DARE TO ASK: Distinguishing traits of Asian subgroups?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
How do you differentiate between different Asians, i.e. Korean, Japanese,
Filipino, Vietnamese, etc.?
Rachel, 36, white, Canada
Good luck. I'm Asian and I can barely tell. What complicates matters is
intermarriage between different ethnicities. Also, the Chinese have migrated
throughout history to many parts of Asia, giving their genetic material to other
Siggy, Newport Beach, Calif.
Generally people from mainland China or Korea tend to be a little taller,
have the stereotypical "squinty" Asian eyes and are fairer. Southern Asians are
shorter, darker-skinned and have larger, round eyes. Vietnamese people tend to
be pretty fair, with large eyes, but they tend to be quite small on average, and
Japanese people are also fairly short and tend to be fairer, with squinty eyes.
J., 21, Asian, Canada
Environment plays a big part, too. For example, Koreans or Chinese who were
born or raised in Japan look very Japanese, and the ethnic Japanese who were
left in China as infants after World War II look very Chinese. And
Japanese-Americans, especially third- or fourth-generation, look different from
Japanese people in Japan because they have grown up speaking English, smiling
and laughing like Americans, and this shows in their facial expressions and
David, 35, Eurasian, Tokyo
Try as we did to sweet-talk UCLA anthropologist Kyeyoung Park into making
massive generalizations about physical differences among Asian subgroups, we
only got a few.
"It's not easy to tell differences among Asians," she said. "Race is not
scientifically valid, and there's so much overlap that I can't really generalize
with much accuracy."
-- Vietnamese-Americans do tend to be somewhat taller than their counterparts
in Vietnam, which Park theorizes might be from a better diet in the U.S.
-- Some Koreans and Chinese can have rounder faces than other Asians.
-- Southern Chinese are shorter and thinner; northern Chinese are taller, as
While physiological differences can be hard to pin down, differences in
appearance that occur because of culture, economics or migration are easier to
pick out, she said.
For example, the Japanese were among the first Asians to become more affluent
and take on Western styles, and it showed in their hair, makeup, style of dress
and more. Then Koreans, who were under Japanese colonial rule from 1910-1945,
came into their own and began to catch up.
Now the trend is to retain ethnicity and not go for Westernization, Park
"Even in plastic surgery, in the past they would ask doctors to make them
look like a Western model. But now patients are asking to keep their look, not
having eyelid surgery, or if they have their nose done, they don't want a 'high'
nose anymore - they just want to improve it."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information. For Dare to Ask podcasts, go to
Jacksonville.com keyword: milano.