In case you could not figure it out (and didn’t notice my profile photo), I am indeed Asian. Korean, to be exact. While there is a liiiiiiittle bit of debate on whether I’m actually North or South Korean (the US State Department had my country of origin as North Korea for over 25 years), when you look at me, you see almond-shaped eyes, a small stature, and jet-black straight hair.
I became acutely aware of the “Yellow Fever” and “Asian Fetish” idea at some point in high school. Granted, back then, I was not ever going to be the object of and afflicted someone’s affection – I was overweight, super nerdy, and had little time for anything but trying to get good grades, so I could get into Brown University (which I did not). But I finally started to understand what it was that guys liked about the idea of Asian women.
Fast forward to sophomore year in college, and I had turned into a swan. I lost 30 lbs, started hanging out and having fun with people (there is more to life than just grades – who knew?), and started dressing in a manner that deliberately accentuated my assets. And believe me, you don’t eat pasta 3x per week for your whole life and not come away with some assets. My (male) college roommates used to say, “Jenna, you are Asian from the neck up, and Italian from the neck down.” It was then that I became an OAYF (Object of Asian/Yellow Fever) girl.
Now, I’ll admit that I do embody many of the stereotypes that come with being from Asia. I race and like cars, I was/am obsessed with grades, I play the piano, and I like math. I drink bubble tea, eat weird stuff, and I love pandas. But in reality, I’m probably one of the furthest from the stereotype that men seem to like. I’m not submissive or obedient, and if I’m a delicate lotus flower, so was Stalin. I don’t suck at driving, and while I do love math, and playing piano, I am by no means a virtuoso in either of those departments. I didn’t major in medicine, engineering, or law (social science, baby!), and I do not have an advanced degree. I drink beer, swear, and believe in sex when you’re ready, not just after marriage. I hang out with guys more often than not, I get dirty, and I will tan til my heart’s content. I can’t speak any Asian language, I don’t eat rice, I like sports, and am at least mildly athletic.
So for a while, I didn’t think being considered a fetish or stereotype, or that I was getting hit on solely for my race, was a bad thing. Maybe it was because I hadn’t had any male attention in high school, so at this point, hell, I’d take anything! In fact, I sort of embraced it if it came because of my race. And then I liked to surprise them. People expected a quiet, shy, docile lamb, and what they get is a sassy girl who can hold her own with the guys, is in control of her life and sexuality, and knows what she wants. Best of both worlds! The appearance of an Asian girl, personality of a feisty Italian.
When you make new friends, you hope that they like you for you. After you get to know them, physical characteristics sort of tend to fade away and all you can think of is “the person” as a whole, and not a list of things. When I describe what I like about my best friend, I say “She is smart and accomplished, she loves fantasy and magic and whimsy, she never judges anyone, and she lives in Russia.” I don’t start off with “She’s Russian.” Which is presumably why it bothered me when recently, I asked a friend what he liked so much about me. He started off with “You’re Asian, it helps. And hot.”
Now, being “hot” isn’t really a bad thing. It’s actually kind of awesome. But the fact of the matter is, there’s a lot more to me than being Asian and hot. I’m smart, sassy, thoughtful, romantic. He could have chosen an infinite number of words that describe my personality and disposition instead of my race and that he finds my appearance attractive. Especially because we had conversed quite a bit, for a decent amount of time, and I felt he knew me somewhat well. But no. The first thing that comes to mind is that he likes me because I’m Asian. And honestly, I felt a little bit put off.
I’m a bit older and wiser (I hope) now, and have a little more life experience. I’m certainly not the up-in-arms angry Asian girl, and I guess I realize now that I do care, and that I do want attention for the right reason – being my personality – and not beacuse of my race. I realize that guys with Yellow Fever are inevitably going to cross my path, but hopefully, they won’t be plagued with Yellow Fever, and I’ll still have the “surprise factor.”