An ABC’s Perspective on Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat
Last year, I took my Twinkie life for a spin, and I didn’t take it for a spin on the wild side, I took it for a spin on the FOBby side. I started collecting Abercrombie clothes (a brand I haven’t been a fan of for well over a decade), I started going to Asian meet up groups, I started a media company based on FOBby interests and I even started… learning Chinese. I did all of this to become as much of a FOB as possible. This was my attempt to embrace an irony that hipsters were light-years away from understanding. Don’t know what a FOB is? Well, it’s a three letter acronym that stands for fresh (F) off (O) the boat (b), and now Asian American restaurateur, chef, food personality and former lawyer Eddie Huang is about to help Americans understanding what it was like growing up as a FOB in his new ABC show, Fresh Off the Boat.
Now, you might have been confused by the word “Twinkie” in the first sentence of the last paragraph, so please allow me to clarify. If you’re thinking of Papaya King’s fried Twinkies then you’ve missed my reference. A Twinkie is similar to the famous snack, but it’s also used to describe an individual who is yellow (Asian) on the outside, and white (as in the race) on the inside. Alright, now that we’re clear on terms, it’s note time. If you’re not Asian, neither using the word Twinkie nor FOB is appropriate. Good. With that being said, both words have been subjected to debate within the Asian American community. And how do I know this? Well, at a social function this past year, I brought up the word during a conversation with a couple of other fellow ABCs (American born Chinese). Man, the drinks sure felt like they had been watered down.
“You can’t go around telling people you’re trying to be a big FOB,” one of the ABCs said to me. I replied, “why not?” “It’s rude man, and you have no right to since you’re a Twink,” he retorted. Me? No right? I went home that night, and had a long think about what had been said to me. I came to the conclusion that the word, FOB, was inherently negative – according to the general (Asian American) public. That’s when I started thinking how silly it was for a term that I associated with all things kawaii to be a term that was used to ridicule Asian Americans. Somehow, after a night filled with deep thoughts about the topics people avoid talking about during dinnertime, I came to a revelation – mainstream media has never given Asian Americans a chance to voice their identities as a community.
I grew up watching everything from Boy Meets World to Moesha (I was forced to watch this, don’t judge), and not once was there a show dedicated to showing how Asian Americans lived their lives. Come on America, how can we be American if we don’t account for the stories of a whole population segment? This is why when I heard about a show called Fresh Off the Boat, I felt like the next generation of Asian Americans would finally get a chance to witness a change I’ve only been able to imagine.
According to ABC’s official description of the show, Fresh Off the Boat takes place in the 1990s in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida after 12 year old Eddie moves there from D.C.’s Chinatown with his parents – it’s culture shock at its finest. Preview clips of Fresh Off the Boat show some hilarious clips along with an overview of the cast which includes Randall Park as Louis Huang, Constance Wu as Jessica Huang, Ian Chen as Evan Huang, Forrest Wheeler as Emery Huang, Hudson Yang as Eddie Huang, and Lucille Soong as Grandma Huang. While media outlets such as Vox have claimed that the show will be a racial milestone for Asian Americans, accounts have been given showing that race will be a part of the battle for a positive and non-stereotypical view of Asian Americans.
At a panel where race, and race-based questions were specifically asked to be avoided, unprofessional critics (aka bros in disguise) were still showcasing predictable ignorance in the form of questions such as, “will we be seeing fortune cookies?,” and “I love the Asian culture. And I was just talking about the chopsticks. And I just love all that. Will I get to see that? Or will it be more Americanized.”¹ All this demonstrates that Fresh Off the Boat will not only need to focus on entertaining viewers, but show the nation how Asian Americans are capable of withstanding racism and all the baggage that goes along with it.
What more can I say, I’m anticipating the premiere of Fresh Off the Boat on February 10, 2015 just as much as the next Asian American. Yet, I also realize that each viewer of the show holds different expectations. My hopes are that this show will be that milestone Asian Americans need in the U.S. while also delivering unforgettable comedy. Further away from the surface, I hope that the show will also rebrand what being fresh off the boat means to Asian Americans. It doesn’t have to be negative – none of these stereotypes do. It’s what people change out of what has been perceived as negative that impacts the future. That’s #FOBLife
¹ James Hibberd, “ABC’s ‘Fresh off the Boat’ panel gets rather awkward”, Entertainment Weekly (January 14, 2015)