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Following the 2021 release of her debut studio album, Sour, Olivia Rodrigo has established herself as one of the music industry’s youngest and brightest pop stars. With three Grammys to her name, a recently released sophomore album that’s topped the charts in 12 countries and an impending world tour set to begin in 2024, the Filipino American actress-singer continues to carve an impressive, history-making career at just 20 years old.
Since Rodrigo’s launch into superstardom, however, her ethnicity, or ethnic ambiguity in particular, has been the focus of much conversation. The Temecula, Calif., native was born to a German and Irish mom and a Filipino dad, making her mixed white and Asian, or “Wasian” — but despite being mixed race and warmly embraced by many Asian American creators online, others have criticized her for being “white passing.”
ok while y'all r being freaks abt olivia rodrigo white passing discourse all i'm gonna say is: being visibly mixed race does not make you white passing. it means you look PARTIALLY white. being visibly WASIAN doesn't mean you look visibly WHITE. it's just clear someone's mixed.
— cam ⋆ SPOOKY TIME!!!!! 🎃 (@buzzkillgirls) September 20, 2023
“I love this tweet that I saw that said, ‘Is Olivia Rodrigo “white passing” or have y’all just never seen a Wasian before?‘” Vergini said on Sept. 23. “I am half white and half Filipino, just like Olivia Rodrigo … and I feel like a lot of people don’t know what a Wasian looks like — that being half white, half Asian.”
Vergini revealed that the moment he saw Rodrigo, he “immediately” knew she was Wasian.
“[I] wasn’t sure what kind of Asian she was, but finding out she’s Filipino was like, ‘That makes perfect sense,‘” he said. “Filipino and white is such a common combination. I wasn’t surprised. She looks Filipino, even though she kind of does look white too. Hell, if you Google ‘Filipino’ you’ll get her. And if you Google ‘Asian’ you’ll also get her.”
TikTokers have taken to Vergini’s comments to reveal what they presumed to be Rodrigo’s ethnicity.
“I’m filipino and the first time i saw her i thought she was latina lol,” @paperpuso wrote.
@elizabethnicoleschwartz, on the other hand, replied, “First time I saw her I could tell that she was mixed as well. just didn’t know what sort of half Asian.”
“Olivia is not even slightly white passing,” @littlestqrlight argued. “People’s view of white passing is so distorted lol.”
In 2021, Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain, an associate professor in the department of sociology at Maynooth University in Ireland, penned a paper that delves into the prominence of the hashtag #Wasian on TikTok, as well as its reinforcement of multiraciality on the digital platform.
The hashtag #Wasian, which is typically used to describe those who are East Asian and white, has grown in popularity, while “hapa,” another word used to describe mixed Asian and white folks, has declined in use on social media, said King-O’Riain.
“We do see elements of the #wasian trend on TikTok as potential social media poetry (working through emotions, questioning and affirming identities, creating loving interest in others) but it is also important to be clear how the trend is shaped by the neoliberal capitalistic aspects of the app itself as well as how its users understand their content and connections to each other,” she wrote. “This curation of mixed-race identity enhances TikTok’s entertainment value but more importantly intensifies the emotional engagement with the platform and other users.”
Rodrigo actively posts on TikTok, where she has more than 17.6 million followers. A famous Wasian in her own right, Rodrigo’s prominence on the app lends to King-O’Riain’s argument that TikTok promotes increased social connection among other #wasians and “virally connects mixed-race Asian users across the world and increases the density of their mixed-race social networks.”
TikTok creator Mar Mar (@marmaryeesa2022), who has spoken at length about the increased need for Asian American representation in film and television, previously challenged claims that Rodrigo wasn’t “Asian enough.” She argued that subscribing to this belief invalidates her “entire existence by viewing race as something binary.”
“I find it incredibly stupid that people who didn’t know that Olivia Rodrigo was half Filipino [are] now thinking, ‘Oh, my God. She was white passing then,’ which tells me that you had a perceived image of what you thought an Asian American or a Filipino American woman should look like,” she said. “Who cares how white she looks to you. At the end of the day, her father is still Filipino, which makes her half Filipino.”
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