Young Asian-Americans Spend Too Much Money



According to a Nielsen report released last week, Asian-Americans are the most prolific spenders in the United States. Last year, the average annual expenditure among them totaled a whopping $61,400, nearly 40% more than that among millennial households. This spending power is partly due to a strong household income. As the study notes, Asian-American households, on average, are more likely to have incomes of $100,000 or more than general U.S. households.

As Asian-Americans become increasingly wealthy, they have become more materialistic, opening the floodgates to expensive brands from Louis Vuitton to Swarovski. While many Asian families still insist on economic prudence, others are more concerned about satisfying their immediate wants, which seems to run counter to what Asian cultures traditionally preach about spending. Our early hardships collectively taught us to invest in the future, not in the present, but new trends suggest these values are slowly dying.

An examination of Chinese culture, for instance, can partly explain why older generations are stingier with their money than millennials typically are. Those older than 50, who save more than 60% of their income, spend less because they vividly recall the financial difficulties stemming from history-changing events like the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution, as Keith B. Richburg of the Washington Post points out.

Such hardships resonate strongly with those who immigrated to the United States, like my mother, who shared a small two-bedroom apartment with her parents and four siblings in Macau. Given the limited resources her family had, she had to spend her money wisely. This meant buying what was needed and not what was wanted. Since then, she’s followed this principle every time she goes shopping.

“In Chinese, there’s a saying,” she said. “There are four important things in life. Food, clothing, housing and transportation. If you don’t have enough money, you can eat less, buy cheaper clothes and ditch transportation in favor of walking. But you need a roof over your head.”

While some experts often point to such values as a reason why many Asians and Asian-Americans tend to save their money, others, like Sheldon Garon of Foreign Policy, argue that policies and institutions that Asian countries put in place played as significant a role as cultural norms, if not more so. Japan, for example, led the charge to organize domestic savings following World War II in order to spur economic growth. On the other hand, the rapid growth of banks in China during the 1980s encouraged Chinese households to save more. Implementations and institutions like these undoubtedly shaped how many Asians spent their money, Garon asserts.

But a lot has changed over the past several decades. As Hope Yen of the Associated Press notes, changes in U.S. immigration policy during the 1990s favored wealthy and educated workers, many of whom came from China, India and South Korea. As a result, many Asian-Americans today are wealthier than their predecessors, and they are also more likely to spend money on consumer goods. The Nielsen survey revealed that 35% of Asian-Americans said they were “swayable shopaholics.”

As a 24-year-old, I must (sadly) admit that I fall into this category. I’m far from a fashion connoisseur, but I do occasionally buy pricey, brand-name clothing and sneakers, to the displeasure of my parents. My recent obsession with Air Jordan, for example, once led to an hour-long lecture from my father about how I was needlessly wasting my money on sneakers that I would probably only wear three or four times a month.

“I could buy an entire wardrobe with the amount of money you spend on your sneakers,” he said once. “Learn to save your money on better things.”

My father then went on discuss the extreme poverty he faced when he was younger, whereas I, as a young Asian-American born in New York, benefited from growing up in more fortunate circumstances, a narrative that many young Asian-Americans have heard. Some of us try to follow in the footsteps of our parents, but we’re generally less stringent with our money.

“[My parents] teach me not to spend all at once,” said Jialing Lin, a junior at Baruch College. “I am willing to pay a premium for good food, entertainment or traveling, but my parents think that it’s a waste of money.”

Others take their parents’ hardships more seriously and make cognizant decisions about spending.

“I knew from a young age that my parents worked hard to make money, and [it] taught me the value of a dollar,” said Shina Huang, a junior at St. John’s University. “Even today, I’m conscious of how much I spend and what I spend it on.”

While some Asian-American millennials like Huang may be more conservative in their spending habits, the Nielsen study suggests that prolific spending seems to be increasingly the norm, especially among those whose shopping habits reflect mine. Most of us don’t understand the value of a dollar like Huang does, because our experiences (though far from easy) don’t necessarily mirror the difficult experiences that our parents faced in Asia. Instead, we appear to have adapted to American materialism, at least for now.


