I've written a bunch here before about the fact that I'm Taiwanese, so the fact that this show is not just about an Asian family, but a specifically Tawiwanese family makes it all the more special to me. It's a show centered not just around an Asian-American family, but a specifically Asian-American point of view. The kids are still unformed, I think. Eddie Huang mostly tries to be a gangster. He has younger brothers that he occasionally conflicts with. Their grandmother shows up every once in a while to drop a line in Chinese (It's sometimes hard to understand her Mandarin, and she should be speaking in Taiwanese anyway.) The parents are really where the show shines.
It's easy to dismiss Jessica as a Tiger Mom. She's fierce and unrelenting and freaks out about her kids' grades, but the show goes out of its way to humanize her, so you can see the specific anxieties that drive her behavior. Most shows with Asian parents like that (and yes, Glee, I'm looking at you) don't or can't or won't go to that length to talk about why certain kinds of Asian parents are the way they are. That specificity is important. That subjectivity is something we, as Asian-Americans, don't often get. And you have no idea how many times I've had that exact same conversation with my dad about how my mom is tough on me because she really cares about me.
I like how different the parents are. That's the other thing. So often Asian parents are presented as one unit, dour-faced, saying the same things at different times. Do your homework. You're not allowed to have fun/do art/hang out with friends. Louis and Jessica have arguments about how best to raise their kids. They disagree how to treat the people they meet and talk to and how best to survive in America. They get to be individual people with individual perspectives. It's so refreshing to see it reflected here.
And another thing, growing up Asian in America, you get so few choices and options for identification. You get to be full-Asian, a culture that's almost as alien to you as it is for the other American kids around you (as much as I love A:tLA and co, it fits into this category), or you can be white-American, fully assimilated into a culture that doesn't know how to see or talk about you. Your cousins think you're weird and don't know how to talk right. Try-hard neighboring white people comment on your tan.
Even as there's a rise of Asian-American actors on TV (John Cho, ilu), I think there's a lot of shows that fail to talk about what it means, specifically, to be Asian. They tend to write the characters the way they'd write white characters, and a lot of the specific racial background of the characters gets muddled, confused, fucked up. Even Elementary, which gave us an excellent female Watson, doesn't know how to talk about Joan's race.
Fresh Off the Boat talks about that. It confronts it head-on. I've gotten that comment about my English multiple times growing up. Well, actually, I got the far more bizarre and fucked up 'Do you speak English?' line several times, including as an adult. I could always tell who the telemarketers were when they called our house because they'd butcher my parents' full names or ask for 'Mr. [mom's last name]' (and it's Dr. [mom's last name], fuckhead).
(Sidebar: I wondered, while watching the show, whether or not Eddie Huang's mother actually took on the last name 'Huang' or if it was a TV translation thing or what. It's not traditional for wives to take their husband's family name in Chinese culture, so it was a little strange to see it here.)
I'm definitely hoping for more from this show, overall. There are parts of it that are still shaky, that could be better. The jokes don't always land. Some stuff goes a little too broad. There's a huge dearth of significant female characters outside of Jessica. But I have hope for this show. It's sharp. It's funny. And it's nice, seeing some parts of myself reflected back at me. It's so unfortunately rare.
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