News // Viral

Subtle Asian Traits has taken over my life

Who knew that belonging could be found on a viral Facebook meme group

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I haven’t done anything productive for two days.

Scrolling through Facebook memes is nothing out of the ordinary. But this online group is different. It shows you things you thought were bizarrely unique to your own upbringing, and makes you realise thousands of other kids had the same experience. It lets other people articulate moments of your life that you were never able to.

The group is filled with glimpses into people’s childhood homes, cultural in-jokes involving Cantonese phrases and screenshots of text message chains between young adults and their parents.

Introducing ‘Subtle Asian Traits’, Facebook’s latest viral meme page.

This group is the brainchild of a circle of friends who met at Chinese School. That’s fitting, because Chinese School is something that many Australian-born Chinese children are forced into by parents desperate to connect their offspring with the language of their homeland.

Anne, a Year 12 student and one of the page’s founders, explained how the original 15 members got to know one another. “We’ve bonded together by going to Chinese school even though we didn’t want to do it.”

“We always joke about all these Asian things in our group [chat] because a lot of people at school can’t relate. It’s fun to have a group of friends who understand the jokes and the things you experience.”

Inspired by an existing Facebook group ‘Subtle Private School Traits’, they realised a similar  community—based on shared experiences—existed for second-generation Asian Australians.

“It was sort of a joke in a group chat where we’d send memes. All of a sudden, we thought ‘We should have a go at doing this,’” she said.  

They started the group two weeks ago on September 16. Gradually, they added all the people they knew.

“[At first], everybody was scared to contribute. Nothing had very many likes on it.”

Last week, they saw a huge spike, with the membership growing from approximately 4,000 on September 26 to over 14,000 the next day. At the time of publication, the group had exceeded 90,000 members. 

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The group may be just a flash in the pan, but it represents a moment for Asian Australians, who have forged an identity that isn’t exactly wholly Asian or Australian but uniquely both.

“When my mum and dad explain stories [of migrating to Australia], they said they came not being able to speak English and not having any family with them,” Angela, one of the group’s founders and a third year RMIT student, said. A generation later, the loneliness of being ‘othered’ is flipped on its head.

“We’re too white for Asian people, but we’re too Asian for white people.”

Angela and Anne are clear that they are trying to make the group as inclusive as possible, evaluating posts and how far the jokes go. “We’ve had to delete some posts because they’ve been overly offensive,” said Angela.

They also deleted a poll that asked people to vote on which Asian minority was the best. “That’s not a subtle asian trait, it’s just votes on who’s better, and that doesn’t serve a purpose.”

They’re keen for the Facebook group to continue drama-free, but as with all things internet-related, there’s no guarantee. They admit they haven’t had discussions about what to do if things turn problematic, but are ready to evaluate issues as they arise.

Unlike campus groups like USyd’s Autonomous Collective Against Racism, the group is not intended to function as a safe space, or limit membership to only people who identify as Asian Australian.

“[People in the group have] mostly Chinese and Vietnamese backgrounds,” Angela said. “But there’s mutual things to all Asians, like being very family-oriented, whether it’s a strict mum or strict curfews.”

The group also inspired fourth year Economics/Law student and President of the University of Sydney Union, Liliana Tai, to start the ‘Subtle Selective School Traits’ Facebook group late on Monday night.

“It’s a unique culture. Especially after a lot of the SMH articles recently, a lot of people started to identify more as selective school students.”

She attributed a lot of the popularity of groups like these to how they allowed more fan contributions where people could share their experience and get instant feedback on niche topics.

“It [creates] a sense of belonging.”

Tai said the groups made people feel more proud of their culture.

“Lots of the stuff I’ve been sharing, I would never have brought that up. Even though I went to a selective school that was predominantly Asian, none of us really talked about what we did at home,” she said.

“People are sharing things we otherwise would’ve been ashamed of, or felt like it wasn’t something to be discussed in public, which is really empowering.”

The admins said they aren’t “too fussed” whether the group lasts for a while, or fizzles out.

“It’s good to have something that’s bringing everyone together and we’re all having a laugh and having a good time,” Anne said.

When asked what their favourite memes shared so far were, Angela said the food posts—touching on staples of childhood like haw flakes, jelly joys, and bitter melon—were a standout.

“When I saw the egg and tomato, that was such a throwback. I’m going to ask my parents to cook it again. It’s a bit of a childhood nostalgia moment.”

Who knew that belonging could be found on a viral Facebook meme group.