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10 Asian American YouTubers Redefining Mainstream Media

In the last decade, Asian Americans have been able to break through and gain a remarkable following through their YouTube channels. Check out this list of the Asian YouTubers you should know!

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Racial tensions in the U.S. are rising one after another. The protest of Black Lives Matter is not over yet, and Asian Americans are being attacked mainly because of the pandemic.

In fact, it has always been difficult for Asian Americans to find a place in mainstream media.

Thanks to YouTube, minorities can quickly create, upload, and share content. It’s a perfect showcase for Asian American YouTubers in particular.

While many of the most influential YouTubers are based in America, major YouTubers are starting to emerge in Japan, South Korea, India, and other Asian countries.

YouTube, to some extent, has enhanced the influence of Asian pop culture.

These Asian American YouTubers try to take advantage of this platform. Some of them sing, some perform, some share food, some do funny experiments.

In short, they try all kinds of ways to show their talent.

With the efforts of these Asian YouTubers, people have also become aware of the beauty of Asian culture.

We’ve compiled a list of  10 Asian American YouTubers who have made significant contributions to Asian culture.

1. Kina Grannis

Kina Kasuya Grannis is a Japanese-American singer-songwriter and guitarist. Grannis grew up in California. In 2007, she graduated with honors, majoring in psychology at the University of Southern California.

During her studies at the University of Southern California, she was elected to the Honor Society of American College Students.

In 2008, Grannis won the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest and received a recording contract with Interscope Records.

In 2010, Grannis released an album, Stairwells, a music video, “In Your Arms,” and she appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live.

As an enthusiastic supporter of cancer research, Grannis has participated in many charitable activities over the years and has actively raised funds.

2. David Choi

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Korean-American singer David Choi is an early YouTube celebrity. This musical genius, born in 1986, has attracted the attention of many netizens on YouTube with his musical talent.

He gained 1 million fans after uploading his original songs to the internet. From 2006 to 2007, he became the most famous pop singer on the platform.

Now, YouTube has been with him for over 10 years, and there are still many internet celebrities like him on YouTube.

His humorous song “YouTube, A Love Song” helped Choi start his singing career. The song appeared on the YouTube homepage in 2006 and has been viewed more than 2.8 million times.

The music videos of his singles “Won’t Even Start” and “That Girl” were also released on YouTube, and they have received more than 13 million views.

Related: Four Youtubers Who Abandoned Social Media To Take Care Of Their Mental Health

3. Wong Fu Productions

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As early as 2006, Asian Americans were able to break through and gain a remarkable following through their YouTube channels.

For example, Wong Fu Productions, founded by Asian American YouTubers in 2006, continuously features Asian American actors and actresses, telling stories about family, love, and the daily struggles of being a minority.

In 2015, Wong Fu released their first feature-length film, “Everything Before Us,” and just this month, they launched “Yappie.”

Just as Wong Fu revolutionized Asian American representation in film and television through YouTube, many other Asian American YouTubers have used this platform over the years to transform standards within their respective fields.

4. Ryan Higa

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Ryan Higa, better known as Nigahiga, is a Japanese-American. He has over 21 million subscribers on his channel — which is an amalgam of running jokes, sketch comedy, and parody videos.

Because of his growing fame, Higa was invited to star in a movie. In 2008, Los Angeles producer Richard Van Vleet offered to help; the final film, “Ryan and Sean’s Not So Excellent Adventure,” was directed by Richard Van Fleet, and the film was very popular. Since then, he has starred in many movies.

Being an Asian American YouTuber, Higa has extremely high requirements for the quality of his films. He has done a variety of films, including acting, singing, animation, and martial arts. He insists on not swearing in the film, making it very children friendly.

5. Jenn Im

Jennifer Im is a fashion designer. She is best known for her YouTube channel, formerly known as Clothescounters.com, which started in 2010. As of 2019, it has reached around 2.4 million subscribers.

Within fashion and beauty, Jenn Im empowers her viewers to discover their style through her own eclectic style, while also sharing about her travels, her favorite books, and even her insecurities.

In August 2017, Im launched Eggie, her own clothing brand, fulfilling a personal dream.

6. Freddie Wong

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Freddie Wong is a famous Asian American YouTuber. He graduated from the University of Southern California with a major in film, and he founded the YouTube channel.

Wong has become more and more popular since he won the Guitar Hero 2 competition for the track “Less Talk More Rokk,” in the World Series of Video Games in Dallas, in 2007.

