Few Hong Kongers have shown awareness online about Pepe’s sinister side. There has been little discussion about what symbolism he carries, and in the few occasions it has been pointed out, it has mostly been met with a shrug.

To Hong Kongers, he is just one of them. A sticker pack for messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp depict Pepe wearing the protesters’ signature yellow helmet, surrounded by tear gas or holding antigovernment signs. He has also been transformed into a first aid worker and a journalist holding an iPhone.

Emily Yueng, 20, said she had no idea about Pepe’s checkered past. After she learned, she wondered if maybe she and other protesters ought to stop handing out posters with his image at the airport.

“But still, different countries have very different cultures,” she said. “Symbols and colors that mean something in one culture can mean something completely different in another culture, so I think if Americans are really offended by this, we should explain to them what it means to us.”