I felt an inexplicable feeling of blatant AzNxPrYdE the first time I saw the ad for Fresh Off the Boat in the Nassau Ave train station. It's like when Australian dudes literally shart after their country wins an international cricket match. It felt like a win for "us." It made me feel proud. I really wasn't sure how the show would come out, especially after reading Eddie Huang's brazen article in New York, which detailed how he thought his memoir-turned-TV show got sold out. But the show is incredibly well-made, funnier and edgier than expected, while simultaneously doing something incredibly unique—flipping the script to portray suburban white people as "the other."
Fresh Off the Boat is an important show, period. The fact that it is genuinely hilarious is just an added bonus. Pedaling back, Eddie Huang's bestselling book of the same title (a bible of sorts for all Asian American millennials) was equally important. But the difference between the book and the television show is the level of exposure that the story is getting. Contemporary Asian American cinema is a thriving genre, but rarely do those films get viewed by millions of eyes. Can you imagine? An Asian American cast on a show (that doesn't suck) with a soundtrack that includes Nas and Danny Brown on the same network as Olivia Pope... OLIVIA POPE. The show is a triumph for "us," but it is also a triumph for all minorities who are second-generation in this country.
And there's more at play here. FOTB represents a very specific generation at a very specific time. It is drastically different from the traditional "coming to America" story, the highly depressing mood-killer of a tale that we all hear (often against our will) from our deranged grandparents. This story is a newer version, set against the backdrop of hip-hop, Lunchables and Shaq—it's a retelling of my story, of my fellow Asian classmate's and of my cousins. From a different perspective, it also speaks to my father's generation, the GenX immigrant parent trying to provide a decent American life for his children. The beauty about this show being on air NOW is that it represents a kind of cultural progress for mainstream television and in turn for society as a whole. Visibility is imperative for "us" because it means forcing people to get used to our yellow faces. It is part of a larger outcome that may or may not one day save some kids from being called a ching chong.
That is one side of this. On the other side lies a rather off-putting industry that very often treats Asian American entertainers as either a minstrel-esque novelty or a "necessary" color in a bigger picture of diversity. More recently, we have been especially needed to play various versions of Kim Jong Un. (You may recognize Randall Park, FOTB's "Louis Huang," from his role in The Interview.) Remember when Asians weren't allowed to play Asians in the movies? FOTB happened because someone allowed it to happen.
That being said, it's hard not to acknowledge the other more complex issues at hand. There are obvious sacrifices to be made when putting your ratchet life story on TV and, judging from his article, there were things about it that truly upset Eddie Huang. What I took from it is that he felt an obligation to tell his story in a way that was honest to his book and honest to himself, something that requires an edge that simply can't exist on broadcast television. I think he truly wanted to use this opportunity to "change the game" and to introduce something completely new, not just for Asian Americans, but for TV in general. Despite his grievances, I still believe that he has done just that. Eddie did not become successful off of sameness, he is a self-made man who is celebrated for being different and relishing in it. He is controversial, boldly outspoken and a hero to many in my generation. He is also not the type of person to accept a "Panda Express" type of show without a fight.
That's why we look up to him.
And at the end of the day, Asian American kids are looking for idols. I know this because I was looking for one too. They say that the "struggle" becomes less intense with every new generation, that kids nowadays will never have to work as hard as our grandparents. But the truth is that, as entertainers, we are still working toward the same goal as Louis Huang—to provide a better life for our children. I don't think a 22-minute Asian American sitcom can singlehandedly solve all race-related issues in 2015, but I'm pretty sure it's a step in the right direction.
Awkwafina is an NYC-based rapper and sea mammal enthusiast.