There Can Be No Room in this Movement for Misogyny

Eddie Huang
Eddie Huang

It’s not easy being a feminist of colour.

There’s this presumption that we as minority women can divorce our feminism from our race advocacy, and — more importantly — that we should. Among White feminists, the sticky issues of race and racism are rarely addressed; or when the existence of race is acknowledged, it is treated with such appalling clumsiness as to render theoretically feminist safe spaces decidedly unsafe for women of colour.

Among communities of colour, aspersions are also sometimes cast against WOC feminists. Sidelong glances are thrown in our direction because we understand that race oppression does not occur in a vacuum, and we dare to include within our race activism an integrated focus on the twin spectres of misogyny and male privilege. We present an intersectional politic that intermixes race and gender privilege with oppression, but we are often asked to mute our feminism and decenter ourselves in the name of blind racial solidarity. Talking about White patriarchy is okay, they say, but patriarchy in communities of colour must be taboo. The Movement, they say, requires a unified front. Feminism, they say, is a distraction from the Cause. Those of us who refuse to divorce our feminism from our race advocacy, they say, are misandrists and sellouts. Never mind, of course, that some of Asian America’s most dedicated civil rights legends — including Grace Lee Boggs, Yuri Kochiyama, Helen Zia and Patsy Mink — were self-identified Asian American feminists whose feminist work is treated as completely compartmentalized from their other advocacy.

To ask that feminists of colour be only feminist in feminist spaces, and only POC in POC spaces, is to ask the impossible: I cannot sometimes be only a woman and sometimes only be Asian American. I am both these things at all times; so too, therefore, are my politics.

Five years ago, long before Fresh Off The Boat became a runaway ABC sitcom hit, I wrote my first post on Eddie Huang. This was before Eddie was a star of Vice TV. This was before he was the author of a hit Asian American memoir. This was before Eddie Huang was a household name.

This was also way before Eddie Huang fucked up royally on Twitter last week.

Continue reading “There Can Be No Room in this Movement for Misogyny”

Today is #FreshOffTheBoat Day!

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Today’s the long-anticipated day, folks! ABC will be debuting the first episodes of Fresh Off The Boat tonight, the first Asian American family sitcom in 20 years, in a special preview event before Modern Family. A critical mass of reviews have been published — many of them positive — and watch parties are being organized all over the country (here’s the full-to-capacity NYC watch party event link).

It would be an understatement to say that all of Asian America is waiting with bated breath to learn more about the Huangs, and their misadventures in suburban Orlando, Florida.

If you will be watching the show, please tune in starting at 8:30pm EST. Additionally, viewers are encouraged to live-tweet the show through the hashtag #FreshOffTheBoat.

After tonight, FOTB will air in its regular timeslot on Tuesdays at 8pm, starting February 10th, when the show pilot will re-air.

Read More:  #FOB (or #FreshOffTheBoat): How an #AAPI sitcom hopes to reclaim a slur

#FOB (or #FreshOffTheBoat): How an #AAPI sitcom hopes to reclaim a slur

freshofftheboat05

The news that ABC has made the bold decision to green-light Fresh Off the Boata new Asian American family sitcom airing 20 years after the cancellation of All American Girl, has already been making headlines.

And, if the last 24 hours has been any indication, Fresh Off The Boat is hugely provocative. Already, the show has sparked online controversy, specifically from pop culture critics questioning the possible political insensitivity of the show’s name.

This reaction is not surprising: it reflects the critics’ recognition of the term as a historic racial slur referencing new immigrants, coupled with ignorance of how “Fresh Off The Boat” (or “FOB”, pronounced “fob”) has also evolved to reference a core cultural dynamic within contemporary Asian Americana. The term “Fresh Off The Boat” is not uniquely Asian American, but it has strong Asian American connotations and distinct cultural significance for members of our community; in the context of this show, it is obvious “insider” language.

This morning, Alex Abad-Santos explored the meaning of the term “Fresh Off the Boat” for Asian Americans in a great article for Vox.com. The article quotes me in writing:

“The show is setting itself up to educate about the term,” Jenn of Reappropriate [said. She] voiced a mild concern with the title, explaining that the term lives somewhere between an insult and self-deprecating humor.

