Eddie Huang & "Fresh off the Boat"

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Eddie Huang & "Fresh off the Boat"

Postby pianoman » Mon Jan 19, 2015 3:57 pm

While it is not technically the first Asian-American TV sitcom, on February 10th American audiences will get to see what is being talked about as the first AA sitcom on network TV to have a chance at becoming part of popular culture. The show is called "Fresh off the Boat," and is loosely based on the 2013 memoir of Taiwanese-American NYC celebrity chef Eddie Huang:


The sitcom's website is here. Huang recently published an article in New York Magazine about the experience of turning his memoir into a TV show and what it means to him. Many people took the article as criticism of the way the show ultimately turned out from the person it is supposed to be based on before the show even debuts. The article seems to me (by the end of the piece) to be conditionally supportive of the show. Here are some excerpts:

From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Yick Wo v. Hopkins to your favorite talking head’s favorite “ching chong” jokes, America never ran out of the shadows to defend the honor of their obedient Chinamen. Despite being the “man’s” preferred lapdog of color, everything Asian-American immigrants have was fought for. We still wake up spotting the man 10 points, walking with our heads down, apologizing for our FOB-y aunts and uncles as if aspiring to wash your shirt or do your taxes were really such an insidiously foreign idea. In a way, I accept that I have to be 10 points better; what I won’t accept are Melvins.

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. But who is that show written for?

We all know that universal demographic doesn’t exist; even at the level of the person, the network’s ideal viewer doesn’t exist, much less know what it wants. This universal market of Jos. A. Bank customers watches cornstarch television and eats at Panda Express because that’s all they’re being offered. I didn’t need the show to be Baohaus or Din Tai Fung; I would have settled for Chipotle. Yet, for some reason, no one wants to improve the quality of offerings until someone forces them to. A Jedi has to say, “I want to be incrementally better than the Seth MacFarlanes and McDonald’s of the world!” for anything to change. Isn’t that the genius of Shake Shack, South Park, and In-N-Out Burger? What happened to being an incrementally aspirational society? Wasn’t America the City on the Hill? In Hollywood, it felt like, we were the town in a valley run by western Michigan.

Three weeks later, the EPA had announced it was no longer consulting scientists, Ferguson had announced there would be no indictments, and I sat in my massage chair numb to America, getting the gluten kneaded out of my back fat. Everything I saw, from Republicans suing Obama over immigration reform to the script for our second episode, where ODB is appropriated to teach Young Eddie how to make it rain, made absolutely no sense. 17 But in my post-Thanksgiving slumber, I turned on the Michigan–Ohio State game. Since Desmond Howard did the Heisman, I’ve been a Wolverines fan. They’ve been hot trash recently, but I still hold out hope … BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN A PROMO FOR YOUR LIFE STORY IS GOING TO RUN ON ABC DURING THE GAME WHEN YOU ARE TAKING BONG RIPS.

All of a sudden, I screamed, “THERE IT GO!” The Fresh Off the Boat logo flashed across the screen, my TV mom, Constance Wu, going buck-wild in a Taiwanese market, Young Eddie, searching for Lunchables, and Randall Park with the jade pendant, flossin’ just like my pops. THERE WERE REAL ACTORS ON TV TALKING ABOUT THE PITFALLS OF WHITE FOOD!

After 18 months of back and forth, I had crossed a threshold and become the audience. I wasn’t the auteur, the writer, the actor, or the source material. I was the viewer, and I finally understood it. This show isn’t about me, nor is it about Asian America. The network won’t take that gamble right now. You can’t flash an ad during THE GAME with some chubby Chinese kid running across the screen talking shit about spaceships and Uncle Chans in 2014 because America has no reference. The only way they could even mention some of the stories in the book was by building a Trojan horse and feeding the pathogenic stereotypes that still define us to a lot of American cyclope. Randall was neutered, Constance was exoticized, and Young Eddie was urbanized so that the viewers got their mise-en-place. People watching these channels have never seen us, and the network’s approach to pacifying them is to say we’re all the same. Sell them pasteurized network television with East Asian faces until they wake up intolerant of their own lactose, and hit 'em with the soy. Baking soya, I got baking soya!

