Nonfiction

Beyond subtle asian traits

5 March 2019

What do you get when you combine memes about bubble tea, hilarious reaction videos, and multilingual puns? The answer is “subtle asian traits” (SAT), a Facebook group aimed at Asians living in the West. Originally started at the end of 2018, the group now has over a million members. Most of the people in this group share one trait in common: being the children of Asian immigrants in Western countries. In its short—but impactful—existence so far, SAT has made Facebook a more enjoyable, inclusive network to be on.

SAT was originally started by a group of young teenagers living in Melbourne. Inspired by a group called “subtle private school traits”, 21-year-old radiology student Angela Kang decided to start the Facebook group after realising that she was not alone in her experiences; many of her friends could relate to the jokes and stories that she shared with her brother. Because it is a public group, friends started adding their other friends. Now it has over a million members, not only from Australia, but also the U.S., UK, Canada and more.

On SAT, content ranges from bubble tea appreciation to crazy parent stories, Tinder conversations, and many other snippets of second-generation Asian life. A common occurrence is bilingual play on English words, where many posts combine one—or even multiple—Asian languages with English to form humorous, often elaborate puns. This kind of clever content is not solely for those who understand both languages—it allows users to connect with their mother tongue, or potentially learn a new language.  

And of course, people bond easily over similar experiences like music lessons, tuition school or just their parents’ funny habits at home. Even Asian-Australians can relate to the (often identical) experiences that their American counterparts post on the page!

Beyond the K-pop and anime, users have also taken to SAT to discuss taboo subjects usually not raised at the dinner table. Mental health features prominently; Asian households sweep it under the rug because it is seen as degrading. For many older Asians, having a mental health issue indicates something wrong with the person who has it.  As such, SAT has become a safe place for users to discuss their stories and their family’s reactions. When one user posted about her years-long struggle with anxiety as a result of parental pressure, comments numbered in the hundreds, ranging from ‘I related to this so much’ to ‘you are not alone’.

Another pressing topic are incidents of racism and discrimination, especially in Western countries. Users discuss the negative experiences they encounter, as well as suggestions on how to react, further increasing the sense of community within the group.

Many Asian-Australians live between cultures: they grow up in Australia, immerse themselves into the Aussie lifestyle, identify as Australian, yet their heritage is anything but. This also applies to Asians in other Western countries, like in the U.S. and Canada. Seen in this light, the effect of SAT is remarkable. Members realise that other people have similar experiences to them, and as such become more comfortable with their identities. Instead of feeling embarrassed about being Asian, a new generation of Asians are displaying their “Asianness” with pride.

The establishment of SAT has inspired similar Facebook groups including “subtle curry traits” for those of South Asian descent, and even smaller spin-off groups like “subtle asian dating”, a matchmaking group where friends advertise each other in hopes of attracting dates. Funnily enough, there’s now a “subtle white people traits”, and a “subtle bogan traits” in (mock) admiration for Australia’s most beloved culture. “Subtle queer asian dating”, “subtle asian networking”, “subtle asian food”… the list goes on!

“subtle asian traits” not only brightens up Facebook feeds with hilarious memes and relatable stories – it fosters a cultural identity, a sense of togetherness between people with an Asian background across the world. As the group expands, the positive impact that it has on Facebook will only continue to be tremendous.


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