How fetishization impacts the Asian community


Racial fetishization affects many people of color, including people within Asian communities. 

Cherry Tran

Battling yellow fever isn’t always about a viral infection — sometimes, it’s battling a preference for Asians. 

Asian fetishization, dubbed as “yellow fever,” describes the phenomenon of the sexual preference for Asian men or women. It may seem harmless for many people, but the phenomenon holds history in the oppression of Asian people and the reality it exhibits now. 

Asian students at Iowa State who were on the receiving line of being fetishized describe it as uncomfortable and potentially problematic.   

“I have the Cambodian flag in my bio, and most people don’t know where it is; they just don’t know where Cambodia is at,” said Sokpearrey Thim, a sophomore in kinesiology and health. “… The moment I tell them I’m Asian, they’re like, ‘Oh, I like Asians,’ or ‘Oh, you’re a thick Asian.’ … I just thought it was dumb.”   

She continued to say it’s dangerous when people possess a notion of how Asian people are or how they act, but when they don’t fit into those stereotypes, people are disappointed.

“It’s just kind of hateful and disgusting,” Thim said. 

Chi Luong, a sophomore in accounting, spoke about why fetishization of Asian people may be common in the U.S.

“I’d feel uncomfortable about it, and I honestly wouldn’t know how to react,” Luong said. “… We’re seen as exotic and foreign, and we’re not really the norm in America, so that might be why we’re fetishized.” 

For some students, they worry their preference for Asians may seem like a fetish. 

“I’ve just always had a preference for Asians,” said Audrey Eaton, a sophomore in apparel, merchandising and design. “… I’m not sure [if that’s fetishization] because it’s not like I sexualize it, I think it’s just because I’m attracted to them.”

The sexualization and fetishization of Asians dates back years into history, especially for Asian women. 

The phenomenon marks its beginnings during Asian immigration in the U.S and U.S. military involvement in Far East Asian countries. The images of Asian women can be fit into two stereotypes: the alluring and seductive or the docile and vulnerable one, according to Maggie Chang, the author of “Made in the USA: Rewriting Images of the Asian Fetish.”

“The fetish comes from East Asians because I feel like from World War II … when soldiers would … get with [Asian] women because they feel like they could and maybe it trickles down through generations,” Thim said. “They have that notion of how Asian women are.”

As the fetishization of Asians becomes more mainstream and widespread, it not only raises oppression in terms of racism but also sexism, according to Chang. 

“I think it’s always been rooted in history, but it’s a lot more common now, now that globalization happened,” Luong said. “… People are now able to see different parts of the world, the culture and aesthetics.”  

The advancement of fetishizing Asians can be attributed to the popularity of Asian cultures and entertainment, including Anime or K-pop, as many students pointed out. 

Eaton said people see Asians and automatically think they look like a Korean pop star or an Anime character, but having those already-formulated views could raise some problems. 

“There’s always lines that you need to watch,” Eaton said. “… People treat [Asians] way differently now just because of the entertainment they give out.”

The fetishization of Asians may be an uncomfortable subject for many people, but students agreed it’s important to challenge the phenomenon as it erases the oppression Asians endured throughout history and also fuels Asian stereotypes. 

“It kind of puts [Asians] in a specific group when they should just be treated equally, rather than being picked or chosen because of the look that they have or, specifically, their ethnicity,” Luong said.