Next month, ABC will premiere Fresh Off the Boat, the first sitcom to focus on an Asian-American family in 20 years. It's a breakthrough for Asian-Americans, who have rarely had a face on television. But getting the show on air was a painful process.
The show is an adaptation of restaurateur Eddie Huang's visceral memoir of the same name. Huang has written a moving essay in New York magazine about the process of translating his experience into something safer for network television. He writes about the anger and frustration he felt seeing writers polish, buff, and sanitize his life:
I didn't understand how network television, the one-size fits-all antithesis to Fresh Off the Boat, was going to house the voice of a futuristic chinkstronaut. I began to regret ever selling the book, because Fresh Off the Boat was a very specific narrative about SPECIFIC moments in my life, such as kneeling in a driveway holding buckets of rice overhead or seeing pink nipples for the first time. The network's approach was to tell a universal, ambiguous, cornstarch story about Asian-Americans resembling moo goo gai pan written by a Persian-American who cut her teeth on race relations writing for Seth MacFarlane.
Huang's essay explores the process of turning your life into a sitcom. And he also explains the roots of this anger and the roots of his eventual finding peace with the show — it's wrapped in the history of this country and the lack of Asian-American voices and narratives in art and pop culture. It's wanting to do justice for those people, those parents, who silently sacrificed for their children:
Our parents worked in restaurants, laundromats, and one-hour photo shops thinking it was impossible to have a voice in this country, so they never said a word. We are culturally destitute in America, and this is our ground zero. Network television never offered the epic tale highlighting Asian America's coming of age; they offered to put orange chicken on TV for 22 minutes a week instead of Salisbury steak ... and I'll eat it; I'll even thank them, because if you're high enough, orange chicken ain't so bad.
Read Huang's full essay at New York.