It’s right there in the title! “Fresh off the Boat,” or “FOB” for short, is an adjective used to describe people. Generally, it means the person being described is a new immigrant from Asia whose English is poor and is very traditional, in that their native culture is ingrained in everything they do, such as primarily speak their native language, primarily eat their native foods, and dress in their native culture’s style. Basically, it means they don’t incorporate any sort of American culture into their lives.
The title aside, the show tackles the idea of race in just about each of its episodes, as race is the main core of the show. Primarily, Asian Americans in America.
First, a little background
The show revolves around the Huang family as they move from DC to Orlando in the pursuit of the American dream. It is actually an adaption of author Eddie Huang’s autobiography ‘Fresh off the Boat: A Memoir.’ In the show, Eddie is the main character and we follow him on his journey/life with his two brothers, parents, and grandma to see how being Asian affects his life in America.
Also, semi important to note, in the show, the only character that doesn’t speak English and is/acts very traditional is the grandmother. Before Orlando, the family lived in Chinatown in DC. The kids are all Americanized, the father is Americanized and is focused on the American dream, the mom wanted to be more traditional but realized after making mac ‘n cheese one time that she was more Americanized than she thought. Essentially, the majority of the main cast aren’t considered “fobs,” so the title is misleading.
Incorporation of race
One of the most important messages in the show took place in season 1, where the show acknowledged the differences in culture between Americans and Asians. During lunch at school, Eddie opens up his packed lunch and it is revealed that he brought stinky tofu. As soon as he opens the container, the other kids become distraught, as the stinky tofu has a bad odor. They made fun of Eddie, saying he was eating “weird Asian food,” which Eddie did not like at all. He was ashamed of being Asian because it was different and “weird” to the kids he was trying to impress. But by the end of the episode, after a talk with his mom, he learned that it doesn’t matter what the other kids think about his food, because he loved his food. Basically, the message was to stay true to yourself and your culture because that is what defines you.
The show also tackles the idea of the working woman, primarily the working Asian woman. Aside from being a full time mom to three kids, Jessica (the mom) is also a fully licensed realtor. Before she started selling houses, she was a stay at home mom. After realizing that the restaurant the father owned wasn’t making enough money to support the family, she took action and job searched. Eventually she found the realtor job, and after realizing she loved flipping houses, she quickly rose to the top and became one of the top realtors in her district. Her dedication to her family and work shows that her, an Asian woman, is a strong worker and is devoted to her family.
This idea that Asian women are hard workers is based on the comparison between Jessica and her neighbors. The neighbors are all traditional white-American families. The father works all day and the mother is a stay at home mom. The wives like to meet up and rollerblade/walk around the neighborhood together, as they have nothing else to do during the day. The white women in the show are never portrayed in a serious working manner, which can lead the audience to question the work ethic and dedication of white women compared to Jessica, an Asian women.
Why does the show need to incorporate race?
Three main reasons:
1. It tackles real world problems
Along with the cultural differences in food, season 1 also discussed derogatory sayings, such as the C word, or “chink.” The word is used to describe Chinese people in a vulgar manner, and in the show, Eddie’s friends in school called him one, leading to him attacking the student that did. Eddie gets sent to the principle’s office and surprisingly, the principle did not understand Eddie’s frustration. The area the school is in is predominately white, so the principle was not used to derogatory sayings. However, after a discussion between Eddie’s parents and the principle, the lesson learned is that it does not matter who you are or where you are. There are words you do not/should not use, especially if they target one specific kind of people.
2. It promotes multiculturalism
The show does not favor American or Asian culture. It shows how they are similar, and also different, rather than arguing which one is better. The importance of each culture is promoted by family values/dedication in American culture, and work ethic/devotion in Asian culture (these are not the only things that define each culture, just using them as examples). The show shows how the two can go hand in hand and maintain a happy and strong family.
3. It informs the audience
The show airs on ABC network, which is considered a family network, in that the shows they air are intended for families to watch together. This means that this show is watched by millions of people, and the show has to take advantage of their audience. By incorporating Asian themes and culture, the massive audience is being exposed to a style of life that they potentially may not have seen before. Even though the show is satirical, the point of it is to inform Americans that these people (Asians) are here and this is what they are like. That is why it is important to incorporate race, and also to explain that even though there are cultural differences, everyone can get along fine. If they show that on TV to millions of people, hopefully those millions of people can follow suit.