“To see where you are going, you have know where you have been, embrace where you came from and honor the experiences that shape where you are now.”-Angela Chee
This photo really says it all. I was a little more than a year old, my newlywed parents had just immigrated from Taiwan in pursuit of the American dream. I usually don’t write about Asian issues on my blog, but with the premiere of ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat”, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the show and conversation about Asian Americans. So, today I wanted to take a step back in time to show you a part of my experience.
The Night They Called Me “Chink”!
I remember walking to the store one summer night with my parents when I was about six or seven.
I heard a loud van screeching and some kids laughing and they screamed
“CHINK! Ching, Chong, Chong!” and sprayed us with water and drove off.
We stood there in shock, not knowing what to say, what to do, I was scared. My father chased after them, but they were gone. That night we didn’t talk about it, but the words stayed with me and stung, like invisible darts of hate that made me realize I was different.
My parents immigrated from Taiwan in the 70’s and I grew up in a predominately white suburb outside of Los Angeles. I didn’t have a difficult time assimilating and making friends, but then again I was good at being “normal”. I always wished I was more “normal”, meaning less Chinese. I wanted big eyes, a nose with a high bridge, I wanted to eat pizza and hamburgers. I wanted to belong. And I did for the most part.
Most of my friends probably don’t know this story because I don’t tell it, it never really comes up. Racism didn’t traumatize me or hold me back in my life, in fact it probably made me stronger. I haven’t experienced a lot of racism in my life, but I haven’t been immune to it either.
This story is just part of my Asian American experience. I think if you talk to any person of color they have had these moments, where they were confronted with their race and felt like they didn’t belong.
Finding My Voice
I’m a strong confident woman who believes everyone has a voice and fear and uncertainty should not hold you back from sharing your voice, your vision and greatness with the world. That is the mission of my company, Zen Media Inc.
But I was not always this way. I was a typical Asian American girl raised by immigrant parents. I was taught to do the right thing and to not rock the boat. It took me years to find my voice and I continue to hone it’s authenticity everyday.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because it’s a part of who I am and I believe it’s important to share our experiences and see our stories reflected back at us.
That’s why ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat” is important and relevant.
“Fresh Off The Boat” premiered last week on ABC and it’s the first Asian American show in primetime in 20 years. Yes, 20 years? The last time was Margaret Cho’s sitcom “All American Family”, that only lasted one season.
The show has been swirled by controversy even before it aired. From its name to its marketing to Eddie Huang’s explosive personal essay in the New Yorker and now that it’s in its second week, there’s even more conversation about race and relevance, (Why Targeting Asian Americans Makes Good Business Sense). There’s even controversy in the blogging community after it seemed Asian bloggers were left out of a press tour,( Fresh Off The Boat? How About A Seat On The Bus?).
Some may say it’s just a TV show, but TV matters, it’s a way sharing our stories, our experience. Seeing our reflection in the mainstream media is validating. Even if the show doesn’t reflect all Asian American experiences, at least were in the game.
When I was young I didn’t have Asian role models, but I didn’t seem to mind. I didn’t know any better. All my dolls were blond and blue eyed and so were my friends. It’s just the way it was.
“The Connie Chung Effect”
There weren’t many or any Asians I can remember on TV, except for Connie Chung. My mom used to say to me,” Hey you should be like Connie Chung!” Maybe that’s why I became a news anchor. I was always drawn to television. Maybe it was because I was a latch key kid and watched too much or maybe I was fascinated by its power and influence. That one image, one word, one story could have such impact on hundreds, thousands, millions.
That’s why Fresh Off The Boat is important.
And like many Asian Americans I watched this historic event last week with a mix of emotions. To tell you the truth I don’t even remember exactly what happened in the first episode until I reread some of the lines on Twitter, maybe because I was so in the moment of watching history unfold.
There were packed screening parties in New York and LA. I watched it on the couch at home, but I could feel the Asian American community rally across social media. It was part joy and validation, we were finally being reflected in mainstream media. And part apprehension and fear. Thoughts like, “This better be good”, or “OMG! I totally relate to that”, “That’s my mom”, “Will people get it?”, “I hope it’s not too cheesy”, “I hope it doesn’t get cancelled”, “Is this for real?”.
So my friends asked me, “Did you like it?” . Yes, I did. Did I relate to everything? No, but I shouldn’t have to.
No one show can reflect the entire Asian American experience. This show is based on the best-selling memoir of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, who moved to Orlando with his immigrant parents in the 90’s. All of us have different experiences, but it’s a show about fitting in, finding your way and most of us can relate to that.
There are moments where I totally relate and then some that I don’t. The 90’s references are fun too. Who doesn’t remember Melrose Place or the sound dial up made as you waited to get on the internet, (well maybe my kids)?
Just because it’s a show featuring Asians as the principals doesn’t mean every Asian has to love it or relate to it. Does every white person relate to Malcolm in The Middle or the King of Queens?
More Diversity On TV
The fact that there’s so much pressure on this show means that Asian Americans have been thirsting for this and there has been a void for too long.
I hope ABC will give this show a chance, I hope America will give this show a chance, and while it’s important because it’s TV, we also need to remember it is JUST TV, it’s entertainment and let’s not put all the pressure of an entire community on its shoulders.
Let it do what it is supposed to do, entertain, and share part of our multicultural story that has been lacking in TV and make room for even more diversity.
And diversity where it belongs. No more stereotypes for a cheap laugh. Don’t just cast the Benetton rainbow to be PC, but add characters with personality and depth. If they happen to be Asian allow their culture and experience to unfold as a part of their character, not as a stereotypical reference. We need to be seen as multi-dimensional personalities with race being just a part of the story.
Television and film has gotten a lot smarter, but there still a big void.
It’s only as smart as the people who create it. We need to keep sharing and keep the dialogue going. We need to step up. ( Influential Asian Bloggers To Follow.)
Not just among each other, but with the world around us. Things are changing, people are more open to diversity, but there is still a lot of ignorance. Showing up matters, being reflected matters and I’m not just saying Asian voices, your voice matters.
My parents left everything behind to build a life in America, for the family, for me. They were youthful and vibrant, my dad was President of his University and both had coveted government jobs. When they came to the US they started over. They waited tables.
They learned to fit in, to not rock the boat, do what was right and at times they lost their voice.
They lost their voice, so I could find mine. And I intend to use it.