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While the group was founded in September, It has since gone viral. Photo: Courtesy of Subtle Asian Traits via Facebook. Edits: Christine Wang.

Meme group unites global Asian diaspora

Building a community is an important way to shape one’s identity, and feel like a valued part of one’s society—but it doesn’t always mean meeting people face to face.

For Subtle Asian Traits—a new Facebook group known for its memes, photos, and videos—the powers of online community building are especially evident. The group, which was founded on Sept. 16, 2018, by a few Asian-Australian young adults, has already surpassed one million members in only three months.

The purpose of the group is to point out subtle Asian traits to people who are of Asian descent, and whose lives sometimes share surprising similarities. The content ranges from humorous topics, such as bubble tea and plays-on-words, to serious discussions about support for queer members coming out to traditionally intolerant parents.

Kathleen Xiao, a founding member of the group, told the Fulcrum that “the idea of creating subtle Asian traits to share these unique experiences was a result of seeing the group ‘subtle private school traits‘.”

She and her friends noticed that there were many Asian meme pages—but that they all felt disconnected. So, they wanted to make a group that was safe from judgement, and to create a space where similar and different upbringings could be discussed.

Indeed, a common occurrence on the page are comments from immigrants who realize that a bizarre trait that they’d assumed only applied to them was actually a common to a larger diaspora. So, for the first time, Asian immigrants from all over the world can connect through  their lived experiences.

Xiao explained that Subtle Asian Traits was created as a group rather than a page for “further inclusivity and intimacy” which seems to be working—as the page maintains high numbers of people commenting and engaging on posts.

“They advertise bubble tea a lot, that’s for sure,” explained Cornelius Choo, a second-year accounting student at the U of O. “(There are) definitely something(s) I can relate to when they mention Asian parents, and stuff like that.”

Many individuals struggling with the same issues related to being Asian immigrants in a predominantly white country—whether it be North America, South America, Europe, or Australia—come together in this group to offer support to members facing hardship from LGBTQ+ issues, or difficult relationships with strict parents, to dealing with racism.

In fact, even those who do not have an Asian background have come to use the group, with some seeking advice about how to bridge cultural divides and approach the Asian parents of their significant other.

The popularity of the group has spurred sub-groups such as Subtle Asian Dating, Subtle Asian Canadians, Subtle Asian Christian Traits, Subtle Asian Eats, Subtle Asian Networking, and many more.

Yet, despite the popularity, the group has faced some criticism. “We often get complaints about the lack of non-East Asian representation in the group,” Xiao said. “Members have urged us to fix this issue and this has prompted us to improve the group.”

Photo: Courtesy of Subtle Asian Traits.

The group has even inspired meet-ups in various parts of the world such as New York City and Vancouver—and there is one scheduled in Ottawa on Jan. 23 at Asian Alley.

“A friend added me in and it just took off from there,” explained Matt Fong, an international management student at the U of O. “There (are) a lot of memes, and it’s pretty fun.”

When asked about the future direction of the group, Xiao answered that, “in terms of the activity and purpose of the group, we would like to keep the group where it has always been—just a lighthearted environment to share memories and experiences—(but,) we do … have a few exciting things planned.”

While accessing the group does require permission from one of Subtle Asian Traits’ members, you can request to join on their Facebook page.