Rethinking the Hyphenated Identity in U.S Politics: The Case of Jungle Asians VS Fancy Asians

Curator's Note

We are facing with the common knowledge on how the hyphenated identity in the U.S. politics does not do any justice and tends to generate stereotypes; it is interesting to see how the particular hyphenated identity people try to create the distinction inside their own group. One intriguing case is the term of Jungle Asians versus Fancy Asians that have been circulating in the Asian-American community. Asian-American comedian Ali Wong made this term popular in her show “Baby Cobra” (Netflix, 2016). Fancy Asian refers to countries that more “developed,” “modern,” and, referring to Wong’s words, “host fancy events such as the Olympics.” Jungle Asian, on the other hand, “host disease.” Fancy Asians also refer to the geographical position as one of the signifiers to address Asian-American who come from East Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, and China. Jungle Asians refer to those who originated from Southeast Asian countries: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Maritime Asia such as Filipina, Malaysia, or Indonesia. Besides the geographical and developmental facts, both terms tie closely to physical conditions such as skin colors.


There are many aspects to consider while studying the term jungle vs. fancy. The complexity is not only related to where are those people originally come from but also how they play a different role in U.S. politics as well as the identity they try to secure among the people of color and within the Asian-American community. It is a unique phenomenon that might only occur in the U.S. politics of citizenship, ethnicity, and race. If in the older generation, this kind of labeling is unidentified, or in other words, unquestioned, the younger generation of Asian-American starts to wonder about how and why this kind of stereotyping arise. For example, Off the Great Wall YouTube channel tries to make sense of the term in one of their videos, “Jungle Asians VS Fancy Asians.” The fact that Ali Wong, the one who “invent” the term, used it the first time as a joke, complicates the problem even more. However, like any other problem with racial prejudice, stereotyping, labeling, and the question of “origin,” it might be worth to study it closely to understand and anticipate what this term means in the US politics of citizenship.

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