Huang's writing style makes use of many cultural references and inside jokes that (probably intentionally) many Americans would not understand, let alone Asians in Asia. Asians outside of the US would probably also not completely understand Huang's persona, which is based on black street culture. Several of the Asian Youtubers who have risen to prominence in recent years (i.e. Timothy DeLaGhetto, David So, Fung Bros but not KevJumba or Nigahiga) also make use of African-American speech, mannerisms and styles of dress. Black culture is, of course, predominant in American popular culture generally. It seems to me that Eddie Huang's success is at least partially contingent upon assuming a black cultural persona. So long as Asians remain outsiders in the US, it doesn't matter how we talk or dress. But the only way Asians could be brought into the culture, to have cultural currency in the US, is as a strongly self-identified and historically denuded minority that interacts with the majority culture in a predetermined and contractually grandfathered way.

We'll see how "Fresh off the Boat" does. There are many preview clips available on the show's website. The fact that the show plays heavily and relatively intelligently with stereotypes may give it the audience it needs to survive. Another show called Selfie, the first to feature an Asian-American male in a lead role, was cancelled in the middle of its first season last year.
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Re: Eddie Huang & "Fresh off the Boat"

Postby pianoman » Tue Feb 10, 2015 9:16 pm

Wesley Yang has published a profile of Eddie Huang in the New York Times. I'm sure this is part of the promotion for "Fresh off the Boat." Here are excerpts. I intend to comment on the show soon..

Wesley Yang

This mixture of love and loathing toward parents will be familiar to generations of immigrants of every color, but Asian-Americans feel this tension with an unusual acuteness, in part because Confucian tradition is so explicitly directed toward the breaking of individual autonomy in favor of the demands of the family. This tension is compounded by the fact that, as a result of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which eased national-­origin quotas, Asians began arriving in the United States in large numbers just as the cultural upheaval of the 1960s was drastically loosening American manners and mores. Today the means that many Asian-Americans apply to achieve academic success (a narrow emphasis on rote memorization and test preparation) could not be more out of step with the attitudes and practices of the socially liberal elite that Asians aspire to join. The ensuing cultural dissonance generates an awkward silence around the topic of Asian-Americans — Asian-­Americans don’t want to portray their parents as backward, and white liberals don’t want to be seen as looking down on people of other races and cultures whose parenting practices seem primitive. Huang hates this silence.

Mar and Khan met at a symposium for Asian-Americans interested in the popular arts, where they dealt with a familiar crowd of activists demanding to know why Hollywood seemed so uninterested in casting people who looked like themselves. (Mar’s family is from China; Khan’s is from Iran.) “You go to these conferences, and there’s always people saying, ‘You should do more for Asian people,’ ” Mar said. “And my response is, ‘Yes, I agree with you.’ But it’s easier said than done. I have to bring actual projects that are viable and convince the executives that there’s a real business case for making it.”
The business case for making an Asian-American show is simple: Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, they earn and spend more than the average American and they are overrepresented in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-34-year-old demographic. But if the case were really so strong, surely two decades would not have passed without some network making a bid for this audience. Perhaps the reason is that the so-called Asian-American demographic (some 18 million viewers) is actually made up of many different nationalities with no common culture or language.

Moreover, comedies about nonwhite people generally must navigate a trap-laden path between offending the group represented and neutering the comedy to avoid doing so. And they suffer from having to be approved and produced by people who are overwhelmingly white, and thus unfamiliar with the nuances of the stories they are telling, and also intensely wary of giving offense — but all this does is increase the likelihood that these shows will be dull, though still capable of offending their audience. This is exactly what happened to “All-American Girl,” the sitcom starring the comedian Margaret Cho and the last significant attempt to make an Asian-American TV show. The series was disowned by the Korean-American community that it tried to portray and was eventually rejected by the wider audience for being unfunny. It was canceled after just one season, two decades ago.

“It’s so interesting, what he’s going through,” Khan told me. “Most people never get the opportunity to experience what he’s experiencing. So now he’s rebelling and manifesting the angst, and that’s what makes him him, and that’s why he wrote the memoir in the first place. Part of me just wants to say, ‘Sit back and enjoy this.’ ”

When I told Huang that Khan wanted him to sit back and enjoy the ride, he had an immediate response: “That’s what pedophiles tell children.”

Even if Huang’s attraction to black culture is played for cheap laughs, to him it is an essential element of his person. It provides the missing half of the fully human entity that the Asian-American who consents to the model-minority myth has to relinquish. A model minority is a tractable, one-­dimensional simulacrum of a person, stripped of complexity, nuance, danger and sexuality — a person devoid of dramatic interest. Huang is something else: a person at war with all the constraints that would fetter him to anything less than an identity capacious enough to contain all his contradictions and ambivalence.