So let’s start that education process here with the question: what does “Fresh Off The Boat” or “FOB” mean?

Continue reading “#FOB (or #FreshOffTheBoat): How an #AAPI sitcom hopes to reclaim a slur”

20y after “All-American Girl”, @ABCNetwork should green-light #FreshOffTheBoat

Photo credit: Jeff Yang
The cast of “Fresh Off The Boat” pilot. Photo credit: Jeff Yang

Middle-class families imagine their stereotypical dinner-time routine as an intimate setting when parents and children might gather over a hearty meal to share funny stories of the day; for mine, as (I suspect) many others, dinner-time conversation is too awkward to be fun. I didn’t care about workplace politics. My parents weren’t concerned about my classroom gossip. Here’s my confession: we really didn’t have much to talk about. Instead, for my family (as I suspect it was for many others), our family-time was watching our favourite family sitcoms over dinner. In some ways, we were inviting the characters of those shows into our lives, to become part of our families, to replace our own (boring) dinner conversation with their (hilarious) adventures.

Since the 1940’s and 1950’s, the American family sitcom has presented an idealized version of the American middle-class family: a nuclear (or oddball) family, facing obstacles with a grin and overcoming them with reaffirmations of love.

Not surprising, therefore, that these images — from Full House and Family Ties and Boy Meets World — are inextricably linked to my generation’s definitions of love, family and Americana. And, from its inception, the sitcom has also been a covertly political tool, pushing our definitions of those very same concepts.

Continue reading “20y after “All-American Girl”, @ABCNetwork should green-light #FreshOffTheBoat”

Eddie Huang, Owner of Xiao Ye, Causes a Stir on Cooking and Asian American Identity

Caught this over at CNN’s Eatocracy today.

Eddie Huang is the owner of a Lower East Side Chinese/Taiwanese restaurant in Manhattan called Xiao Ye, which (if I think I understand my Taiwanese) means “midnight snack”, although Eddie suggests in the video above that it means “delicious”. By glancing at the restaurant’s menu, and by gleaning bits from descriptiong of the restaurant’s atmosphere, Xiao Ye apparently caters to the young (Asian American) club-going set, who’re looking for some good, home-cooked comfort food at 4 a.m. in the morning, after a night on the town.

And frankly, as someone who resigns herself to late-night IHOP (because nothing else is freakin’ open!) whenever she goes clubbing, the business plan is motherfuckin’ brilliant. I cannot tell you how badly I crave some pork potstickers, or some rice noodles with scaldingly delicious and hearty beef broth, after a night on the dancefloor and a few too many shots, all served in a place where the music just don’t stop.

Dear Eddie, if you are reading this, please open a branch in Tucson. Seriously.

Xiao Ye has only been open for a few months when, last month, Sam Sifton of the New York Times stopped in for a review. Although the review praised some of Huang’s food, the reviewer was critical of Sifton’s seemingly frenetic menu and hit-or-miss approach. He seemed particularly galled by the fact that Huang was — shockingly — eating food at his restaurant rather than cooking it. Since I’m used to Chinese restaurants where the waiters, kitchen staff, and owners regularly scarf down a meal at the restaurant, I’m not sure I get the issue. Yet, Sifton rated Xiao Ye a “fair”, which is the textbook definition of “damning with faint praise”.

This prompted Eddie to post about the review on his blog, Fresh Off the Boat. Specifically, he posted a most fobilicious email from his mother about the whole incident.

Hi Eddie,

So what do you think about this review. I feel it is a review of your life. It sounds so familiar to The Food Net Work competition Judge’s comments. I guess you never registered all the opinions from those professionals who have seen so many people working toward their success. There is a reason why the other guy won. Good taste, hardworking attitudes, great values. In our life, there is a lot of honesty does exist. The vast majority of public will give us a score that we deserve. You have so many different fabulous talents, but to focus, and to perfect it is very crucial. No matter what career you explore, there always going to deal with: discipline, honest hard work, social skills, leadership ON TOP OF YOUR PERSONAL TALENTS.

