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Steven Yeun Remembers Feeling Like An Outsider As An Immigrant In Kindergarten

Even from an early age, actor Steven Yeun knew what it felt like to be an outsider ― a feeling so many Asian immigrants can relate to. 

In an interview with NPR’s Elise Hu, the “Burning” actor said he struggled with his identity even as a kindergartener, recalling the deep reluctance he had going to school as an outsider, moving from South Korea to Canada. 

“I was taken to kindergarten class and I went every single day kicking and screaming and wailing, crying down the hall, until they just put me in the room and they just sat me in the corner and put a bunch of Play-Doh in front of me in front of me to just help me deal,” the actor told the outlet. “I remember asking my dad the first English words that I learned … I said, ‘What does “don’t cry” mean?’”

The actor has since come a long way in his reclamation of his Asianness and, in recent years, has been a champion of Asian representation on-screen. He told the outlet that with the rise of movies with Asians at the forefront, younger generations will hopefully avoid the identity struggle he dealt with growing up.  

“Asian-Americans are starting to feel a power, or at least a safety, in being represented as an Asian person. And that’s great,” Yeun said. “Because it allows you to take away the trauma or maybe the negative implications of what it means to be an Asian person, so you can feel comfortable in your own skin.”

Last month, the actor spoke in detail of the “process” of achieving proper Asian representation in Hollywood to GQ. He said that currently, Asian people in the western entertainment industry are “still getting comfortable with ourselves and that’s okay.” 

“I know there was a lot of controversy over it, but when an Asian man got with a white woman onscreen it was awesome,” he told the outlet. “And then in the rearview you realize the only reason why that was awesome was because you were basing what’s cool or masculine on the acceptance of what other people told you it is.” 

Being “comfortable with ourselves” also means embracing our own brand of masculinity, rather adhere to Western masculinity standards. 

“That’s the place I think we’re evolving from, just being comfortable with ourselves. Who says an Asian man is not sexy?” he said. “They might not be six foot, blond, blue eyed. But we got our shit. We got our own style. Sexy is just a way of being, and a comfort in ourselves.”

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