Growing up Asian American in the 90’s and 2000’s meant that despite growing up in a large Asian-American neighborhood (I’m from the Bay Area), I grew up watching and loving TV that had no real representation of people who “looked like me”. To make things worse, I cringed in anticipation of being either annoyed or offended each time I saw someone who even remotely looked Asian. Deep down, even before the character spoke a word, I knew she would never speak in that fast, witty, and delectable dialogue that made Rorelai and Lory Gilmore famous.
Luckily for me, I was fluent in Korean – thanks to my parents who emphasized the importance of a bilingual education and cultural “aptitude”. And even before there were fansubs and trending hashtags or clips on Youtube, I found myself deep in the world of Korean dramas, where I found actors and actresses who personified something different than the average Mrs.Kim, the Dragon Lady, the malicious Ling Woo, the man who pronounces “Rice” as “Lice”, and so on, and so on. I found characters that were ordinary and extraordinary at the same time – people who showed real, relatable, and raw emotions, powerful enough to make me laugh and cry with them. These K-drama stories introduced me to characters whom I could see as “me”, and helped cultivate an understanding and appreciation of a world that I knew was far more diverse than what the box commanded it to be.
Then, Youtube happened.
In college, social media exploded, and soon made K-pop into a worldwide phenomenon. Until then, K-pop was something I had to explain and justify. For H.O.T and Sechs Kies fanatics like myself, I was constantly in battle with my friends in high school over why they were way more awesome than N’sync or Backstreet Boys. Thankfully, the younger K-pop generations will have an easier time demonstrating the awesomeness that is BTS or EXO. There are hundreds, if not thousands of reaction videos and dance covers that illustrate the incredible fandom of K-pop.
As Silicon Valley techies continued to make the world smaller, “streaming” became a word and download/wifi speed became a topic of stress for many of us. And for me, I knew K-drama would finally find its way to the audience. Slowly but surely, my colleagues wanted to know where the K-drama characters got their clothes or how the actresses looked 25 when they were actually 45. (K-beauty is a real thing!)
I no longer envied the Gilmore girls or felt sorry for Lane. I could openly identify with the confident, intelligent, and attractive women that people saw in K-dramas; it made my heart soar. More Asian characters were noticeable on the big screen; Asian movies were given more screens to play on.
Although there is still much to be done to increase Asian Americans’ presence and talent in the arts and the media, I hope that the popularity of K-drama and K-pop at home could help bring more diversity to TV and film. I hope that Asian-Americans will have more opportunities than ever before to break into less “traditional” roles -not just as the antithesis of a charming and popular lead, or the quite, less attractive friend of a main TV character, but as a lead with a power to command the screen as they do in real life!
And when they do, my friends and I will stream it relentlessly like thousands of other girls who grew up justifying their love for H.O.T and Sechs Kies. (Google it)