A new show coming to ABC, Fresh Off the Boat, is based on Chef Eddie Huang’s memoirs as a Taiwanese kid growing up in Orlando, Florida. As you can guess by the show title, the premise revolves around the process of reconciling Asian identity to American culture with a comedic twist. Here are four things I think are important to keep in mind when watching the show. But first, let me explain why I’m writing this.
Fresh Off the Boat focuses on and portrays a specific group of people (i.e. Asian American immigrants) and being myself a part of that group, I feel I need to say my two cents.
First, this show undoubtedly will have stereotypes about Asian immigrants embedded subtly and not so subtly into the dialogue, characters, and plot of the show. The whole definition of a stereotype revolves around fixed and oversimplified beliefs that are NOT always true; the term is also closely related to the notion of stigma.
Second, as funny as the show may be and as innocent the intentions, humour derived from racism is not a joke. Yes, Eddie Huang was ostracized in school because of the exotic food he brought for lunch one time and his subsequent decision to ask his mother to pack him a more “white” lunch is funny. But truth be told, that intolerance and that insecurity is something that has a very real impact on the lives of young children in North American society today.
Third, Fresh Off the Boat is a TV show. In other words, things are extremely dramatized. No matter if this is based off the memoirs of a real person, there are some things called ratings that need to be contended with. How do TV shows get high ratings? Most often by being as over the top as possible.
Fourth, this show is Eddie Huang’s memoirs. Not the memoirs of most or even some Asian American families all across North America. Ergo, you cannot automatically apply or even relate this man’s past to another man’s past who is just similar in appearance and accent. It doesn’t work that way.
While many of these points may have seemed like common sense, television and media have a power to shape perspectives without conscious awareness of it. By actively thinking about the stereotypes presented as just that, stereotypes, the show can be entertaining and have a positive impact. I say this with sincerity; I hope you enjoy the show.