Are Asian Men Undateable?



The online dating website “Are You Interested” recently surveyed more than 2.4 million interactions on its site and confirmed what many of us suspect: America loves Asian women.

In fact, Asian female users are more likely to get messages, including inappropriate ones, from male users of any race other than Asian. This trend, popularly dubbed “yellow fever,” is not a new phenomenon, springing instead from an attraction to what some observers say is the exotic appeal of Asian women, and a self-indulging fantasy of being with women who are seen as docile and submissive.

While Asian women seem to be in high demand, Asian men do not. Asian female and non-Asian male pairings are seen to be common, but Asian men are often left out of the discussion over interracial relationships entirely. As one of my black female friends put it, “Asian men, along with black women, are probably the least desirable people.”

A 2007 study conducted by researchers at Columbia University, which surveyed a group of over 400 students who participated in orchestrated “speed dating” sessions, showed that African-American and white women said “yes” 65% less often to the prospect of dating Asian men in comparison to men of their own race, while Hispanic women said yes 50% less frequently. Though Asian-Americans still date and marry each other, cultural stereotypes of Asian men may make them less attractive to women of all races, including Asians.

Despite iconic masculine Asian role models like Bruce Lee, Asian men are often portrayed as scrawny males who spend more time studying than lifting weights in the gym, appearing in popular culture as soft-spoken, reserved types who rarely take part in activities that people qualify as “masculine” like professional football or construction work, as characters played for laughs.

These depictions run counter to what society tells us women want: someone confident, tall, dark and handsome.

“Women think we have a masculinity that’s maligned and marginalized,” said my friend Jubin Kwon, a Korean-American who grew up in the predominantly white town of Lexington, Mass. “There’s also this idea of relative invisibility, but that applies to all Asian-Americans.”

Given the constant stereotyping Asian-American men face in the media, Asian-American men approaching non-Asian women often either feel an unnecessary burden to prove themselves against Asian stereotypes or keep to themselves in fear of rejection. The agonizing paralysis of self-doubt is well captured by John Shim, who wrote a telling piece for The Daily Bruin in 2002, lamenting, “I feel cheated out of a myriad of romantic experiences that could have been brought to fruition were I not an Asian male.”

Growing up, I felt the same way. Part of me believed that I had no chance with non-Asian women because our cultural differences were too apparent. The other part was simply a lack of self-confidence. I rarely had the courage to express my feelings because I was too worried about the what-ifs.

What if non-Asian women simply had no interest in Asian men? What if they thought I was a nerd with poor social skills? What if they rejected me?

Over time, I forced myself to look past the stigmas that defined Asian males and worked to counter them. It paid off slowly but surely.

For some, the anxiety over being an Asian male that I once harbored can seem like an overreaction. “For me, there is no pressure [in asking a non-Asian woman out],” said my friend Anthony Ma, whose ex-girlfriend was Mexican. “But if you’re from a very traditional Asian household, there might be some.”

Even for those who share Ma’s confidence, the sad truth is that the media continues to perpetuate the emasculated Asian male stereotype. To some, we are quiet or asexual. To others, we’re less manly than our white, black and Hispanic counterparts. The consensus seems to be that Asian men have nothing going for them. “While growing up in a homogeneous white town, it was a standard perception that Asian men just weren’t attractive,” Sarah Shaw acknowledged in a post for Mapping Words earlier this year.

Whether this line of thought will change depends on the media’s openness to promote more traditionally or differentially masculine Asian figures, and the willingness of Asian men to tackle existing media stereotypes of us head-on. As long as characters like Short Round continue to exist, Asian males will always have to confront issues regarding their masculinity.


Chinatown Isn’t for Chinese People Anymore



New York City’s Chinatown is a neighborhood on the verge of losing its identity.

Like its sister neighborhood in Washington D.C., New York’s Chinatown has become a playground for business owners and new immigrants who are intent on exploiting the neighborhood for profit.

