While I was trying to carry out the necessities of the daily parenting routine, my four-year old son grabbed my face to stop me in my tracks.
He eyeballed me and said “Mum repeat after me. “Fay – ke – Luh – uve”. He then started to break down syllable by syllable how to rap in Korean based on what he learned from world-wide K-Pop sensation, BTS and their song “Fake Love”. Here we were in the bathroom, him staring into the windows of my soul, and declaring with such confidence that he “knew” how to speak Korean. Without a shadow of a doubt. Upon completion of an absolutely incoherent sentence of gibberish, he told me “now you can teach Daddy.”
He then glanced over to look at his reflection in the mirror, grinned and parted his hair to the left with a splash of water. The icing on the cake was the Korean love heart that he formed with his thumb and finger, with such intention as if his life purpose was to spread love to the world.
I managed to sneak a cheeky photo as he held his perfectly choreographed pose and posted it on social media. As the reactions started rolling in, I remembered when we first discovered BTS. I had been incredibly curious about who this 7-man K-pop band were and questioned if they really needed more than a volleyball team’s worth of members??
Their dancing caught my eye with its dynamism and its synchronisation (see dance practice video below), plus their melodies and beats were incredibly catchy. But it was their lyrics (which I had to translate) that really brought the feel-good factor. BTS had a positive message to share with the world; to “Love Yourself”. Not in narcissistic self-indulgence, but more in terms of self-acceptance, emotional resilience and just being content with who you are. Their songs are about “following dreams, challenging norms, and staying true to yourself in the face of uncertainty” and have often used their platform to raise awareness about mental health.
On top of this, it’s hard to dismiss them as just another boy band after they were invited to address the United Nations “urging young people to find their voice.”
Oh, and they were on the cover of some magazine called “Time”.
Here is my son, looking up to this band…that somehow look like him too.
Some may not understand the significance of this, but as someone who grew up with little to no positive Asian role models in the public sphere, it is not lost on me. I only recall two Asians in New Zealand TV as a kid, (and I’m thankful that we at least had two). Dr Grace Kwan on "Shortland Street", and Raybon Kan the comedian. I grew up feeling like Asians were the “other, and watching TV reinforced this.
Even kids’ toys didn’t have representation. Back in the 80's “My Child” dolls were all the rage, very much like “Cabbage Patch Kids”. My mum was on the hunt through all the department stores, to find a doll that looked like me. Amongst a sea of dolls of every variation of eye and hair colour, they only came in four different skin tones: “American Pale, Australian/ European, African American and Hispanic”. There just simply were no Asian dolls. Mum disappointedly apologised to me, and we settled on a blue-eyed, curly pigtailed blonde who I had to use to project myself onto. Deep down, it added to my world view that it wasn’t normal to be Asian. You can read in my blog “You’re Not Like Other Asians” that I grew up being incredibly resentful that I was Chinese. I penned at the end of that blog, that I’d hoped my son did not grow up with the same insecurities I did. I definitely see a difference in the confidence of my son compared to my younger self as well as a change in representation in media. However, children still need more role models that look like them or role models that embrace their natural ethnic looks.
Fortunately, Master 4.5 is uber confident. He doesn’t see himself as an outsider or being different. He is just him, which makes me incredibly happy. I hope we can assist him as parents to grow in his confidence.
So, if he wants to join the “ARMY” and become a die-hard BTS fan, I’m all for it
Sometimes while he is jiggling around in front of the mirror trying to mimic BTS poses, he asks me if he looks like RM (Kim Nam-Joon, leader of BTS). I just laugh.
But I laughed harder when I stumbled across him role-playing with his toys. He had laid out three super heroes and four ninja turtles on the floor.
“What are you playing?”
“Hawkeye, The Flash and The Hulk are Suga, RM and J-Hope (the rappers) and Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael are Jungkook, Jin, Jimin and V (the singers). They are playing BTS.”