Our Privacy/Cookie Policy contains detailed information about the types of cookies & related technology on our site, and some ways to opt out. By using the site, you agree to the uses of cookies and other technology as outlined in our Policy, and to our Terms of Use.


What's the Reality for Our Asian American Kids?

Photograph by ABC

On Tuesday nights, I’m going to hurry my kids home from swim team and make sure that their homework is done early, not so they can practice piano or go to math tutoring, but so we can watch TV. The ABC sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat” features the misadventures of 11-year-old Eddie Huang and his family as they move to Orlando, Florida. We tuned in to the premiere last week, and it was sort of the Asian American version of watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon.

There are plenty of reasons for me to relate to the sitcom family: They are Taiwanese American, and they are even named the Huangs! But their experiences running a restaurant in 1990s Orlando are a far cry from my childhood growing up as the daughter of an engineer and scientist in the 1970s Midwest, and even farther stretch from my sons’ reality of growing up third-generation mixed-race Asians in 2000s California.

RELATED: What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Year of the Sheep Baby

Still, there were so many things to relate to: when the teacher mispronounces Eddie’s name; the way the popular white kids tease Eddie as he opens his Tupperware full of Chinese noodles; Mrs. Huang’s side-eye when the younger kids bring home report cards full of stickers; even the slapstick humor of Mr. Huang trying to drum up business for his struggling steakhouse.

I squirmed in my seat as my kids watched the climax of the pilot episode, where Eddie’s lone black classmate calls him a “Chink” and tells him he’s at the bottom now.

But would my kids relate? At the end of the show, I asked my boys what they thought.

“I like it!” my fourth-grader enthused. “But I don’t think the other kids at school would get it.”

Was it because his classmates aren’t Asian? Was it because nobody pokes fun at other people’s race any more? Were the white teachers and classmates too ridiculous? Was it unfair that the only other non-white kid throws the racial slur?

Sometimes it’s easier to shove (a racial slur) down and forget about it than to tell someone about it, especially if no one’s ever talked to you about how to handle it. I know my parents never did.

While my artist and writer-type Asian American friends were crying tears of joy over the show, the reactions from my other friends were mixed. Some Asians were cringing at the parent’s bad accents and at the tiger-ish mother and the goofy father. Many of my California friends say their kids’ classmates think it’s totally normal, even enviable, to open up thermoses full of rice or pot stickers.

And there’s the tricky part of raising kids in a so-called “post-racial” world. It’s cool to bring the spring rolls to the party, but when the talk turns to overzealous Asian parents and overly academic kids, it’s not so cool. And as the tension between Edgar and Eddie depicted, it’s not just a white thing or a black thing or an Asian thing.

When I pressed my friends on why they didn’t like “Fresh Off the Boat,” many Asians said they couldn’t relate and the non-Asians said they didn’t know whether they should laugh or be offended. Yet when the discussion turned to the scene where Eddie is called a “chink,” nearly every Asian friend revealed that they—and even their children—have experienced that.

Here’s the thing: Being teased, marginalized or called a slur because of your race is a deeply shameful thing. Sometimes it’s easier to shove it down and forget about it than to tell someone about it, especially if no one’s ever talked to you about how to handle it. I know my parents never did.

Whether or not you can relate to life of Eddie Huang, “Fresh Off the Boat” is a family-friendly sitcom that makes a great springboard to talking with your kids about race—whatever race you are. I’m no expert, but here are some suggestions from a race-conscious mom:

Do you relate to Eddie Huang?

Do kids at your school tend to hang out with other kids of the same race? How do you feel about that?

RELATED: Things People Say About Asian Parents

If you or one of your friends was teased because of race, what would you do?

How does it make you feel when you see (or don’t see) people who look like you on TV?

Let’s get the discussion started.

More from kids