The Continual Evolution of Asian American Youth Culture

One of the (few) benefits of having teenagers is getting a glimpse of what youth culture is like these days.  Given that I myself am decades removed from that time period, I like to compare what I see and hear from them to how it was when I was young.  Since my kids and I all grew up in communities full of Asian Americans (unlike John), I have some perspective on how Asian American youth culture has evolved.  I was amused to watch the above video by the Fung Brothers on the evolution of Asian American youth culture.  I found myself agreeing with some of their observations, while questioning others.

The brothers’ first observation is that Asian American kids are “less traditional,” less able to speak the “mother tongue” and less likely to eat traditional Asian foods.  I find that one to be pretty accurate.   The Fung brothers attribute being “less traditional” to Asian America parents making their kids more well rounded in order to get into colleges that don’t just consider grades and test scores, but I think that is a stretch.  They are more kids further removed from the immigrant generation (like my kids) and more likely to be more assimilated.  My own kids understand some but don’t speak Tagalog.

Shoyu_and_onion_pokeIn my house, we definitely eat less traditional (meaning Filipino) food, but for different reasons.  Number Two Son has been a long time cross country and track athlete, and he insists on eating healthy and “clean” when he is competing during those athletic seasons.  It’s hard to do that with a lot of Filipino food.  Dishes like crispy pata and kare-kare, while definitely tasty, aren’t particularly healthy, so we have altered our eating patterns.  The Fung Brothers mention that more Asian American kids like Asian hybrid foods like Poke.  I’d agree – I see Poke places sprouting up all over the Bay Area along with other hybrid Asian American restaurants popular with young people like Koja Kitchen, a chain that fuses Korean, Japanese, and American food.

Another point in the video is that young Asian Americans have moved away from Hip Hop to EDM and Asian Pop. I am not sure about how widespread that EDM change is.  Number One occasionally to EDM, but he still listens a lot to Hip Hop.  Number Two Son doesn’t like EDM at all, preferring Hip Hop.  One thing for sure that is different from when I was a kid was the acceptance of Asian pop culture.  Back then, liking Asian pop would be considered so FOB.  But I remember Number One Son would watch groups like Super Junior years ago, and it seems that hasn’t changed.

The Fung Brothers touch on briefly on the question of whether there really is a distinct Asian American youth culture.  They assert that it is distinct and then move on.  I’d have to say that there are conditions to that statement – it only exists where there are sufficiently large numbers of Asian American youth.  I’d also say that Asian American youth culture is regional in nature.  The shift to EDM doesn’t seem so complete in the Bay Area, but as the Fung Brothers have pointed out in this video below, there are differences between Northern California and Southern California Asian American, as well as differences between West and East Coast Asians.  All these are almost certainly different from Asian Americans in Hawaii.

While I enjoy Fung Brothers videos, I have always found them slightly annoying in that their target audience are younger Asian Americans, and when older Asian Americans appear, are often the butt of jokes.  It amuses me how in this video they seem to lament how they have gotten older and how things young and Asian American have changed, needing their interns to tell them about youth culture. I wonder how their videos would change if they became parents!  It is pretty amazing, though, how fast things change.  For example, the “bopper” subculture I wrote about 5 years ago is different now.  Since Number Two Son will be in college next Fall, it’s going to be harder to have visibility into Asian American youth culture with no kids in the house.  But from what I have seen watching my own kids and their friends grow up and from what the Fung Brothers talked about, it’s going to be evolving continuously.

<Poke photo credit: Aquateamhungerforce under CC BY-SA 4.0)

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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