Steven Lim discusses Asian-American media representation for APIDA heritage month 

Matthew Bailey

Steven Lim, Buzzfeed Junior Video Producer and creator and host of the “Worth It” Buzzfeed video series on YouTube, discussed the “Impact of Asian-Americans in Media” Tuesday night in the Lory Student Center. 

His presentation was given for Asian Pacific Islander and Desi American Heritage Month at Colorado State University.

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Hosted by the Asian/Pacific American Cultural Center at the Longs Peak Room in the LSC, Lim began his hourlong discussion by focusing on his experiences growing up as an Asian-American kid in Ohio, specifically during his middle school years.

“I actually grew up in a school where I was the only Asian kid,” Lim said. “I was called ‘the Asian kid’ and, back in 2003, I took a lot of pride in that. I liked that that was my identity. It made me special, a little bit different.”

Lim explained during this time he did not have many Asian-identifying role models, with the exception of Jackie Chan. He said most Asian-identifying actors and actresses on TV expressed common Asian stereotypes.

Lim said he felt like he lost his identity as an Asian-American when a kid from China started attending his school.

“People couldn’t even differentiate between me and him,” Lim said. “Because we were both Asian, it was confusing to white people. They would call him Ian, they would call me Ian as well, and that was the beginning of my understanding of trying to figure out why representation matters.”

Lim blames the representation of Asian-Americans in the media as a huge reason why he would get confused with another Asian-identifying person.

“What I realized is that I’m not going to blame the people that I was with, I’m not blaming the other people in school for the fact that they couldn’t tell the difference between us,” Lim said. “I think there’s a bigger question, which is, what are they consuming in the media?”

Lim said he then discovered YouTube and all the Asian-American YouTubers who were creating unique content that was not defined by stereotypes.

He said his most influential Asian-American role models growing up were YouTubers such as Ryan Higa, KevJumba, David Choi, Arden Cho and others. Lim wanted to someday create his own unique content, too.

Lim went on to graduate with a degree in chemical engineering and ended up promoting Tide Pods for Tide, but disliked the job. His mom eventually motivated him to quit his job and create a YouTube channel where he posted one or two videos a week.

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“When I started YouTube, I made 100 videos, and they all were what I would consider to be failures,” Lim said. “The way that I mean failure here is the most positive one possible. I sat there and made 100 very bad videos, but got better slowly.”

After releasing a popular video, titled “Asian Parents React to I Love You,” Lim was contacted by Buzzfeed and was offered a job.

Lim initially did not accept the job offer, but eventually took the opportunity after his YouTube channel started declining in popularity.

Lim sought to create Asian-American content at Buzzfeed, but his Asian-American videos that he cared about were not popular with any audiences, and the videos he did not care about were very popular with audiences.

Eventually, Lim ran into the same problems he faced in middle school. In the comment sections of his videos, people would often compare Lim to other Asian-identifying Buzzfeed employees.

Lim also started receiving comments from people who looked up to him.

“They started to see me not as a stereotype, not as an ethnicity, not as a gender or a height, but they see me as a person, a human, myself,” Lim said. “That was really the moment when I decided I wanted to make food content.”

As an Asian-identifying person, Lim wanted to delve into a category of content that he explained is filled with many white content creators, such as Anthony Bourdain and Guy Fieri.

When Lim came up with the idea of the “Worth It” series, the response he got from producers was to cast white co-hosts, and this upset him to the point that he pulled back from making the show for months.

“You will see challenges in your workforce, in day-to-day life, where it’s not racism, it’s not a way to push people down, it’s just that that in a lot of ways, it’s just how society works,” Lim said. “It’s not a particular person’s fault, but it is the failure of a system.”

Lim was inspired by other Asian-identifying Buzzfeed employees, such as Eugene Lee Yang, to eventually go through with his idea for a series based on food content. He said in an industry where there are so many shows from white perspectives, he wanted to add his own unique perspective.

“Worth It” has gone on to be one of the most popular and successful series from Buzzfeed. According to a Buzzfeed article, “Worth It’ has accumulated over 360 million views and 2.5 billion minutes of watch time as of October of 2017.

Lim encourages people of color to create their own unique content, because he said that even if things don’t work out in the beginning, success comes in time.

“If you are a person of color, even if you are a white person, think the other way,” Lim said. “Think that if you want to cast a show or promote something, there is a lot of value in diversity.”

Collegian news reporter Matt Bailey can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @mattnes1999.