For decades, the Western world has been consuming ESEA (East and Southeast Asian) Culture, but do we truly appreciate its origin?
From the unique East Asian sound of the Wu-Tang clan to K-Pop and J-Pop, Asian influences are arguably more prevalent than ever in music. But, of course, the impact of the ESEA culture goes far beyond music. From Hollywood captivating audiences with Eastern martial arts, Jackie Chan and pan-Asian food (delighting foodies worldwide) to anime and Japanese Tattoos, the culture is all around us.
Recently, we’ve seen huge success for global sensations, BTS. As one of the world’s most popular boy bands, BTS has seen unprecedented success for a K-pop group. While building a dedicated global fanbase, the group have picked up some impressive accolades along the way. According to Brandwatch, BTS were half the artists to sell 500,000 copies of an album in 2020 (US), with their album Map of the Soul: 7.
According to the reps at the Hyundai Research Institute, BTS generates around $3.6 billion for the South Korean economy. With about 800,000 people visiting South Korea because of BTS every year. To put it into perspective, that’s over 70% of the country’s annual tourists.
It’s not just BTS that the Western audience is eating up. Another big hit in recent years was Ugly Delicious. According to Parrot Analytics, the demand for the show, which sees David Chang travel tasting food from different cultures, has a viewing demand of 1.6 times the average series.
40 years ago, Hong Kong martial arts movie The Way of the Dragon was released. The movie, which was Bruce Lee’s only complete directorial film, also saw him take on the lead role. The film grossed an estimated $130 million worldwide. The film earned a thousand times its budget. The movie was the highest-grossing Hong Kong film up until 'Enter The Dragon.'
Whether it's media, food, or art we're consuming, it's about time we support the communities that created it. Too often, it feels as if the Western World is ignoring the elephant in the room: racism.
If you appreciate ESEA culture in any form, you need to come with the same energy for the marginalised communities that it originates. But, sadly, that's not always the case in the UK and beyond.
Racism against East and South Asian people.
In an article from Time [March 2021], Suyin Haynes reported that Anti-Asian attacks and crimes were rising worldwide. March 16, 2021, the Asian community felt a collective trauma as a gunman in Atlanta targeted three spas. Of the eight victims, six of them were Asian-American women.
"The events from Atlanta are a painful reminder of the ongoing anti-Asian violence that's been on the increase over the past year," said Haynes.
Described as a "tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scaremongering" by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the ignorant and blatant racism fuelled further by the pandemic isn't going away.
In what feels like history repeating itself after 9/11 and anti-Muslim rhetoric, the ESEA communities are on the receiving end of violent racism. While racism and white supremacy is nothing new, the amplification caused by the pandemic means society can no longer turn a blind eye to the racism experienced by ESEA communities.
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In an article by Angela Hui for Vice [March 2021], Angela told the UK's stories of Asian hate crimes. Sharing the experience of 65-year-old Chinese retiree, Wang, she wrote:
"In April 2020, as the UK’s coronavirus death toll rose to over 2,300, Wang found himself on the receiving end of racist attacks. A 16-year-old boy on his estate shouted “fucking virus, fucking Chinese” at him, verbally abusing him on multiple occasions. One day, the teenager violently shoved the elderly man to the floor and laughed. The fall resulted in a broken arm that needed urgent bone fracture repair surgery and has left Wang permanently disabled. He was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder."
Going on to tell the story of 23-year-old Singaporean-Chinese student Jonathan Mok, Angelia wrote:
"Jonathan Mok was punched and kicked in the face on Oxford Street, London by a group of boys who said, "I don't want your coronavirus in my country." Mok's injuries were so bad that he required facial surgery, and a photo of his bruised and swollen face subsequently went viral on social media."
Sadly, these attacks are not isolated incidents, and there are so many more stories to tell as similar events continue to unfold 18-months into the pandemic.
According to inequalities report from End the Virus of Racism...
"In May 2020, the UK police reported a 21% increase in anti-East Asian hate crimes to the house of commons. Data from the London Met show that such hate crimes tripled in the first quarter of this year and doubled in the second quarter as compared to previous years. Data on hate crimes towards people of Chinese ethnicity show a tripling in the current months, suggesting no relief in the burden of hate crime on our communities.
Elsewhere in the country, the picture has been similar. The Midlands police reported a doubling of hate crime towards ESEAs. The Essex police found a staggering 56% of hate crimes recorded between March and September 2020 were directed towards the East Asian community, a 75% increase compared to the same period last year."
ESEA Heritage Month
In October 2020, Parliament held its first-ever debate to discuss the racism that the ESEA communities are facing in the UK. Sadly, (but not surprisingly) not a single Conservative MP or government minister attended. So, despite the fact East and South-East Asian communities contribute so much to our society, not a single Conservative MP was willing to stand with them on that day.
Thankfully, several excellent organisations are standing in solidarity with the ESEA community. One of those organisations is a volunteer-led group, Besea.n.
In their own words, besea.n is "passionate about positive representation for ESEA people and stand in solidarity with all marginalised communities. We believe that a holistic approach is needed for tackling discrimination and boosting visibility of our communities by looking across multiple sectors."
This month [September] marks the launch of the UK's first-ever ESEA Heritage Month. The initiative by besea.n sees a program of events that will celebrate ESEA culture in all its glory. From a Filipino food crawl of London to digital talk panels, "ESEA Heritage Month is a chance for anyone who identifies as ESEA to explore and celebrate their culture and identities, and to take up space in a society where our voices and stories are rarely centred." [Mai-Anh Peterson Gal Dem, Sept 2021]. If you're reading this before ESEA Heritage month ends, you can check out the complete programme here. If not, you can write a letter to your local MP and endorse to observe September as East and South East Asia heritage month and support the launch of East and South-East Asian Heritage Month in the UK by signing the petition here.
Supporting ESEA communities
If you appreciate the ESEA culture, this article is your reminder to take affirmative action to support the communities it came from. Whether you're signing petitions, donating, educating yourself, amplifying the voices that need to be heard, starting conversations or tackling racism when you see it, the change begins with us. If you take just one thing away from this article, let it be a reminder to consume consciously. The Western World is influenced by so many cultures from all over the globe. These cultures deserve to be recognised, appreciated and supported.