I have never in the 16 years we’ve been married wished we had cable. I’m not a huge tv person although I’ve been known to binge watch a show or two during my winter hibernation. I’m looking at you, Gilmore Girls. I’m generally satisfied with reruns and streaming a week later or whenever shows come out. I have the attention span of a gerbil when it comes to television.
But I watched twitter explode last night, converged on the hashtag #FreshOfftheBoat about ABC network’s primetime show of the same name. I should be more specific. I watched the Asian American community tweeting. The show centers around 11-year-old Eddie Huang and his experiences moving from Chinatown in DC to a predominately white suburb in Florida. Think Wonder Years or Malcolm in the Middle with a Taiwanese kid.
It felt momentous and for the first time I wished I didn’t have to wait for Hulu to roll it out the next day. At first I tried to avoid tweets and spoilers but I finally gave in and was pleasantly surprised that the general consensus in the Asian American community was that ABC pulled it off. It’s not perfect but it’s good as Kathy Khang wrote.
I’ll admit I was VERY wary.
It’s been 20 years since a show highlighted an Asian American family.
I’ve seen Asian sidekicks before but this was different. This promised the centering would be on the Huang’s experiences. Hopefully the stereotypical roles assigned that either try to neuter any cultural references or pack them so full of racially-sensitive-colorblind-feel-good moments you feel like you’re watching an after school special on how to all just get along wouldn’t be present. I hoped the Huangs wouldn’t end up being a ridiculous caricature instead of characters with multidimensional aspects including but not limited to race.
Today, we put off our homeschool lessons and gathered around our television. I laughed out loud during several parts, was touched by others, and felt myself reminiscing my 90’s childhood. The music!
My mom and I passed knowing glances when Eddie demands “white people food,” so he wouldn’t get teased. She shared about some of her tiger mom experiences and my kids launched into a discussion of Spam and kim chee.
I flinched when Eddie is called a “chink” and was actually surprised they went there on network television. My daughter asked me what that meant and I told her about the times I was called that, what it meant, how it hurt. She says, but you’re not even Chinese. I’m not, I’m Japanese-Korean and Caucasian, but that didn’t stop people from calling me gook or chink or ching chong China girl.
But that’s the thing about the prejudices we hold, the ideas we form, the racism that separates us. We don’t see past any of that.
Even though my mom wasn’t an immigrant and was born in Hawaii, she’s still been congratulated on her english in the mainland. I’ve been asked where I’m really from. I’ve been asked if my son was really mine because he has his daddy’s blue eyes and blonde hair. I’ve been mistaken for the nanny.
I am glad my daughter didn’t know what that word meant. I think it’s funny that all the posh kid’s stores sell bento boxes and Costco carries seaweed and kim chee, although my son and I joke that it’s white people’s Kim chee and still opt for a trip to the Asian market in Portland. I think it’s funny to find hipsters munching on it with their cold brew coffee and I remember when I was so embarrassed as a child when my mom would make kim chee soup and stink up our house because my white friends might not let me belong.
I think we’re making progress but 20 years is a long time. While I was watching Friends throughout my late teens and early 20’s, there were almost no people of color and it was supposed to be set in Manhattan! I love Parenthood’s writing but for a show set in Berkeley and the Bay Area it was shockingly homogenous. Come on Bravermans, really?
It means something to see people that represent even a small part of my heritage, my culture, my experiences, my story.
It’s not everything. I had a white father. I did not have a tiger mom. We don’t speak Korean or Japanese. When I am around Koreans who’ve immigrated there are experiences I do not relate to personally. But that’s ok. We don’t all have to be the same to appreciate another culture, but we can’t ignore it either.
This show isn’t the entirety of my experiences and I can guarantee it’s not the entirety of anyone else’s either. It’s not supposed to be. What other show is the entirety of anyone’s experience? But it’s a glimpse and a hope. It’s a hope that these stories matter too. That white America isn’t the only America. That someday an Asian American will take home an Oscar for a stunning role. That 90% of the books reviewed by the New York Times won’t be written by Caucasian authors. That the church would start to look like the world it’s supposed to be reaching. That Christian women’s blogging wouldn’t keep up with the status quo, that we’d set a wider table. Because we’re out here. We’ve got stories to tell. Not the final chapter but a page in the anthology, or a show on at primetime.
When it was done, my mom said, “I wonder if it’ll get canceled? I don’t know if it’ll appeal to people who are white.” And I had to wonder. Will it? Will they think it’s funny? Or will they find they struggle to relate to the characters because they’re not centered? If they do, they might just have a taste of what the last 20 years have been like for the rest of non-white America.
I’d love to hear your thoughts? Did you watch?
I have so much more to say but I have to get back to homeschooling my kids. I know they wished there were more episodes so we could take the whole morning off. Talk to me.
P.S. I’m always open to discussion but I will delete you if you’re a hater, a troll, or just a plain old jerk because this is my space and I’m the boss of me and I don’t take that crap anymore. Thank you kindly.