If you often watch YouTube, you’re probably familiar with RocketJump. Wong, one of the main creators, has collaborated with YouTube to produce a series of high-quality special effects and plot videos.

With excellent creativity and superb video effects, Wong has so far achieved more than 382.39 million viewers and 2.21 million video subscribers worldwide.

Related: A New Home For Asian American Representation in Hollywood

7. Amy Lee

Amy Lee is a Korean-American girl who graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Amy Lee is committed to creating fashion, beauty, and lifestyle content on her YouTube channel.

At the age of 24, Lee has accumulated more than 310,000 subscribers and 130,000 Instagram followers, all of whom are attracted to her refreshing, unique style and personality.

In addition to the beauty content, Lee also has a column called “The AM with Amy,” which lets viewers get a closer look at her life.

On her youTube channel, she describes herself by saying, “My name is Amy and I am a 26-year-old trauma-informed student of life 🙂 I am currently on a mission to make intergenerational healing & mental health spaces accessible and affordable for all- especially to underserved communities.”

8. Emmy Cho

Emmy Cho, better known online as Tastemade, is a Chinese-American YouTuber born in California.

If you are a foodie, you should meet her. She is famous for posting food tasting videos on YouTube. So far, Tastemade has 1.6 million subscribers.

Although Cho is Asian American, she keeps receiving recipes from Germany and other parts of the world.

If you want to experience the world, you can send her your favorite recipe and share the most delicious and authentic tastes you know!

On her YouTube channel, she describes the channel by saying, “From quick recipes to original series, we’re uploading new videos every single day to share our favorite food, design inspiration, and travel stories from around the world. We’re also known to get a little quirky sometimes, so keep an eye out for surprises ;)”

Related: 6 South Asian Creators Whose Voices Are Changing Mainstream Media

9. Michelle Phan

Michelle Phan is a Vietnamese-American woman born in Boston, Massachusetts. She’s the founder and owner of EM cosmetics, a multimillion-dollar cosmetics brand.

In 2005, Phan opened a personal blog where she discusses different makeup tutorials, and since May 2007, she has been posting videos on YouTube.

BuzzFeed published two “How to Get Lady Gaga’s Eyes” makeup tutorials by Phan in 2009 and 2010. These tutorials quickly became popular and brought her more than 1 million subscribers.

In 2010, Lancôme made Phan their official video makeup artist because she showed some of their products in the video, making her the company’s first Vietnamese-American spokesperson.

In 2015, Phan was included in the 30 companies under 30 and Forbes 30 under 30 lists. In the same year, she raised 100 million U.S. dollars, making Ipsy more than 500 million U.S. dollars. In 2018, Phan established the company Thematic.

10. Kevin Wu 

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Kevin Wu is a Taiwanese-American YouTuber with the username of KevJumba or Kev. Wu was born in Houston.

His unexpected and funny way is impressive. He started uploading videos on YouTube in his second year of high school, and in 2008, Wu became a popular YouTuber.

His video describing tibia fractures received 450,000 views.

As Wu is also quite a caring person, he opened the JumbaFund channel on Youtube in 2009, and he donates the income to charity.

Final Thought on Asian Youtubers

Representation is crucial in validating personal narratives, especially for Asian Americans.

Yet, just as important as it is to discover the people whose stories resonate with your own experience, it is also extremely valuable for others to witness the multitude of narratives that exist around them.

These Asian American YouTubers have used their own power to promote Asian culture and try to make Asians a part of the American mainstream culture.

The Asian American community aspires not to be a racial enclave, but a visible identity within America, starting with representation in entertainment and media.

Through these YouTubers, native Americans also have a better understanding of Asian culture, which may also clear up a lot of misunderstandings.

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Culture

A New Home for Asian American Representation in Hollywood

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Kelly Marie Tran on MTV International.

 

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After the onslaught of negative reactions to Mulan (2020), Disney’s recent film announcements offer new hope for Asian representation in the entertainment industry.

From Raya and the Last Dragon to Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings, Disney has opened up a larger space for Asian Americans to shine, but can they do it right this time?

Here are a few movies that offer a new home for Asian American representation in film. 

Mulan in Crisis 

Over quarantine, Disney+ users dreamed about the promise of greater authenticity and Chinese representation in the live-action of Mulan

The film had an aggressive campaign of staying true to the original ballad of Mulan, and established a more serious approach than its animated companion. 

Soon after its release, however, audiences were sorely met with lackluster characterization and collapsing themes of Asian female empowerment.

