Growing up, it was hard to find a show with Asian-Americans I could relate to. Probably the closest thing I had to an Asian-American role model was George Takei’s portrayal of Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek. But most shows during my adolescence portrayed us in some pretty insulting ways. I never saw myself whatsoever in those representations, couldn’t identify with them, and to be honest, seeing Asian-Americans in that light was somehow even more upsetting than not seeing Asian-Americans in the media at all.
ABC’s new show, Fresh Off the Boat, takes those stereotypes and turns them on their heads. The show is set in the ’90s and follows 12-year-old Eddie (played by actor Hudson Yang), whose family moved to Orlando in pursuit of the American dream. Here are five stereotypes I see the show putting to rest:
1. We’re unable to dress ourselves properly.
Every Asian character on a sitcom seemed to always wear short-sleeved, button-down shirts with pocket protectors and glasses. Eddie, on the other hand, dresses in stylish hip-hop clothes (he’s also a huge fan of rap music).
2. We’re pure brainiacs.
Asian youth were often portrayed as being so completely focused on school that they seemed to have no other goals in life. Eddie, although smart, struggles in school, compared to his younger brother Evan, the model student. Eddie’s goal in life is to make it big. He has dreams and ambitions beyond school.
3. We have no social skills.
The Asian-Americans I grew up watching couldn’t flirt with a girl to save their lives. They were seen as the wall-flower at the school dance, would say socially inept things, or — worse yet — would never get the most common idioms in conversation. As for social skills in Eddie’s family? Eddie’s other younger brother, Emery, seems not only to be the most popular kid in school but is also quite the ladies’ man.
4. We have super-thick accents.
Asian-Americans have long been the butt of jokes because they couldn’t be understood or would say something in such a thick accent that it was interpreted by “normal” people as something else. Eddie and his brothers talk like every other American kid. Why wouldn’t they?
5. We have stupid names.
With the possible exception of Arnold from Happy Days, Asian characters have often had hard-to-pronounce, unusual names that made them stick out as abnormal. In some cases, their names would be part of the joke itself. Case in point: Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles. The characters on FOTB have typical American names, kind of like mine.
It’s a show I’m proud to watch with my daughter, who shares my own Asian-American heritage. We can laugh at some of the things that are SO true from our own experience and also be satisfied that finally there is a show that takes a modern approach to what it means to be Asian-American.
The season finale of Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesday at 8|7c on ABC.