Your talents will not shine or truly succeed until you have satisfied the basics that other competitors have already.

You have always tried to be different or funny for the sake of funny, to cover up your anger and discomforts about how we Asian are being perceived. It is not necessary to do that, your true talents will lead you above it all. You must know what you really are, and able to do well. Restaurant business is a very very tedious business, and requires on going detailed watching. Is this whole package of restaurant business really what you can do, and enjoy doing? I do not see much difference in the stress levels compare to other choice of career, but much less money rewards. Trust me, you much keep your bar license active just in case you need it. You do not even understand your own strength or the whole scope of this business, and you are not even willing to listen. YOU MUST GET BURNT BEFORE YOU WILL HEAR YOUR MOM. Please calm down, analyze yourself, and be honest. You have a lot of potential, but you must make good choice and stick to it with the best choice. With all the staff, and your korean friend, no one was able to point out or warn you the mistakes, or problems you have???????????????????

As one commenter said, this email totally belongs on MyMomIsAFob.com.

What I found interesting about the whole incident, and why I’m writing about it here, is the conflict between Eddie’s cooking approach — which has all the flair of Asian American youth-clubbing culture — with the “traditional Asian” expectations that seem to be both expressed by his mother in the email above, and in the reasons why Sifton gave Xiao Ye only a passing grade.

When I read Sifton’s review, it felt as if Sifton was upset by Xiao Ye not necessarily because the food was bad — in fact, Sifton remarks upon how good the food is — but on whether or not the food was “authentically Asian”. Certainly, a Cheetos-breaded chicken breast hardly qualifies as traditional Taiwanese fare; was Sifton placing a double-standard upon Xiao Ye because it did not meet his expectations of what a purportedly Taiwanese restaurant should serve? Could Sifton’s review speak to the same stifling stereotyping of who Asians are “supposed to be” that all of us struggle with? Are we not, for example, supposed to be the kind of adventurous cooks who would not dare try to fry a chicken breast in Cheetos crumbles?

Eddie Huang says in the video clip above that much of his motivation is to challenge those stereotypes of who Asian Americans are supposed to be. And indeed, with the hip-hop blaring atmosphere of his restaurant and the risque dish names of his menu, Eddie Huang is the polar opposite of the model minority math nerd stereotype. He is unabashedly hyphenated, and most of his menu items reflect that identity: Bao fries are topped with Ovaltine, head-on prawns are tossed in General Tso’s sauce.

That’s not to say that there aren’t elements of Eddie’s in-your-face Asian American approach that makes me antsy. Eddie’s menu, and his whole restaurant approach, refer to insider language that I worry will come off wrong to an outsider. Xiao Ye‘s menu deliberately slurs r/l’s, which is hilarious to Asian Americans, but would be intolerable if a Gwai Lo did it. Every menu item seems to refer to Asian American tropes — Farewell My Concubine Cucumbers, Chinee Beef Shortribs — but the language is at once familiar, and a little offensive. In particular, there are some dishes that seem borderline sexist, like “Poke-Her Face Prawns”, “Concubine Cucumbers”, “Poontang Potstickers”, and “Taiwanese Flat Booty Cake”.  The description of the Beef Noodle Soup refers to hard-ass Asian parents and report cards. Is all this accessible, or stereotype-promoting, to a non-Asian crowd?

In the video interview above, Eddie Huang talks about wanting to challenge stereotypes. And frankly, I’m all about showing the other side of Asian Americana — you know, the one that doesn’t give a shit about your Kumon homwork. But, is Xiao Ye‘s approach the way to do it? I really, honestly, don’t know. I like Eddie’s ideas, and I like some of his execution, but I’m also with Eddie’s mom that there are elements of it that threaten to make Eddie look like he doesn’t take himself seriously enough to really want to fight the  hype.

I don’t know. Isn’t there a happy middle-ground between math nerd and I-don’t-give-a-fuck boozer?