In addition to the outrage concerning main actress Yifei Liu’s support of Hong Kong police, Mulan (2020) suffered from its generalization of Chinese history and glorification of outdated values. 

An overwhelming backlash, in this case, was inevitable. The Asian American community responded with a plethora of media criticizing Disney’s failures with Mulan

As Disney enters a new era in the streaming industry, however, there has been some hope for growth in its relationship with Asian representation. 

Disney Plus on all platforms.

 

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Raya the First 

Though some have pointed out its stylistic similarity to Avatar: The Last Airbender, many others have applauded Raya and the Last Dragon for its introduction of Southeast Asian representation into the animated sphere.

The new film portrays Raya, a fictional Southeast Asian warrior princess, who must search for the last dragon in order to save her world. 

Throughout its trailer, Raya and the Last Dragon hints at a variety of Southeast Asian cultures.

Producers have claimed inspiration from countries such as Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and others, but many viewers have recognized the film’s direct representation of Filipino design and culture.

While the ability to openly point out such specific cultural moments paves an optimistic path, another question arises in Disney’s choice for a film that works to “blend Southeast Asian cultures” rather a distinct country.

This particularly speaks to the ways in which Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities are too often consolidated as one culture. 

Whereas films like Mulan enjoy the cultural specificity of being Chinese, Moana and now Raya and the Last Dragon must settle for a more generic representation of being “Southeast Asian” or “Pacific Islander,” as opposed to Filipino or Tongan. 

2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition law protest with an ambulance driving through a crowd of people.

 

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This also comes with the replacement of half-Filipina Cassie Steele with Vietnamese Kelly Marie Tran.

While Raya and the Last Dragon has been largely recognized for its distinctive Filipino references, the film continues to largely err on the side of mixing (and potentially confusing) a variety of Southeast Asian creatives. 

In the midst of such a struggle, however, Raya and the Last Dragon nevertheless represents the beginning of Southeast Asian involvement in the film industry, with hopes for more to come. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of Yellow Peril 

Marvel’s latest Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings also provides a new avenue for Asian representation, especially in the superhero realm. 

Simu Liu, set to play Shang-Chi, has been a longtime favorite in the Asian American film industry.

From acting in short films with Wong Fu Productions to playing the sweet but arrogant Jung on Kim’s Convenience, Liu is a familiar face in the Asian American community and reflects their desire for diversity on camera. 

However, there is hesitation about rehashing the damaging Asian stereotypes from the original Shang-Chi comics. Inspired by the age of martial arts films, Shang-Chi echoes the era of Fu Manchu and Yellow Peril, when Asians were essentially characterized as purely evil

Fu Manchu represented the culmination of America’s anti-Asian, anti-immigrant anxieties and fears. In the comics, Shang-Chi is the son of Fu Manchu and equips his martial arts to destroy his father.

Such a relationship spoke to the utilization of the “best” parts of Asian culture (a.k.a martial arts) to take down the “worst” parts (acting or looking “too Asian”).

This divisiveness ultimately denounces an Asian identity, uplifting only that which is “best” in the eyes of others. 

Knowing this history, Shang-Chi holds the potential to backslide in the same ways that Mulan (2020) did, by focusing too much on a presumed perspective of “authenticity.”

In the making of Shang-Chi, Disney must pull from contemporary Asian America, rather than its past.

Simu Liu speaking at Comic Con San Diego.

 

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As Simu Liu has pointed out, however, there is hope! Both Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings and Raya and the Last Dragon have released their massive inclusion of a largely Asian and Asian American cast and creative team.

This means that, in contrast to Mulan’s implementation of solely Asian actors, these two new films will be written and creatively produced by the same people it seeks to represent. In this way, Disney is truly learning from its failure with the live-action Mulan (2020).

Though there has been some early criticism for the next two films, a positive anticipation flourishes in Disney’s changes for greater Asian representation in film and media.

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Culture

Different Ways to celebrate Christmas-Comparing Christmas Traditions Across the Globe

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Four girls holding candles, singing Christmas carols.
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Christmas caroling, gingerbread houses, eggnog and candy canes are an indication that the holiday season is upon us. In the U.S. and certain other countries, we have traditions like setting out milk and cookies for Santa, lining our mantels with stockings, and hanging wreaths and bright lights outside. But many other countries around the world have their own unique traditions to celebrate this most wonderful time of the year. Let’s take a look at some of the different ways other cultures embrace the magic of Christmas. 

