A recent print edition of La Stampa, a reputable Italian newspaper, featured a photo of a different Asian man in an article celebrating the translated edition of Ocean Vuong‘s critically acclaimed second poetry collection Time is a Mother. The man in the photo dons glasses and poses before a dark blue ocean background.

The 34-year-old queer Vietnamese-American writer, posted a picture of the newspaper on his Instagram, with the hashtag #wedontalllookthesame and a rather non-confrontational caption.

“While I’m deeply touched that the Italian translation of Time Is A Mother got such wonderful coverage at La Stampa, it appears this poor random Asian man on the cover has been forced to be the embodiment of heavily-enjambed poems on modern sadness and ontological degradation,” Vuong wrote, labeling the mistake “awkward.” “No light burden I’m sure. If you see him out there, please send him my sincerest apologies. 😅”

The comment section has since flooded with rage and disappointment, sparking a conversation on Asian representation in media and the racial microaggressions and misunderstandings confronting minority groups in white male-dominated industries.


One user, @sondrasunyoga, tagged La Stampa and questioned if the same situation would happen with a feature of a white man, while others commented with eye-roll emojis and expressed embarrassment on behalf of the publication. @cherreadssharereads drew attention to the “same same syndrome,” referencing the dangerous and longstanding stereotype that it is difficult to differentiate Asians based on physical appearance.

Vuong tagged the photographer in the post, but their account handle @gius.seppe_leo appears to have since been deleted.

The man in the photo, who one commenter identified to be artist Bao Vuong, dons glasses and poses before a dark ocean background. Bao recently hosted an art exhibition in France called “Horizons,” which frequently used the sea as a poetic reference to the trauma, stories and hidden moments of light that came with his family’s exile from Vietnam. The article has since been updated to include an identification of the man featured in the photo. 

This post was updated on 2/5/23.

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