By Eugine Chung
For some of us, it’s a highly relatable scene. Eddie Huang opens the lunch his mom made him, strange exotic odors permeating throughout the small cafeteria. A couple kids’ faces scrunch in disgust. Someone yells that Eddie is eating worms.
And then, cinematically, the camera moves back, and Eddie, an Asian American pre-teen in his middle school in Orlando, Florida, is a small dot amongst the wave of surrounding white students.
ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” (“FOTB”) is based mostly on celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s experiences as an Asian American growing up in the 1990’s. The show focuses on the perspective of 11-year-old Eddie Huang who moved from a more heavily Asian immigrant populated Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Florida for Eddie’s father to fulfill his own American dream of opening a steak restaurant.
“FOTB” is the first Asian American family sitcom in existence so far, a kind of reprisal from the cancelled Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl.”
Unfortunately, the show was stripped of its more raw details of the Asian American experience, including his abusive father and other more controversial experiences with racism in his life, making it more “vanilla,” which Huang lamented much in his essay to The New York Times. Nonetheless, the show has received positive feedback from the general public.
“It takes a lot of chutzpah to launch a network comedy with a pilot addressing the word ‘chink,’ yet it works because it’s the safest bet the studio could have made,” Huang said. “The feeling of being different is universal because difference makes us universally human in our individual relationships with society.”
Though perhaps not fully representative of every single Asian American immigrant story, the show may be ground-breaking in its attempt to ease Asian Americans into the media. And while there has been controversy from the Asian American community that the depictions of Asian Americans are myopic in their representation of a largely underrepresented and misrepresented ethnic group in media, actors, including Constance Wu who plays Eddie’s mom Jessica Huang, has expressed her gratitude for the show.
“We need to have a picture of Asian Americans. We have a unique experience that has myriad opportunities for storytelling, if other people are willing to tell those stories,” Wu said to The New York Times.