No Substance, No Benefits: Boba Liberalism. A Confession of a Former Boba Liberalcsudhbulletin November 9, 2020 0 COMMENTS
Illustration by Darlene Maes.
By Jasmine Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
In the year 2020, there’s a problem within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Being Asian or supporting Asian culture seems to be the trend right now. And that’s the problem, AAPI community is only focusing on the trends, which ignores the actual problems that plagues the community.
You can’t turn a corner without seeing a boba shop, can’t speak to a white person without them telling how good Pho is, or if you’ve heard that new BTS song—it was trending on Youtube.
But these shallow aspects of AAPI culture being the only focus of activism has led to a concept of “Boba Liberalism.” This term was coined by Twitter user @diaspora_is_red, who explained that “[boba liberalism], is wanting to reconnect with your roots: by drinking bubble tea, getting added to subtle Asian traits, and organizing fundraisers for your Asian student association, but never studying your history and feeling solidarity with your homeland against imperialism.”
Asian Americans, especially millennials and Gen Z, thrive on the trendiest of our culture.We flock to memes about Tiger parents who care too much about straight As, or talk about how cool and funny “Crazy Rich Asians” is on social media groups like Subtle Asian Traits.
A lot of Asian Americans view going to the latest boba place with their Asian friends or raving about a Hello Kitty collab with a Western brand as the or our community. We’re cool now, all the struggles our ancestors went through are all worth it, because now Emma from your English class loves getting a Taro Milk Tea with boba before her weekly movie date with her boyfriend Chad!
It’s not! This overreliance on the trendy and marketable aspects of AAPI culture only furthers the concept of Boba Liberalism.
Boba Liberalism focuses more on the struggles of upper-middle-class East Asians, rather than anything else. Immigrants’ rights aren’t as pronounced when the focus is purely on which Hot Pot place is the best or if 88rising is going to post a new collab album.
Let me be frank, if you like boba, or care about AAPI representation in Hollywood, you aren’t a horrible person, in fact, my activism was very similar to that until a few years ago. Many of my friends were like that too. But as we’ve seen very recently, with the rise of Anti Asian sentiment, due to COVID-19, the love of our food and our culture’s aesthetic is flimsy and we should instead as a community focus on more than just that in our activism.
So what should we focus on?
There’s no way to list the importance of issues. There are so many things that need to be talked about.
We need to talk about the achievement gap between South East Asians, like Hmongs, versus East Asians. In a 2013 study, “iCount: A Data Quality Movement for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Higher Education.”, only 13% of Hmong households hold a bachelor’s degree.This is a direct contrast to the Taiwanese households, in which more than 74% hold a bachelor’s degree.
We need to point out the rampant Anti-Blackness in our community.
We need to focus on how immigrants are still a huge issue for our community. Cambodians are increasingly under the threat of deportation under this government.
Or how many in our home countries are being exploited in sweatshops for U.S companies.
Talking about representation in Hollywood or posting memes about being a part of the AAPI community shouldn’t be the end-all of activism. For many, the pride and kinship you feel when talking about drinking boba or eating pho is a gateway for many young AAPI members to feel more comfortable with their Asian heritage. I am one of those who felt connected because of these aspects, it’s comforting to be able to share in a culture that you fit into it.
But it can’t be the end of it.