As he thought about it, Huang hit on a comparison between Hollywood executives and the typical Chinatown restaurant. Each, he said, think they know what people want and strive to give them exactly that. But it never occurs to either of them to sell people the authentic thing itself — Chinese food the way Chinese people make it for themselves or, in the case of Hollywood, stories that don’t rely on formulaic contrivance to be funny.
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Re: Eddie Huang & "Fresh off the Boat"

Postby pianoman » Wed Feb 11, 2015 7:54 pm

Here's an interesting Slate.com blog about a NYC viewing party of the premier of "Fresh off the Boat":
http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/201 ... icans.html

Twenty years ago, when Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl became the first Asian-American family sitcom to air on broadcast television, Yang [Jeff Yang's son plays young Eddie Huang in the show] was the TV critic for The Village Voice and he wrote a scathing review, calling the show “awful” and “larded with stereotypes.” He thought the show was self-orientalizing and not the kind of representation Asian-Americans should have. Yang closed his review: “Why not just go ahead and call it Gooks ‘R Us?” And while numerous Asian-American critics loathed the show, it was historic nonetheless. “People were holding viewing parties, people were doing nothing but talk about All-American Girl, how it’s going to be this transitional moment for Asian America,” said Yang. “Much as we’re saying here tonight.”

In the half hour between the first and second episodes, the event organizers held a talk-back session with one of the executive producers, Melvin Mar, Randall Park, Hudson Yang, and, of course, Eddie Huang himself, hosted by MSNBC news anchor Richard Lui. Huang flew in specifically for the event when he heard how many people had RSVPed on Facebook. Dressed like a hip-hop mogul, he walked in to the beat of the intro of his show for Vice—now called Huang’s World (it was Fresh Off the Boat before the ABC show)—wearing a printed gold-and-white button-down, silver sneakers, and what I can only describe as slouchy high-fashion sweatpants.

“This moment means a lot to me. This is the first story about a Taiwanese-Chinese-American family that has been allowed on network television. And today we've arrived,” he said. When Huang speaks, he holds court, and the air is punctuated by shouts of “Yes!” and “Preach!” He blends personal anecdotes and observations of structural racism. He knew this show was not the wild and ribald memoir that he had written, that it required “artistic sacrifice” to reach a wider public. He knew that it was not everything, but that it was still something. “This got us on-base, but somebody in this crowd gotta bring us home.”
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Re: Eddie Huang & "Fresh off the Boat"

Postby pianoman » Sun Feb 15, 2015 6:48 pm

I have watched the pilot and episode 1 on ABC's website. (I have to wait 1 week to see them; ABC protecting its contractual interests with telecomm.) Overall, the show is not bad. The jokes are funny, the cast is quite good, the production entirely up-to-date with modern TV standards. Like Eddie Huang pointed out in his own essay, the stories and plotlines have definitely been pasteurized for mass consumption, but at the same time you cannot say that the conflicts and plot elements in the show do not arise from the actual Asian American experience, even if what is chosen for the show are the most acceptable and least controversial aspects of that experience. In fact, the impression I get from these first two episodes is that a great deal of talent and resources were marshalled by the studio in order to make this show work for American audiences. There is so much in them they are almost a tour de force of TV comedy, i.e. someone involved with this show knew exactly what the obstacles were in putting an Asian family on TV in America, and was absolutely determined that it should not fail.

In this sense the show is quite "defensive" in that it seems to try to preempt any criticism or doubt or racial antipathy that the creators knew it would encounter. There are many ways it does this, but I think the main way is by self-stereotyping to disarm the viewer and then inserting what is essentially American humor into the stereotypes. I think the mother character played by Constance Wu is the most successful of these self-stereotypes. There is no way that the producers of the show can't tell that her accent is not real, or that Asian immigrant mothers in the 90s didn't say things like "You are trying to dissolve the crouton" or "My son is rejecting white culture, which actually makes me kind of proud." This new, strange type of comedy seems to come to Wu very naturally; she may be remembered for the rest of her life for this role. Randall Park's character commenting on the font of the white employee's resume is another one of these intra-stereotype insertions, as is the grandmother telling the Jackalope "You were not fast enough." These are all American jokes.