Region of Puerto Rico 

In Puerto Rico, Christmas is an extravagant, go-all-out type of holiday. Christmas celebrations start the day after Thanksgiving and last until the beginning of January. An important holiday tradition is caroling, referred to as a parranda, meaning the gift of music. The parranda isn’t your average Christmas caroling excursion; there are maracas, guitars and tamboras involved, making it all the more festive. In many cities, fireworks are set off each night in celebration. Some special holiday foods in Puerto Rico include lechón asado (a pork dish), tembleque (coconut pudding), and coquito (a coconut-rum drink).

Australia

Christmas is a holiday that is typically associated with winter. But in Australia, Christmas takes place in the summer season, swapping snowmen for sandmen. The beach is a very popular destination on Christmas day, filled with live music, barbeques, and decorated trees in the sand. If you’re lucky, you may even see Santa Claus, better known as Father Christmas in Australia, surfing the waves. Australians also celebrate the holiday season by gathering in large groups to sing Christmas carols with candles in hand. This tradition is known as ‘Carols by Candlelight.’

Finland

Rovaniemi, located in Lapland, Finland, is a city noted for its holiday spirit. In fact, Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus. Santa’s post office (it’s a real post office) is open year-round, collecting letters from thousands of children. The subpolar climate of Rovaniemi makes the city a winter wonderland for several months. Christmas theme parks filled with reindeer sleigh rides and Santa and his elves make for a wonderful holiday experience.

Mexico

In Mexico, the Las Posadas celebration begins on December 16th and ends on Christmas Eve. Communities dress up and reenact Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem in search of shelter. There’s music, parties, and holiday foods such as buñuelos, a dessert made of fried dough and topped with cinnamon sugar or syrup. On Christmas Eve, the party culminates with the breaking of piñatas.

A tree ornament in the form of a globe.
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Germany

Germany has a rich history of Christmas traditions, some more terrifying than others. In Germany and some other European countries, the Krampus, an evil demon-goat creature, is rumored to be Santa’s evil relative. Krampus punishes children who misbehave, and if you’re in Germany, you may see people dressed up as Krampus wandering through the streets and scaring bystanders. On a happier note, Christmas markets and holiday shopping are all the rage in Germany. In the city of Nuremberg, Christkindlesmarkt is a famously large Christmas market, attracting millions of visitors each year. Famous holiday foods at this market include gingerbread, bratwursts, and fruitcake. 

Japan

Although only a small fraction of the population of Japan is Christian, the spirit of Christmas is still in the air. In Japan, millions of families celebrate Christmas with a special tradition: a chicken dinner, typically from KFC. Santa Claus has been traded in for Colonel Sanders. In some ways, Christmas in Japan is celebrated in the same way that we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Rather than spending Christmas day with family, couples go out for romantic dinners. 

Netherlands

In Amsterdam, Santa Claus is not the only one to deliver presents — Sinterklaas, a Santa-like Nordic figure, also distributes gifts to children. Sinterklass sails from Spain over to the Netherlands to deliver presents on December 5. Santa then arrives on Christmas day to fill childrens’ shoes with gifts. Another important Christmas tradition in the Netherlands is gourmetten, a big dinner where meats and vegetables are grilled at the table, and underneath the grill or hot plate, tiny pans filled with sauces and cheeses are broiled. These dinners somewhat resemble an indoor barbeque.

Iceland

In Iceland, the Yule Lads, 13 mischievous troll-like figures, deliver gifts to children or give them potatoes if they have been naughty that year. Starting on December 12th, a different lad visits each night leading up to Christmas. Children leave their shoes out on windowsills in anticipation of the Yule Lads’ visits. Grýla, the mother of the Yule Lads, is a scary troll rumored to eat misbehaving children. 

While many Christmas celebrations and family traditions are on hold due to Covid, it’s always nice to reminisce on the pre-Covid holiday seasons, as we hope to resume the celebrations next year.

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Hanukkah: 8 Things You Might Not Know About the Eight Nights

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A closeup of candles burning.

It’s finally the holiday season here in the US, and all the signs are upon us. Christmas music is playing in most public spaces on the rare occasions we leave our homes, decorations and Christmas trees are going up in private and public spaces, and anticipation of that one magical night is high. Or, it is if you’re Christian.

Jewish people living in the United States, while the world around them gears up for Christmas, celebrate Hanukkah while simultaneously weathering the yearly bombardment of questions and assumptions about what the holiday is like.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what Hanukkah is actually like from people outside the Jewish community, so to help with that confusion, here’s a list of common mistakes people make about how to celebrate Hanukkah, and some general fun facts about a common Jewish holiday.

