What “Fresh Off the Boat” Means Tonight.

Tonight is such an important night in Asian American history as “Fresh Off the Boat” premiered on ABC as the first TV show about an Asian American family in 20 years. It is so exciting that the Asian American community – MY community – is unifying and watching our own lives played out on television.

“Fresh Off the Boat” was and is ME. I was that child who was made fun of for my foreign, “smelly” lunch that was not lunchables. My mom always questioned me when I was trying to be “too American.” My good grades were always scrutinized. Racial talk of white people and black people were and are typical conversations. Shopping in an American supermarket made no sense. My parents did not understand why I liked listening to black people’s music. Free meant FREE. School was always the number one priority. My mom would yell at and about everything no matter when, where or why. All my friends went to CLCs after school and learned an instrument… plus 2834056129384 other things. And my parents never expressed “I love yous” verbally, because that was sappy and meant nothing.

I don’t want to give it all away, but just know that for the first time I felt like I truly related to what I saw on mainstream media. To me, that means I wasn’t the only one who had to go through my struggles, and not only can others finally begin to understand that but we, as an Asian American community, can also start to EMBRACE them. It’s cultural, part of the Asian American story of growing up and therefore part of the American childhood – a part that is finally unfolding for the public’s eye and our own eyes like never before.

I really am finding difficulty describing the excitement I have about this show being out there for everyone to see, and it must be even a million times more amazing to be an Asian American child growing up right now and watching this show! It isn’t perfect, but we’re still figuring it out – it being our identity in life, and in the media. Just like our parents did when they came here – fresh off the boat.

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Little You

Rainbows and dinosaurs. Snowstorms and recess and ice cream parties. Saturday morning cartoons and pizza for lunch and staying up late and no homework. Hide and seek and playing chutes and ladders and swinging until the sunset and walking on the fall leaves just to hear those crunchy sounds.

Little things. All of these were little things you used to love, search for, crave, and absolutely wait for to happen. These were the things that you loved – all the things that brought you anywhere from one smile of satisfaction to tons of laughter for your tummy, sometimes even more.

Little You was so simple. Little You just wanted to be happy, and happiness was evoked in the simplicity of these things.

Fast forward twenty or so years. Here you are, an “adult” who has finally come of age to bypass any rule of a curfew and can spend money to buy ice cream whenever desired. You can google a picture of a rainbow in a split second and pizza for lunch is just the cheap option close to work. You dread staying up late because you are always so tired, and homework is just work that you take home – or the home you create at work because you never leave work. Chutes and ladders is now in the form of figuring out which staircases have faster moving people in the subway, and snowstorms mean your commute will take twice as long. The last time you saw a dinosaur was on a meme, recess means going to the gym to work on your body. Unswept leaves are in your way as you shuffle on in the streets, and the sunset? Well, what sunset? You didn’t see it today, yesterday, or the last year.

Suddenly, Big You can do all the things that Little You loved to do, at any moment. But instead, every moment of those once desired things is much more depressing than you would like for any of them to be.

Now, why is that? Why is it that as we grow older, the things we loved as kids suddenly become ordinary things that we take for granted?

Simply put, we discover other things. Somewhere along our life paths, whether it is through education, the media, or the people we are surrounded with, we become limited by the scope of “important” reality without any room for imagination. We discover the “importance” of money, status, practicality and adhering to the status quo. Suddenly, happiness is measured by these new terms, and we give no regard to the simple things that we grew up loving. All adults are guilty of this. ALL.

So then I ask, would Little You be proud of Big You? Big You knows that it is practically impossible to live without working, without thinking about the bills, without making important connections, without making the bosses happy. Big You knows that supporting yourself, let alone your family, is much more difficult than previously imagined, and Big You is doing everything you can to make it happen and still have a social life. Big You is also willing to sacrifice a lot for that social life.

Little You WANTS to be proud of Big You. Big You reasons that everything you do in life is so that you can survive. But Little You survived too – without thinking about all these things. What kept Little You going?

DREAMS. Little You had dreams of growing up and being the best YOU possible. Little You could not wait to be Big You to achieve all these childhood goals, and also to tiptoe onto the rascal side every once in a while. Little You wanted to help the world, to change it for the better, to give your friends clouds in the skies that looked like them so you could all be cloud friends. Little You wrote handwritten apology letters when things went wrong. Little You got mad when you weren’t picked by the teacher, but Little You was told that sharing was important and became the bigger person by sharing the toy with your classmate – or your little brother. Little You loved birthday balloons, and Little You loved getting older because each plus one meant one year closer to making your dreams real.

Think about your childhood dreams. Are you living them? Are you being the best Big You possible? If Little You met Big You today, would both of them rejoice in the success of your life as it continues?

Don’t dismiss those “silly thoughts” Little You may have had. Little You was innocent and may have believed that the raindrops were always racing down the car window, but these were the thoughts that Little You had that made you happy. Little You believed in You – both Little You and Big You. 

Little Me wrote some life advice for future me in the autograph book I rediscovered tonight. She reminded me to “never give up, never” and that “u can do it!” (because using “u” instead of “you” was/is the coolest thing).

Little Me had dreams and knew what was best for future me. She still does today.

Childhood