I can't think of one Asian friend of mine who can't related to that Fresh of the Boat scene where kid-version Eddie Huang enters the cafeteria of his new school. He walks by a line of kids with white bread sandwiches and lunchables, only to squeeze his lunch a little tighter knowing it looks NOTHING like what they're eating.
The popular kids invite him over to their table when they see he has a Notorious B.I.G. shirt on.
Feeling just a bit of ease because he's sitting among possible friends, Eddie pulls out his lunch -- looks like chow mein in tupperware. You can imagine what happens next. Lots of ews, gross, what is that smell?! You're eating worms -- now that's a new one.
I remember pre calculus class in high school. I was starving and sitting in the front row (of course, of course). I saw a couple of my classmates snacking on chips and things like that, so I didn't think it'd be a big deal if I took a couple bites out of my lunch. You know, just to hold me over. That morning I had packed myself gai bao or chicken bun. It's basically ground seasoned chicken mixed with shiitake mushrooms, egg and other good stuff steamed in sweet white bread.
I opened the foil and the bun was still steaming hot. Yay! I took a couple bites and my math teacher stopped in his tracks and walked over to my desk...in front of everyone.
Oh god, here we go...
He made a couple of loud sniffing noises, like a dog zeroing in on a chicken bone buried in a park. He said "Let's put away the lunch here because *sniff* *sniff* the smell can be distracting."
Motha$%#@#, it smells FREAKIN' DELICIOUS!! WHY DON'T YOU GET THEM TO PUT AWAY THEIR DORITOS! I SWEAR THAT GUY IS EATING TUNA!! WTF.
Oh, if only I had the courage to say that. What really happened? I put my head down, covered my food and put it away being careful not to make eye contact with anyone in my class because I knew they were all staring at me and, at this point, smelling my food. I was horrified, ashamed...not just of my food but of my culture that made it so I only had gai bao to munch on in class and not something "less distracting."
Of course now I don't feel that way. I eat everything with pride. I laugh when I think about those moments. Tran Ngo, if you're reading this, remember when you'd bring soy sauce in a prescription pill bottle? Lalida Sritanyaratana, remember when we'd crave Mama tom yum instant soup? Heck, we still do. Crack an egg in that baby, oh yeah! That smell is DIVINE.
I think Danielle Henderson puts it well in her recent article about the show, especially the last part of this quote:
"It’s also not an affectation; hip-hop music helped Eddie Huang get a foot in the door of what it meant to be American, and what it meant to be different. Those are all still real problems, possibly more so now that America has allowed the far right to pour its poison directly into the melting pot that used to sustain us culturally. It may not be exactly the show Huang wanted, but I can’t help but feel like Fresh Off the Boat is going to help another generation of kids feel like they’re a little less alone."
"Fresh Off the Boat is going to help another generation of kids feel like they're a little less alone."
That's huge. Even though the show isn't perfect. It isn't even what the man who inspired it wanted it to be exactly. It's still a very powerful thing that I hope continues to push the limit. Yes, some parts may seem stereotypical, but you have to acknowledge the stereotype before you can get past it. I think the show is attempting that.
As little Eddie famously said, "That gets me a seat at the table and then you get to change the rules."