By Guest Contributor Kevin Wong
Hudson Yang (center) and the cast of ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat.”
The plot for Fresh off the Boat is a classic “fish out of water” scenario. Eddie (Hudson Yang) is a 12-year-old Taiwanese-American, who moves from a diverse, city neighborhood in Washington, D.C. to a mostly white, suburban neighborhood in Orlando, Florida. His family consists of two younger brothers, a grandmother, stressed out mother Jessica (Constance Wu), and flustered father Louis (Randall Park), who wants to open a successful, Western-themed barbecue restaurant. Primarily, everyone’s just trying to fit in.
Jessica, for instance, takes up rollerblading with the neighborhood Stepford wives. This has great comedic potential- how does an Asian American woman clash with the expectations of privileged, suburban society? The Stepfords, to their credit, do not view Jessica as an intruder or an undesirable in their neighborhood – more so, they view her as a curiosity to be poked and prodded. It’s a nod to a more subtle type of racism that exists in the modern world. The term “racist” does not only encompass name calling and hate crimes — it encompasses passive discrimination, positive stereotypes, and microaggressions that, accumulated over time, can be comparably damaging.
The most interesting aspect of Fresh off the Boat is how it deals with Asian American masculinity. Each Asian male character has his own way of exploring it, and they each tend to do so through the lens of another ethnic identity, rather than their own. Louis, pursues the “cowboy” archetype, in an effort to bring more white folks into his restaurant. Eddie co-opts hip hop, black culture — he’s listening to Dre’s beats, quoting Biggie’s rhymes, and repping Nas’ Illmatic on his clothes. It’s illuminating.