Now You Know
For my Asian American Studies class, Asian Pop Culture, one of the requirements of the class is to watch a tv-series: Fresh Off the Boat. Although I had been watching the much-anticipated show since its February 2015 premiere, it was refreshing to rewatch the sitcom among the mass of texts, articles, scholar journals and lectures I’ve been swamped with from my other classes. Nonetheless, re-watching Season 1 of FOB has been a whirlwind of Asian pride, disappointment, and everything in between.
Right from the get-go, the story’s plotline centers around a long-overdue thematic sequence of the assimilationist experience from the Asian American immigrant point-of-view. Based on Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang, the story is based in the mid-90s Orlando white suburbia and is riddled with many issues that conflict with the traditions of the Asian identity. Thoughout Season 1, I felt conflicted with the ongoing dynamic of assimilation and the debate of perpetuating stereotypes versus personal pride with one’s API identity.
“If you were an outsider, hip hop was your anthem” — Eddie Huang
One of the overarching themes within this show is a uniqueness of Eddie Huang’s assimilation experience. In the first episode, Eddie’s efforts to find a spot to eat in the cafeteria leads to him getting invited to sit with a table of white students. His access into the table: a mutual interest over a black rapper. Even Walter, the only black kid in the show, expresses his astonishment about the situation, saying, “Look, a white dude and an asian dude bonding over a black dude” (S1E1). Interestingly enough, although Eddie Huang tries to reject white culture by latching onto black culture, he inevitably finds his outlet to fit in by discussing his interest in black culture with white students!
However, while bonding over their favorite rapper, he is suddenly turned away because of his lunch, revealing a poignantly-smelling meal that the kids around the table grimace at with disgust.
Having gone through a similar experience, this is one of the first times Eddie feels alienated because of his culture, at which he later on pleads to his parents for a more “Americanized” meal: Lunchables. The desire to be accepted into society demonstrates the dynamics of assimilation and the push and pull of the dominant culture. Eddie’s particular experience mirrors that of the assimilationist experience in that no matter how hard you try to be mainstream (in his case, through talking about rappers), there are always certain elements that will make you stand out (i.e. bringing homemade Chinese food to school).
Yet despite the differences that sets Eddie apart from the rest of this kids, it is the uniqueness of his assimilation experience into society that reinforces his API identity. Starting my first week of school, I had gotten into a fight with a kid because he had started mocking my accent. Just like Eddie, however, when my parents were called in to discuss the matter with the principal, and they defended me in every way possible. Not only were they proud of me, but they also acknnowledged my struggle of fitting in because they too as immigrants faced the same discrimination from their co-workers.
All in all, there is much to write about this article. I am very confident that FOB is a great first step to introducing the complexity of the immigrant experience, an unprecedented approach to tackle sweeping generalizations that white culture has for so long tried to narrate for us.