This piece is part of my on-going love letter to BTS. If you prefer not to constantly refresh my site for updates, sign up for my newsletter and I will send you a handy round up every week. Photos courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment.
“Why are you crying, Mama?”
“Because BTS won an award and they don’t usually give awards to people who look like us, baby.”
Gamera (7) didn’t understand.
“Why wouldn’t they give us awards, Mama? What about brown people? Do they give awards to brown people?”
“Sometimes. But only recently.”
“But why wouldn’t they give us awards? Why wouldn’t people like people who look like us?”
“Because it’s hard for people to like things they’re not used to. People think we don’t belong here because of how we look. People used to make fun of me for what I look like. They made fun of me for speaking Chinese.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Because that’s the way people are sometimes. That’s why it’s so important BTS won this award. Because it’s the first time people who look like us have won. The very first time. I need you to know how important this is.”
I need everyone to know how important BTS winning the Billboard top duo/group award is.
They are the first foreign language group and first Korean group EVER to win Top Duo/Group, AND the first people of color to win this award in SIX years.
When I saw their win on social media (I was too scared to watch a livestream), I thought it was a joke. A cruel, cruel joke.
I really didn’t think BTS would win – not because they don’t deserve it but because this is America (and all that it means). I cannot tell you how much this means to me as a 40 year old Asian American woman.
I could barely form a cogent response to explain to my children just how meaningful this is to me – not just because I love BTS, but because representation matters and I didn’t know how deep that wound went until it was healed just a bit.
How can it be that a Korean band – made up of all Korean men singing/rapping all in Korean – won a top category award that considered ZERO fan votes and ONLY digital/physical sales, radio play, and streaming?
Asian men are continually emasculated and de-sexed in media and here was BTS at the center of the super white American music world for just a moment, winning top honors while oozing sex appeal.
Asian Americans are still ching chang chonged for daring to speak their own language (or honestly, just breathing) and BTS won while singing in KOREAN. Just last week, I was ni hao ma’d trying to catch a damn airport parking shuttle bus.
What timeline AM I living in?
For all these reasons and more, I sobbed in my minivan as I scrolled through my social media feeds while waiting outside the house of my kids’ Chinese tutor.
I couldn’t stop. The tears just kept flowing down my face.
I am not a crier. And certainly not in public. And definitely not over some boy band.
Yet there I was.
Ignoring a nice auntie who kept trying to talk to me because I was so excited and thrilled and busy posting BTS’s historic win everywhere. (Sorry, Auntie!!)
Every time I think about what it means for Asians and for people like me in America, I want to heave ugly sobs again. I shit you not, I feel as if my whole world has tilted and everyone around me is acting as if the world is the same.
Honestly, it’s not because BTS won an award.
Well, not entirely. It’s perhaps 10% because BTS won an award.
I cried when Sandra Oh won her Golden Globe for Best Actress and thanked her parents and told them she loved them in Korean on US broadcast television.
And today, when Lucy Liu became only the SECOND Asian American woman to receive a Hollywood Star, I was stunned at the number.
It is 2019 and still, that needle has barely moved.
What does it mean for it to be 2019 and people of color are STILL celebrating firsts in America? It’s SHAMEFUL, America. SHAMEFUL.
For every all black cast movie. For every Latino breakthrough. For every Asian first. I celebrate.
For every POC first, second, and third, I celebrate.
And when the POC firsts are no longer firsts and as common place as pennies and diamonds, I will still celebrate.
Because finally, finally, we will be seen. We will be heard.
And on the off-chance BTS will ever come across my humble little blog: Thank you, BTS. CONGRATULATIONS!! I love you and am so proud of you.
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