One thing I want to do as a mother is share my stories to my children. I hope these stories, like little faint flashes of light, help reveal who their mother is, and all the people and experiences that made me who I am today. Maybe that will help them get perspective in life and understand that many decisions, people, and circumstances make people who they are. My life has a good number of sweet uplifting Hallmark Channel worthy stories, about friends who cared, a family who loved, and mentors and teachers who took the time. But in that mixture racism like a stormy cloud, hoovered over my most formative years in the mid 90's. I always wondered how I would tell this story about this time period in my life.
Now I am a mother of three, living in Hawaii and I'm pretty sure they will not encounter racism the same way I did. I know they may have trouble relating to what I went through in the 90's growing up in an all white suburb in New Jersey, but I believe the stories themselves can have a life of their own once handed down and will mean something. My son is now almost 5 years old and at an age where I am starting to share some of my stories about how I grew up in small digestible fragments for a 5 year old. When he gets to be a bit older I also plan on sharing about my experiences with racism. As my family is beginning this important stage with my son, a very rare and momentous thing happened. For the first time in 20 years ABC aired a sitcom starring an Asian American family called Fresh Off The Boat based on Eddie Huang's memoir by the same name, a book I read and thoroughly enjoyed BTW.
The show takes place in the mid 90's around the same time I moved from New York, where there was some diversity, to an all white suburb in New Jersey and experienced the same type of racism that is portrayed in the show based off of Eddie Huang's experiences in Orlando Florida.
Watching Fresh Off The Boat's pilot was like someone taking me by the hand and bringing me down memory lane, being the only Asian kid at school, trying to find where I fit in in a place where no one looked like me, the scornful looks at lunch, being called a "chink." The thing that struck me was, as Asian Americans these experiences are a source of pain and angst, and the show does not make light of these experiences but at the same time, there's a humor and lightness to how the story is told. I realized, when my son is a bit older and I am ready to talk about this phase in my life, the show Fresh Off The Boat provides a perfect medium to start that conversation.
In the scene when Eddie, played by Hudson Yang, is called a "chink," I love how Eddie fights back. The next scene cuts to him sitting outside his principal's office as a result. He doesn't cower at the word "chink," like I often did as a kid. He doesn't let it change how he sees himself, the way I let it change the way I saw myself. I also think that is why the scene can be funny because yes, racial slurs happen, it's a fact of life, but it doesn't need to affect how you see yourself. When my son gets older and I start to talk about this time period in my life, since he is growing up in Hawaii, he may not have any experiences that link that word with the same emotions I felt when I heard it, but I would like his reference to be how it is portrayed in that scene with Eddie. Then I can share that it happened to me, and in life things like that will happen, but it was a journey to not let those words debilitate me just like my son shouldn't let racial slurs or put downs of any sort define him, as it is exemplified in Eddie.
You see, the show provides a portal into my experiences in growing up in the 80's and 90's, which is important because my son's experience as a third generation Korean American growing up in Hawaii, is going to be completely different. This also goes for all subsequent generations of Asian American's. For each generation the experiences as a whole are going to differ from one generation to the next. My parents, for example, were a part of an immigration wave that the Korean's Immigration to the U.S.: History and Contemporary Trends Study (1) from Queens College calls the Acceleration Period. Due to economic uncertainty and political unrest in Korea during this period from 1976-1990 each year between 30,000 to 35,000 Koreans immigrated to the United States. Many of the second generation that came during this Acceleration Period were either the only Asians or were one among few where they lived, like me. Now the second generation from the Acceleration Period are having children of their own. Our children's stories are going to be different. We as their parents are of Korean decent but we are American, we were educated here, we have established a place in society, and we understand the culture. Our kids will not need to be the liaison to the outside world for us. Our children will not need to translate letters for us. They will not need to sit in parent teacher conferences with us in case we misunderstand something the teacher says. Also it is also much less likely that they are the only Asians where they live. They will not have to carry the same burdens we did. Their experience growing up in America will be markedly different from our own but that doesn't mean they shouldn't know what we went through as second generation Korean Americans. That is why the timing for Fresh Off The Boat is crucial in that, as the second generation of Korean Americans from the Acceleration Period are starting to have children of their own in growing numbers, the show provides a window into our story for them. Maybe in knowing what we went through, they see they are a part of a bigger picture, that others paved the way for them. Maybe it will get them to understand why we do things the way we do as second generation Korean American parents. Maybe they will learn when they face any sort of opposition or discrimination that they can rise up and not let what the world says define them. We can be honest that our origins and our story started from our parents being "fresh off the boat," a term coined from discrimination and racism, but we can be proud our stories. The show is evidence of how far we have come as Asian Americans in that we can subversively use that term to illustrate that racism, opposition and troubles we may have faced, never set the demarcations for who we are, rather only made us stronger, as told in Eddie's story and ours.
(1) Pyong Gap Min: Queens College and the Graduate Center of CUNY (2011) KOREANS’ IMMIGRATION TO THE U. S: HISTORY AND CONTEMPORARY TRENDS. Retrieved from: http://www.qc.cuny.edu/Academics/Centers/RCKC/Documents/Koreans%20Immigration%20to%20the%20US.pdf