I’ve known Sammie since we were probably five and attended Korean school together. We moved from our hometown around the same time but I have not seen her in probably ten years. I coincidentally ran into her at BBQ Olive Chicken in Koreatown when I first started working in the city.
“Everyone was obsessed with Boys Over Flowers and I would brag ‘Oh, I don’t watch those.’”
Both of Sammie’s parents immigrated to the US when they were ten years old so her and her family primarily spoke English and Sammie rarely practiced speaking Korean. In middle school, her non-Asian classmates would ask her, “How do you say fuck you in Korean?” She didn’t know how to properly say the curse words but not wanting to disappoint, Sammie would instead teach them phrases such as “I’m hungry” since she assumed her peers would not have known otherwise! On the other hand, when she attended church, she interacted with a lot of other Koreans and they predominantly spoke Korean to one another. Sometimes, she would have to ask them slow down their pace and to simplify their vocabulary because it was difficult to follow. If they discussed Korean dramas and K-Pop, Sammie felt out of the loop and unable to relate.
Sammie admits that in high school, she acted slightly proud that she didn’t watch Korean dramas like her other friends. She describes, “Everyone was obsessed with Boys Over Flowers and I would brag ‘Oh, I don’t watch those.’” Fast forward many years later, Sammie has learned to enjoy watching Korean dramas which she recently stumbled upon on Netflix. She says, “I thought I was too cool for them but honestly, I’m not and they’re actually really entertaining!” She notes, however, that she does not know the names of any celebrities featured in the shows.
“I know some people may disagree but I think Koreans try to look like how beautiful white women look.”
People often joke about how Asians all look the same, which is far from the truth. However, Sammie and I agree that with the rise of plastic surgery within Korea, entertainers have begun to fulfill that prophecy. Sammie describes, “When I went to Korea in ninth grade, I was in the subway and there was a straight line across the subway train of girls with bangs. Bang, bang, bang.” Sammie reluctantly explains her belief that in many ways, Korea beauty standards appear to emulate Western beauty standards. She admits, “I know some people may disagree but I think Koreans try to look like how beautiful white women look.”
Sammie looks up to Asian females such as YouTuber Anna Akana. She describes Akana as someone who empowers females to be themselves, make the first move and to be sexy, in not the stereotypically coy way expected of Asian girls but in a confident and emboldened manner. Akana also openly discusses mental health, as her own sister committed suicide at only thirteen years old. Her sister was considered the perfect student and daughter and her parents thought her feelings of depression were part of a phase. Sammie hypothesizes, “I think Asian parents don’t really acknowledge mental health as a problem.”
“I think Asian parents don’t really acknowledge mental health as a problem.”
She believes that since many Asians parents were immigrants who came from nothing, they consider the struggles of the first and second generations as not as significant as theirs. In fact, the American Psychological Association claims Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than white people due to several reasons such as pressure to live up to the model minority expectations and because discussing mental health is still considered taboo in many Asian cultures.
Sammie mentions a recent Netflix comedy called Set It Up which features Asian American actress Lucy Liu who is famous for starring in the film rendition of Charlie’s Angels. Sammie discusses her frustration of that film which included a scene in Liu went undercover as a masseuse. Sammie complains, “Cameron Diaz played this cool surfer girl and Drew Barrymore worked a hot dog stand or something but of course, Lucy Liu played the stereotypical Asian masseuse.” In contrast, Liu, in Set It Up plays the role of a boss whose assistant describes as “a dark-haired beauty who is super strong and when she looks at you, you’re kind of afraid but also super inspired.” That may not be the exact words, but Sammie particularly appreciates that scene and she wishes for more Asians to be characterized that way, apart from common stereotypes.