How “Fresh off the Boat” nails growing up with Asian Immigrant Parents

As a young Asian American, I always believed that there was not enough representation of Asian Americans in mainstream media. The only Asian role model I had growing up was Mulan. Do not get me wrong, I love Mulan because she is a badass female protagonist. But, my point is that there was only one Asian figure I can look up to and relate to. Additionally, any Asian representation on television was portrayed in an inaccurate and insulting way. For instance, Long Duck Dong from 16 Candles. However, on February 4, 2015, a show I can finally relate to aired on ABC.

Fresh off the Boat is based on Eddie Huang’s memoir. The memoir is set in the 1990s and revolves around Eddie, a young teenage boy who loves hip-hop, and his Taiwanese American family.  The show follows his family relocating from Washington D.C. to Orlando, Florida in pursuit of the “American Dream”.

Both of my parents moved from Vietnam to America. My mom arrived in America by ship in the 1970s with her mom, dad and five siblings, and my dad arrived by plane in the early 1980s. Initially, they both had nothing in America and had to start from the very bottom. However, both of my parents did well in school, went to college, and started to climb the economic ladder. But, the climb was not as easy as it seemed. They had to learn English, secure housing and work and break cultural barriers. They also learned how to raise me in a completely new and unfamiliar culture. Fresh off the Boat perfectly portrays growing up with Chinese immigrant parents, and here are multiple scenes that nailed it.

    1. Becoming too “Americanized”

In Season 1 Episode 13, Eddie’s mom, Jessica, realizes that the family has assimilated into the white culture surrounding them in Orlando.  She panics when she sees that she made macaroni and cheese for dinner, which demonstrates how comfy she and her family has gotten with American traditions. As a result of this realization, she tries to bring Chinese traditions back into their lives. She stresses how her family made sure she knew her own culture, and she wants to do the same for her three boys.

She sends her boys to Chinese school in Tampa, tries to introduce the boys to Chinese delicacies which include chicken feet and prohibited shoes in the house (even though “Louis’s wide feet make shoes like suction cups”).

I found myself drawing many parallels between my own upbringing and this episode. Although I consider my parents to be quite “Americanized”, they still made sure I followed Chinese traditions. I went out to eat dim sum with my family, did not (and still do not) wear shoes in the house, and I went to Chinese school for the majority of my childhood.

My parents made me go to Chinese school every Saturday for 10 years. Unlike the Huang boys, the ride to the school was not two hours long but instead 15 minutes long. At the time, my reaction to going to Chinese school was quite similar to the three boys in the show. I absolutely despised it and thought it was a waste of my time. Now, I realize how my parents did not want me to disconnect from my own culture, and I appreciate them for doing it. Not only does it give me an advantage in the workforce but it also helps me communicate with family members who do not speak English. In the show, the boys sometimes struggle with talking to their grandma, who is not fluent in English. Seeing those kinds of scenes made me feel extremely grateful to be able to communicate with my grandparents through Chinese.

2. Superstitions

Tetraphobia is the practice of avoiding instances of the number four. It is a superstition firmly rooted in East Asian nations since the Chinese word for “four” sounds very similar to the word for “death”.

In Season 1 Episode 11, Jessica faces her biggest challenge yet: selling a property at 44 West 44th Street. Jessica still manages to sell the house while standing outside on the curb and shouting at the couple touring inside about its features. However, her victory is cut short when she sees her commission check, which is numbered “4444”. She rips up the check, but Louis decides to tape it back up and buy a mechanical bull for his restaurant.The family faces multiple unfortunate events, including Eddie breaking his arm and child services visiting the family. I guess you can say it got wild.

My family, like the Huangs, do not like the number four. However, our fear of the number is not as extreme as the Huangs. In the show, there is a series of flashbacks that reveals clocks with upside-down fours and Evan turning the number three to “second three”. My family and I still say the number four, but we do try to avoid it if possible.

3. Our love for freebies

In the show’s first episode, Jessica and Eddie go to an American supermarket for the first time after Eddie insists he needs “white-people lunch” to fit in at his new school.  A supermarket employee approaches them with a free sample of chips and dip, and Jessica takes the whole bowl of chips. Personally, I found this scene hilarious because it reminds me of multiple occasions when my family and I took advantage of Costco samples.

There are multiple reasons as to why we Asians love to take advantage of freebies. *Disclaimer: these are observations I have made from personal experiences, and I do not mean to offend anyone by these next sentences*

Some Asians are stereotypically stingy and have the “why pay for it when you can get it for free” mindset. Additionally, when we can get something for free, we will most likely get more than one of the item. It is all about having a practical mindset: collect it and save it for a different, appropriate time. On the other hand, some Asians are highly competitive and are, in a way, hoarding as if it is a competition. There is the mentality that “if I do not take it, someone else is going to take it”.

4.  Success

Throughout the show, it is very evident Jessica and Louis put a huge emphasis on success. They want their three boys to do well in school, go to a good college and get a well-paying job in the future. Additionally, Jessica wants to be successful in the real estate business, and Louis wants his cowboy-themed restaurant to be a big hit. It is all related to their idea of the “American dream”.

As I mentioned before, both of my parents had it rough when they first came to America, and they did not have many luxuries growing up. My dad told me when he was a child, his family was so poor that he only had a tin to play with as a toy. They used to tell me when I was younger that because they did not have much growing up, they wanted to give me the best life possible. They enrolled me in art, piano, violin, tennis, figure skating and more just so I can experience things my parents could not when they were my age.

I can never thank my parents enough for everything they have done for me. I appreciate all the time and dedication they have put into my education and my upbringing. Yes, there are times when their tiger parentness gets a little out of hand, as seen in Fresh off the Boat, but I truly would not be the young woman I am today without them constantly pushing me to be my best self. So, to all my fellow, young Asian brothers and sisters out there, I know our parents can be a bit harsh and wack at times. But, just remember they are trying to help you succeed, and they do everything (yes, even the most insane and annoying things) out of love.


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