I grew up knowing the old Chinatown — one that blended the Southern Chinese and American experience. Residents would communicate in one of two dialects: Taishanese and Cantonese. Dim-sum spots south of Canal Street were home to family gatherings. Street vendors would yell at passersby in an effort to sell vegetables and seafood. Store signs were written in incomprehensible English. Traces of this old-school neighborhood still exist, but a new and less authentic Chinatown has emerged in New York to the disdain of some members of the Chinese community.

“I definitely like the old Chinatown more, due to nostalgia and the old school blue collar vibes,” said Sherman Ng, whose father has operated a small Chinese shop on Mott Street for decades. “But I feel, as Chinese Americans, we aren’t investing enough back into the community. Many new college grads opt to live in other areas, so we are also contributing to the destruction of Chinese culture just as much as the non-Chinese are.”

He’s right.

A rapid commercialization in the past two decades has destroyed Chinatown’s landscape. As a child, I used to marvel at the Music Palace, a rare Chinese-language movie theater on the corner of Hester Street and Bowery. It was considered a place where Chinese immigrants could reconcile their old home with their new one and the only source of major entertainment they could exclusively enjoy.

A 19-story Wyndham Garden Chinatown hotel now sits on that legendary spot. The building boasts large, bluish windows and sleek gray tiled walls. Tucked behind it on Hester Street is a lot riddled with broken tree branches and garbage. Right next to the hotel on Bowery is the site of an old tenement that housed eight families. In 2009, the hotel’s construction destabilized their building and displaced them. The Chinese hotel developer, who had bought the apartment two years before, failed to repair the damages in time, and the families were forced to settle elsewhere.

As hotels like the Wyndham Garden Chinatown and new housing units sprout like weeds and force out Chinatown’s longtime residents, a slew of businesses is replacing those that had deep ties to the neighborhood.

When I was young, my parents would bring me to Yuen Yuen, a small Cantonese restaurant on Bayard Street. It was a hot spot for locals, who would order its popular freshly squeezed orange juice while talking loudly in their native dialects. When the restaurant announced last year that it would close after more than three decades of business, my father insisted that we have one last dinner there. To him and the rest of my family, Yuen Yuen was more than just a restaurant: It was a place that allowed us to reconnect with our roots.

Now, I shudder every time we walk past 61 Bayard Street. What once was a classic restaurant is now an unappealing Chinese herbal store that seems to draw more tourists than locals. “A lot of old-time merchants are discontinuing their businesses in Chinatown,” my father said. “This will diminish the neighborhood’s charm, not just to tourists but also Chinese Americans.”

Chinatown’s transformation has come so quickly that not every visitor can tell the difference between the new and the old. Hidden on Mosco Street, for example, is a fried dumpling eatery that attracts more tourists and fewer locals than the historic building next door, Church of the Transfiguration. The eatery’s cooks speak Mandarin, not Cantonese, the neighborhood’s main dialect. The cooks are part of a new wave of immigrants who represent a different culture: one that is centered on achieving the American Dream at the sake of losing our heritage.

The cultural shift has left some Cantonese-speaking people, like myself, worried that the Chinatown of the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s will disappear within the next decade. Over the years, Mandarin has slowly replaced Cantonese as the popular dialect in Chinatown. Modern Shanghainese cuisines are replacing traditional Cantonese ones. Mandarin-speaking vendors are gradually creeping onto Mott Street, the area’s Cantonese hub, and selling the latest counterfeit goods.

Today’s Chinatown is a victim of a trendy and upscale contagion that has plagued other ethnic neighborhoods throughout New York City, like Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Many residents blame gentrification. “Rich [Chinese] folks are moving out of the ghetto, and white people are moving back,” Milton Tam, a longtime resident who lives on Confucius Plaza, explained.

But I am convinced that the change is also a product of the Chinese community’s own doing.

New York’s Chinatown is a reflection of modern China: a bustling place where one’s desire to make it big triumphs his or her need to maintain his culture. In that way, Chinatown has become China’s town.