Analyzing self-imposed stereotypes of the Vietnamese Diaspora


Hannah Luu

The appropriated aesthetics of the ABG and Kevin Nguyen stereotypes are essentially watered down versions of preexisting subcultures, particularly subcultures that were formed by Black Americans. The makeup styles, tattoos, and opulent gold jewelry are just some aspects of these aesthetics that derive from Black culture.

Kaitlyn Luu, Staff Reporter

In 2023, just about every Asian American under the age of 30 has probably heard the term ‘Asian baby girl’ or its acronym ‘ABG’ in reference to a hot East or Southeast Asian girl — typically one from SoCal who wears heavy makeup and risque clothing and enjoys drinking boba, listening to K-pop, and getting tattoos for fun. You could spot her sporting an ashy blonde balayage and long acrylic nails at a Keshi concert or hanging out at a Korean BBQ place having a good time and letting loose. Antithetical to the uptight, Asian nerd who spends her Friday nights cooped up in her bedroom studying for exams instead of going out partying, the ABG subverts the model minority i.e. the studious, compliant young Asian woman who climbs the socioeconomic ladder and achieves the American Dream through hard work and dedication to making a better life for herself. 

The term became popularized by the Facebook group ‘Subtle Asian Traits’ in 2018 where young people from the Asian diaspora shared memes about their culture or heritage and found community in their similar experiences and stories. It started out as a place for a small group of Asian students from Melbourne to talk about the things they had in common with each other, but then the page blew up and turned into a worldwide network where people all over were able to connect with others who had things in common with them. 

The origins of the ABG go back further prior to the age of the internet to the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the beginning, ABG was used as a pejorative to refer to Southeast Asian American women who were gang affiliated, partook in illegal activities, and came from low income refugee or immigrant families. 

Many East Asians have co-opted the reconfigured term which has caused a lot of tension within the Asian diaspora because of the very nuanced implications of the income disparity between East Asians and Southeast Asians as well as the underrepresentation and mistreatment of the latter group. 

The general consensus of the Southeast Asian community seems to be that the bleach blonde, false eyelash, bodycon dress, dragon tattoo, party girl rendition of the ABG should not be a thing. For one, it completely disregards the historical application of the term and how it was used in a divisive way for the successful, ‘Fancy Asians’ to distance themselves from the poorer ‘Jungle Asians.’ Secondly and less importantly, usually benign stereotypes like the neo-ABG can sometimes be harmful because they put Asians in a box and confine them to a certain set of traits or attitudes that may not align with their self-perception. 

Another internet phenomenon revolving around stereotypes of Southeast Asian youth that originated from ‘Subtle Asian Traits’ is the Kevin Nguyen meme. Unlike the ABG, being called a Kevin Nguyen has more of a derisive undertone to denote a Vietnamese boy who you typically see decked in a red and black tartan flannel, a gold chain necklace, and a sleeve of tattoos. He’s known to be somewhat of a player, a little bit toxic, and in the same vein as his female counterpart, a total party animal. Although he talks using a blaccent, he’s never actually stepped foot in the hood, having lived in a suburb in Orange County his whole life. For fun he likes to do hard drugs, go to raves, and of course, drink boba. 

I don’t think any of the memes and lighthearted jokes that were shared on ‘Subtle Asian Traits’ had malicious intent behind them. However, I take issue with the fact that to combat the Asian nerd stereotype, we have only created new stereotypes to label ourselves with instead of actually working to deconstruct the preconceived notions people have about how we act, how we talk, what we enjoy doing, etc. I just don’t see how creating a foil to the model minority is going to reverse the misjudgements that people have about Asians or get rid of those prejudices at all.

The ABG and Kevin Nguyen stereotypes were funny back when they first popped up, but now they’ve grown stale and banal and a little bit cringe. The question I wish to put forth for my fellow Asians is when are we going to stop embracing stereotypes and start pushing back against them? 

Personally, I’m ready to talk about the prevalence of anti-blackness, colorism, homophobia, sexism and general bigotry that our community espouses in order to assimilate in White America. I’m ready to address uncomfortable problems in our community instead of just making exhausted self-deprecating jokes and sweeping things under the rug.