1. It’s Not “Jewish Christmas”

This is likely self-explanatory, but it’s important to cover. Because of its closeness to Christmas during the year, Hanukkah has become perceived as the “Jewish Christmas”, a holiday with equivalent importance to Christmas, which is not true at all. Christmas is one of the most important holidays in the Christian tradition, commemorating the birth of Jesus. Hanukkah is not on par with that importance.

2. It’s Actually a Minor Holiday

This is the big one that trips non-Jewish people up a lot: Hanukkah is not a big deal at all for Jewish people. For Jews, all the important holidays are tied directly to holy or important days, like Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the Jewish New Year; and Yom Kippur, which is a day of mourning and remembrance. Hanukkah has no associated holiness to it, making it a very minor event in the Jewish Calendar.

A menorah with two candles burning, one in the middle and one on the far right.
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3. Hanukkah is About a Rebellion and a Miracle

Part of the reason why Hanukkah is actually not very important is that the story it commemorates is not part of important Jewish traditions like The Torah. Hanukkah celebrates the rebellion and reclamation of Jewish land and temples by a band of rebels known as the Maccabees. Once the rebellion succeeded and the temple was reclaimed, the Jewish people wanted to relight the menorah (that branching candle holder that’s associated with Hanukkah) inside to reconsecrate the temple, but all the special oil they burned in the menorah was destroyed. They only found a tiny jar which held barely enough oil to last a night. Amazingly though, the small amount of oil burned for eight days and eight nights, giving the Jewish people time to make more oil. This is the miracle of Hanukkah, and why Jews celebrate by lighting Hanukkiah for eight nights. Pretty interesting, huh?

4. There Aren’t Christmas Levels of Gifts

This isn’t true for all families, but for the most part, Hanukkah is a more low-key affair than Christmas. Most Jewish people give smaller gifts across the whole of the eight nights, with maybe a few larger items in there, but not an overflow of gifts every night.

5. Shockingly Enough, Gift Giving Isn’t Even Traditional

This might be surprising even to Jewish-Americans, but gift giving during Hanukkah is not actually traditional! There is no significance to gift giving like there is to other parts of the Hanukkah tradition, and in fact, it’s almost entirely a Jewish-American behavior. Why? Because of Christmas. Sometime around the 1920s, American Jews began buying gifts for their children to celebrate Hanukkah so they wouldn’t feel left out when all their peers got Christmas gifts, so it’s largely an American invention.

6. But Eating Fried Food is Traditional

Everyone always focuses on gifts and lighting candles, but it’s interesting to note that another tradition in Hanukkah is eating fried food. “Latkes”, a kind of fried potato pancake, are associated closely with the holiday, but they’re actually important because they’re fried. The tradition relates back to the story of Hanukkah and the oil that burned for eight nights. To honor this, Jews eat fried food like latkes and “sufganiyot”, fried donuts that are often jelly-filled. That’s one thing Christmas and Hanukkah do have in common: they’re both incredibly healthy holidays. 

A large sculpture of a menorah outside in the snow.
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7. Blue and White Decorations Aren’t, Though

If you’ve ever seen any decorations for Hanukkah you’ve likely seen strings of blue and white lights or decorations, as opposed to the normal red and green of Christmas. Surprisingly, though, there’s actually no association between Hanukkah and blue and white. Blue and white are important colors for Jews, as the traditional prayer shawl called a “tallit” is usually white with stripes of blue on the ends. Hanukkah decorations in blue and white are another tradition that started in America because of Christmas. To not feel left out of the Christmas spirit, some Jews began decorating with blue and white, but outside the US, this isn’t a common behavior at all.

8. Hanukkah is “The Festival of Lights,” but ‘Hanukkah’ Means Something Different

Finally, it’s important to think about the most important part of Hanukkah. The lighting of the menorah is the most crucial tradition of Hanukkah and the main way Jewish people the world over celebrate the holiday, which is why the holiday is affectionately called The Festival of Lights. The word ‘Hanukkah’, however, actually means ‘rededication’ or ‘consecration’, to commemorate the consecration of the temple by the lighting of the menorah in the Hanukkah story.

In 2020, Hanukkah runs from December 10th to 18th, so if you know anyone Jewish who observes the holiday, wish them a happy holiday and a good new year to come. Hopefully, you understand at least one Jewish tradition a little bit better now.

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