Disclosure: This is part of a sponsored collaboration with Disney and ABC TV. I received an all-expense paid trip from Disney so that I could gather and share this information. However, all experiences and opinions are always 100% my own as this post is written by me in its entirety.
I was born shortly after Mama first arrived in America. At the tender age of 33 she became a widow, I was only a year old. Mama was left with the task of raising two children on her own, with no knowledge of the English language and the added pressure of supporting her own mother and grandmother who had traveled with her to chase the American Dream. My sister, 13 then, was a teenager struggling hard to fit in, at school and in life.
Many people have left the comforts of all they know to “make it in America.” Being born in the United States I have taken for granted many of the opportunities that have been afforded to me, not only as a US citizen, but those that Mama struggled hard to provide. We don’t always recognize or acknowledge all that we have until we see that struggle in others.
ABC’s newest comedy delivers diversity in programming, and more importantly an acknowledgement and respect for those that are working hard for their American Dream, right to your door with its latest series Fresh Off The Boat. No, it isn’t about a bunch of Cubans that just washed ashore onto the Florida coastline. It isn’t about a bunch of white people who sailed in on the Mayflower. In fact, it’s not even really about any specific color or race, as I had initially believed. Simply put, it is loosely based off of a memoir by the same name written by celebrity chef Eddie Huang. Fresh Off The Boat takes you on a journey with an immigrant Asian family trying to fit into society and make it in the land of opportunity.
Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the obvious that I overlook the deeper meaning. That’s exactly what happened with Fresh Off The Boat (FOTB). As I watched the pilot and second episode I was so focused on the character portrayal of the young and impressionable Eddie Huang that I was missing what was really happening. I was judging him, his behavior and the ignorance of his parents. All I kept thinking was “when is someone going to wash this child’s mouth out with soap?” I judged, and I judged. How could ABC allow such language from a child’s mouth?
And then I had the opportunity to meet the shows executive producer Nahnatchka Khan and co-executive producer Kourtney Kang (a former executive producer of How I Met Your Mother – a favorite of Papas.) Khan and Kang opened my eyes to a totally different outlook on the show, and thus made me feel right at home. As I stated before the show is loosely based on the Huang family, but really, it is about the life struggles of anyone that gets cast into the shadows, looking for a ray of light, a straw to grasp onto, anything to catch a breath of air.
A light bulb went off in my head and I realized that although not identical in our struggles as immigrants, that was my family on that screen. In the pilot episode the Huang family moves to Orlando in the mid 90’s to make it on their own. Despite setbacks they stay connected as a family, working together to push forward. Everyone in the family makes sacrifices to make this happen, whether apparent or not. Eddie, the eldest of the three children seems to struggle the hardest to fit in with his peers, just as my sister did during those tough teenage years. Just as I did during my elementary school years when there wasn’t any spending money for the American way of living.
Just as the Huangs did, Mama risked it all when she decided to pursue a new business venture, a HUGE step for many immigrants. For over 20 years she worked day and night trying to provide for her family, trying to give us what she didn’t have. How many times did I try to get one over on her because she didn’t understand the American culture? How many times had I not realized that I too was just trying to fit it?
I asked the shows executive producer Khan where her inspiration for the shows came from (besides the memoir) and she explained that she too was from an immigrant family, that she too had to translate everything for her parents, JUST AS I HAD. A great example was pointed out referring to the Nascar episode where Louis has no idea what Nascar is, “And that’s what’s sort of this perspective, you know, the immigrant story allows to kind of shine the spotlight on, you know, some of the things that we take for granted and make fun of them.”, said Khan. And she’s so right, a good laugh is much-needed after years of explaining to Mama what other parents just seemed to understand as second nature, sort of like what I go through with my son from time to time.
I’ve had to ask my son on several occasions what a specific new lingo term meant or what some new hyped about app was, and I SHOULD KNOW THIS! Growing up as children of fresh off the boat immigrant parents was a REAL STRUGGLE, for Khan and I – as well as countless others, and that struggle was mostly identical, no matter what nationality one identified with. FOTB is about all of us whether newly immigrated or seasoned, whether from another country or even as close as another state, anyone that just wanted to be accepted. The more we spoke, the more I was able to reflect back on the episodes I had watched and find myself, again and again in Eddie’s shoes.
Although co-executive producer Kang, who is Korean Hawaiian and Irish, is not a child of recent immigrants, she encountered her own share of struggles with trying to fit in when her family moved from Hawaii to a suburb in Philly. “Being the only Hapa Haole (of part-white ancestry or origin; especially of white and Hawaiian ancestry according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary), kids would ask if I miss my hut” and “is it weird to wear shoes and clothes instead of grass skirts?” replied Kang. Last I checked Hawaii was the 50th state to join the U.S., way back in 1959 or do I have my history wrong?
I also got the chance to chat with the youngest (and cutest) cast members Forrest Wheeler (“Emery Huang”) and Ian Chen (“Evan Huang”), also children of immigrant parents. Their kind dispositions and friendly manners during the Q & A session made me realize that they too understood what it meant to work for what you want, even at that young of an age. It was nice to see that they were grounded and grateful for where they were in life, and what they had, even using their first paychecks to start a college fund for their future. You could feel just how proud their mamas were of them, in that same way that they were also relieved that they were helping them make a better life for themselves. Much the same way Mama glowed the day I graduated from college.
The unity of families working together towards a goal is something we don’t often see a lot of on television these days. The comedic spin on this immigrant tale breathes a dose of fresh air into my life knowing that all of Mamas hard work, and subsequently my hard work, was worth the struggle. I can look back with a fresh set of eyes on the life we lived not as one of pain, suffering, humiliation or need, but as a family united to bring the ourselves and the next generation one step further in life to reaching our goal. The happy story book ending every immigrant dreams of when leaving everything behind to pursue the goal of living the American Dream.
Fresh Off The Boat will resonate with some many people from different walks of life, be them immigrants or not, because simply put, aren’t we all chasing the American Dream? What are your dreams for yourself or your children? How do your dreams and goals for your children differ from your own?
FOTB airs again on Tuesday, February 10th at 8pm EST on the ABC TV network. Get social online with the official hashtag #FreshOffTheBoat to learn more and interact with other fans on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
A big thank you to Silvia from Mama Latina Tips for some of the awesome photos!