By Taylor Galla '18
Fresh Off the Boat, ABC’s newest sitcom, is the first network television show about Asians in 20 years. Centered on Eddie Huang and his family, who recently moved from Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown to a predominantly white neighborhood in Florida, the show tackles issues of race and culture with funny and smart dialogue and relatable characters.
The show plays with relatable familial dynamics and racial stereotypes within the Huang family’s storyline. There are several moments that capture this in an effective and intriguing way. These moments are perfect examples of what I believe is the show’s ultimate goal: to evoke profound messages regarding racial dynamics in the U.S. through a lens that is not discussed enough — the Asian-American experience.
The oldest son, Eddie, is in a rebellious phase: not as attached to his parents as his younger brothers Emory and Evan, and also not as attached to their culture as his mother would like him to be.
The first episode consists of Eddie starting at a new school and being made fun of because of the Chinese food his mom packs him for lunch. This bullying makes it difficult for Eddie to make friends with the predominantly white student body.
Eddie returns home and tells his mom he needs “white people lunch” in order to fit in. After showing up to school with lunchables, Eddie and an African American student get in a fight and the school only berates Eddie for the incident. Eddie’s parents are frustrated with the lack of discipline for the other kid and decide to homeschool Eddie and his brothers.
This moment in the principal’s office is significant to the show and its many messages, as it points to the predominantly white school’s disappointing lack of ability to handle racial tensions between minority groups within the student body. The lack of understanding and care put towards the two children in this circumstance points to very key weaknesses in American society’s ability to handle race. The show brings to light the flawed idea that America consists of whites and non-whites only, an idea that ignores the complexities and nuances among racial minorities.
The genius of this show is that it has this discussion under the cover of quick and comical dialogue that brings the viewer into difficult and complex thoughts regarding the topics they are discussing in a gentle and amicable way. Viewers begin to think about these topics and examine stereotypes and racial dynamics, while also being entertained. This entertainment aspect of the show makes the material much easier to digest.
Another notable moment occurs at the father, Louis’, place of business. The whole reason the family moved to Florida was so the father could own his own restaurant. Cattleman’s Ranch Steakhouse is a western themed restaurant that epitomized the American cowboy stereotype in the eyes of Louis.
At the start of the first episode, business at the restaurant is slow and Louis becomes frustrated and stressed because his whole family has sacrificed in order for him to be able to take up this opportunity. He concludes that he needs a white face to host the restaurant in order to appeal to his target customer base of Caucasians. The “whiteness” of the restaurant and the demographic he is aiming at conflicts with his own race, putting him in a situation where others’ conception of his race is hurting his business.
The fact that he is willing to accept this fact and adapt to it in order to achieve the ideal “American Dream” success story that he explicitly mentions early on in the episode reveals how culturally appropriating the messages American society have sent this particular family representative of racial minority groups in general really are.
Louis is looking for success and wants it so badly that he is willing to leave parts of his own culture behind, assimilate into American culture and put himself aside in order for the white guy to be the face of his own restaurant.
This family trying to make it in America while also balancing their own valuable cultural heritage points out very key and significant flaws in the structure of racial dynamics that corporate and mass media America produce. This show, being a part of this mass media conversation now, is very valuable and significant and should be recognized for the important and impactful work its doing not just for the marginalized group it is focused on which rarely gets media attention, but for marginalized groups and the entire American community in general.