“Fresh Off the Boat” could be the tipping point on TV for Asian Americans


There’s a new ABC sitcom being aired starting in February that I can hardly wait to see. I’m hoping “Fresh Off the Boat” will finally be a show where I can see people like me acting the way my family acts, with funny American situations but filtered through an Asian cultural perspective. I expect it’ll be a moment of critical mass for Asians on the U.S. pop consciousness.

It’s about time.

As a baby boomer, I grew up with very few Asian Americans on television. Few enough that everyone stood out. Even until recent years, my wife and I would point to the TV everytime we saw a minor character on TV played by an Asian, or an Asian face on a TV commercial, and yell, “Asian spotting!”

Among the first notable Asian Americans to be spotted on the small screen was Hawaii-born Filipino musician and comic Poncie Ponce, who was cast as the wise-cracking, ukulele-playing cab driver Kazuo “Kim” Quizado on the detective drama “Hawaiian Eye” which aired from 1959-1963.

My earliest memories of seeing an Asian on TV were of Hop Sing, the Chinese cook on “Bonanza,” a Western that also debuted in 1959 but ran until 1973. Hop Sing, played by U.S.-born actor Victor Sen Yung, wore a long queue hanging from under his cap, and diligently fed the Cartwright family for the run of the series, though I don’t recall that he ever cooked up Chinese food, or Chinese American dishes like chop suey, for Hoss and the others. He did face racism in a few episodes, though.
Continue reading

A Chinese tiger mom explains why being a hard-ass Asian parent is better for your kids than Western coddling

My mom, brother and me at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, eayly 1960sWow, the WSJ has a book excerpt today, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” written by Amy Chua, a Yale law school professor that boggles my mind and sends a chill down my spine. It’s her blunt declaration that the values of Chinese (and I’m telescoping it out to include all Asian) mothers are better for raising kids than “Western” parenting style.

She acknowledges the stereotype that Asian moms are hard-asses and then goes on to say that being tough on your kids is a Chinese mom’s way of showing they know the kids can a) get an A in the class, b) learn that difficult piece on the piano c) excel at everything the Chinese mom says is important. It’s just a different way of showing your children you love them, she says. She states her case so emphatically that this essay really just fortifies those American stereotypes. I can hear parents in conservative households murmuring their agreement: “See Martha, I knew there’s a reason why those Chinese are always so damned good at math and science!”

Here’s how the article starts:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• have a playdate
• attend a sleepover
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.

This has to be a joke, I thought, except the Wall Street Journal probably doesn’t have a sense of humor and doesn’t run satire pieces. Take this line, for instance: “If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion.”

Nope, Chua, who was born in 1962 a year after her parents immigrated to the US, is serious. In fact, this essay is an excerpt from a book being published this week, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”
Continue reading

Web comedy series “Slanted” skewers, celebrates “FOB” generation’s values

Poster for "Slanted," the one-woman show by Andrea Lwin thatLike it or not, we all come from immigrant roots. Like European Americans and African Americans, our families all arrived on these shores from somewhere else. Over the generations, we maintain some of our ethnic cultural values, and discard others.

At some point, most Asian Americans suddenly feel embarrassed about our parents because they’re so… Fresh Off the Boat, or FOB. Like “queer” to the gay community, “FOB” is a term that was once and is still used as an insult but has become code for just plain “old-fashioned” within our community, and is even used affectionately.

Andrea Lwin, an affable, funny and talented LA-based actress and writer, celebrates the FOB-ier side of Asian American family life in her warm and witty web series, “Slanted.” So far, she and her director and co-producer, Cristina Anderlini, have completed two episodes in the web series (above), which they’re funding themselves. Maybe someone will step to the plate to help them finance future episode; for now, Lwin expects to have another segment done early next year.

The two episodes build on Lwin’s one-woman show of the same name, a fictionalized autobiography of growing up in an Asian American family with parents who are, well, still FOB-ish. I know this feeling, because although my brothers and I were all born in Japan, our family came to the U.S. when we were young and we’re about as all-American you can get. But my mother, who was born and raised in the northern island of Hokkaido, is still a FOB in so many ways, more than 40 years after our arrival on these shores. I guess that would make her “Not-So-Fresh-Off-the-Boat.”

I met Andrea in person at the BANANA conference of Asian American bloggers last month, and exchanged emails afterwards. Here is the Q&A I had with her about “Slanted”: Continue reading