Asians in a sense,” Mr. Wong explains. “But otherwise, I feel like it’s pretty good because people are actually listening to our music, right? Like, Psy was a huge thing back then. Gangnam Style blew the hell up, and then BTS is really popular now; they’re on the Ellen Show, Jimmy Kimmel, all that stuff, so I feel like it’s good.”

The acclaimed film Parasite, which released in South Korea in 2019, won four awards at the Oscars this year, breaking records for being the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture and the first South-Korean film to win Best International Feature Film. Anais Ng (11) explains that “Asian-Americans nowadays don’t appreciate their culture as much and [would] rather Americanize things.” Advances like these have allowed Asian-Americans to better embrace their culture with added representation.

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