Controversial New Sitcom Portrays the Immigrant Experience in America

Eddie Huang is what many would describe as a Renaissance Man. Although he’s only 32, Huang has worked as a lawyer, TV host, restaurateur, stand-up comedian, and author. Soon there will be another impressive addition to his resume, when Fresh Off the Boat, an ABC sitcom based on his memoir of the same title, premieres on February 4th. Huang’s memoir details his life as a first generation Taiwanese-American growing up in Florida, and he initially hoped that the sitcom would capture the raw humor and unflinching honesty of his book. But, as bitingly described in a recent piece that Huang wrote for New York Magazine, he grew frustrated at the way network executives perceived AsianAmerican culture, in addition to his lack of creative control over the show. [See Network TV Ate My Life: Eddie Huang On Watching His Memoir Become A Sitcom, by Eddie Huang, New York Magazine, 13.Jan.2015.]

“The network tried to turn Fresh Off the Boat into a cornstarch sitcom, and me into a mascot for America. I hated that,” Huang seethes in his New York Magazine article. Among his chief complaints is the fact that ABC did not hire Huang or any other AsianAmerican writers to work on the show, as well as the cultural insensitivity of network executives who tried to simplify what Huang describes as a very “intense, specific” narrative of a childhood spent straddling two distinct cultures. However, in a recent interview with NPR, Huang seems more optimistic about how the show will be perceived. “As a milestone…it gave me hope and promise for how much further we can go,” he says. Huang goes on to explain that he went public with his critiques of the show because “I want to encourage criticism…I think I’m pretty clear in the article telling people you have to come, you have to talk about this, because…when the voices are heard, they have to adjust.” [See Fresh Off the Boat Repackages the AsianAmerican Story for TV, by Rachel Martin, NPR, 18.Jan.2015.]

While Fresh Off the Boat is a landmark moment in television, it is not without controversy. Eddie Huang’s clash with ABC executives was not only over how AsianAmerican culture was to be portrayed to an audience of millions, but also the representation of his unique, personal journal as a first generation American. The immigrant experience is not “one size fits all.” Every immigrant, and every child of immigrants, has distinct and complicated feelings about assimilating to life in America while maintaining a cultural connection to their native country. Eddie Huang and Fresh Off the Boat remind us that, while we have made great strides in welcoming immigrants as part of the American dream, there is still much work to be done.


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