facebook-logoYou know you had one. It’s okay to admit it. At one point, we all had one. AzNpLaYeR, KpNaMja, PiNoYpRiNcEsS, ViEtSwEeTi: Instant Messenger screen names that compressed our ethnic identities into aliases of alternating capital and lower case letters. This period known as the “AznPride” sensation, predicated what would soon transform our entire platform of social communication.

While the AOL days may seem like a distant past, I still remember the ethnic specific chat rooms, and at thirteen, these were my first experiences positively socializing about my race. Who could forget the infamous “Got Rice?” song, or the various “AzN PrYdE” cartoon caricatures of women with shoes as big as their head and men with the long bang and undercut hairstyle. Looking back on it now, it feels like a brief stint of immaturity, but it was also symbolic of a generation creating a space for identity.

Traditionally, APIAs have been denied social identity by conventional media. Our faces don’t grace the covers of the best selling magazines. We don’t see ourselves in the summer blockbusters or prime time television. While we’re expected to excel academically and socially, we’re left directionless. Perhaps that is why a recent study by eMarketer classified APIAs as the highest ranking ethnic group in the US connected to the information superhighway. This would explain the birth of the various networking sites targeted, intentionally or unintentionally, towards APIAs.

From Asian Avenue to Apartment 107, to Xanga to Friendster, to Myspace and now to Facebook, APIAs have always convened on some online medium of social networking. But these primarily “Asian sites” haven’t seemed to distinguish themselves from the seeming natural tendency towards human narcissism.

“Sometimes I feel like it (Facebook) is a popularity contest,” says Julie Chen, a Chinese-American undergraduate student at NYU whom I met in Argentina. “People just want to post their pictures, ‘outfriend’ you or they always want to know what you’re doing.”

In the current era of communication, telling someone “how you’ve been” is a Twitter update, and what was once a scheduled face-to-face meeting of “catching up” can now be summarized in a 20 second keystroke. I began to wonder if we’ve lost something in communication, and if human interaction has been replaced by something more mechanical and artificial.

“Not so much between close friends,” answers the NYU student. “I still meet in person with my friends, but now I know that some guy in my high school geometry class just had a kid. I wouldn’t call them, but I might comment a ‘congrats’. I couldn’t do that before.”

Then perhaps online social networking has simply expanded our capacity to maintain connections with those we normally couldn’t. Justine, a British-Indian from the UK and avid Facebook user, expressed similar sentiments.

“Facebook is convenient because it’s a place where everyone comes together,” explains the British national. “It’s easy to keep in touch.”

And in thinking about it, I have reconnected with old friends and managed to maintain the various relationships with people of different nations and of all races. Though APIA usage has been reportedly rising in Facebook, using the Internet to keep in touch is something everyone does.

“Nowadays I don’t think it’s necessarily an ‘Asian thing’,” says Michelle Wong, a UW pharmacy student. “I feel that everyone is on Facebook. Everyone uses it for the same reason; everyone is connected.” A stark contrast to how I remember these types of sites being for APIAs.

Sometimes I look back and ask myself if the “AsianPride” days have died out or if it’s just me that has grown up. Sometimes I wonder if Justine experienced the same thing in the UK or if Julie perceives the APIA experience similarly on the East Coast. Well, I could probably ask them both after I send them this article on Facebook..

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