One thing that I noticed, however, is the degree to which the humor in "Fresh off the Boat" relies on what the American viewer would consider jarring juxtopositions: the reveal of Eddie Huang in hip-hop regalia at the start of the show, the Asian father opening a restaurant called "Cattleman's Ranch Steakhouse," or the characters delivering lines they normally wouldn't (above). It is difficult to say for sure, but I don't remember any other American sitcom that made use of these types of juxtopositions in the same way. Black sitcoms like "The Cosby Show," "The Fresh Prince of Bell-Air," or "A Different World" were all trying to put forward an image of African Americans in successfull settings (Doctor's house, mansion in a wealthy neighborhood, college). The point of these shows was to get Americans used to seeing black people with status instead of as criminals, gang-bangers, or thugs, which was the black stereotype. They were trying to portray an image of successfull black people, not trying to create humor from the gap between the perception in the viewers mind and the image on the screen. The conditions of acceptance into mainstream culture in American are different for different groups. I don't think that, every time a black president was depicted in a Hollywood movie before Obama was elected, the intended response was laughter.
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Re: Eddie Huang & "Fresh off the Boat"

Postby pianoman » Wed Feb 25, 2015 10:49 pm

Jeff Yang, Wall Street Journal writer, one-time TV critic for the the VIllage Voice, and the father of Hudsan Yang who plays Eddie on the show, has written a short retrospective of Asian American TV/Film culture from a very privileged vantage point. He starts with a screening of "Sixteen Candles" as a kid, but I'll just repost the parts about "Fresh off the Boat":

Jeff and Hudsan Yang

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv ... story.html
This is me, that time, last year — once more sitting in the dark. On the monitor before me, as I huddle in my hoodie against the glacial cold of the Fox Studios soundstage, a family tableau plays out — immigrant parents, three young boys, moving into a new neighborhood hundreds of miles away from home.

Their surroundings are alien, and the locals are bizarre, but the family itself is all too familiar: They could be my own family, as we made our move from urban Brooklyn to the Staten Island suburbs, 41 years ago. In fact, they are my family — or at least the eldest kid is, because the 10-year-old playing young Eddie Huang is my son, Hudson Yang, plucked out of anonymity to star in "Fresh Off the Boat," the first Asian American family sitcom on network prime time in two decades.

And Hudson is an eye-opener. He's cocky, swaggering, vulnerable, real. Though he's delivering invented laugh-lines, there's an authenticity in his performance that comes from a kind of confidence I myself have never been able to summon, and I know exactly where it comes from: He's never heard that ringing in his ears — the sound of a cartoon gong.

The same can be said for his on-screen siblings, Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen, playing the two younger members of the Huang brood, Emery and Evan. They live in a changed world from the one in which I grew up, and whether they know it or not, they're changing it an order of magnitude further by doing what they're doing: Putting a set of characters on-screen that a generation of young Asian Americans will laugh with, live with and recognize as reflections of themselves.

It's been a wild and rocky journey to get here. Hudson, with almost no experience, was cast in the final hours of the hunt for young Eddie, after a search that scoured major cities across North America. The series was the last pickup of the season, announced the day before ABC's upfronts. The show was then scheduled for midyear and programmed in a scary slot: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, leading off a night against meat-grinder competition. There have been social media kerfuffles, bizarre moments with the media and controversy seemingly at every turn.

But here we are, this time, now — with "Fresh Off the Boat" poised to premiere. Realizing to ourselves that this amazing, funny, subversive, totally unexpected show exists at all is nothing short of miraculous. And that if America embraces it, the ringing in our ears won't be a gong; it will be an alarm bell, telling the world that our time has finally arrived.
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Re: Eddie Huang & "Fresh off the Boat"

Postby pianoman » Tue Mar 10, 2015 7:17 pm

New Yorker weighing in this week:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/ ... y-nussbaum

Yet, even in its half-dozen early episodes, those burnt first pancakes of sitcoms, the show has a radical quality, simply because it arrives in a television landscape with few Asian characters, almost none of them protagonists. Khan, the showrunner (who wrote for Seth MacFarlane, and who produced the wicked ABC sitcom “Don’t Trust the B—— in Apartment 23”), is her own sort of provocateur, an expert at slipping rude ideas into polite formats. She uses the Asian-American family to reset TV’s defaults. The characters aren’t the hero’s best friends; they’re not macho cartoons or eye candy, either, as on some cable dramas I could name. This can be an unpleasantly clinical way to talk: it places the critic in the camp of the bean counters, not the gonzo rapscallions. But simply watching people of color having a private conversation, one that’s not primarily about white people, is a huge deal. It changes who the joke is on. “Fresh Off the Boat” is part of a larger movement within television, on shows that include the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” and Fox’s “Empire”—a trend that’s most influential when it creates a hit, not a niche phenomenon.
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Re: Eddie Huang & "Fresh off the Boat"

Postby pianoman » Tue Mar 31, 2015 7:43 pm

Constance Wu (who plays the mother) gave an interesting interview with the Hollywood Reporter. She talks about some of the choices she made creating her character, some ideas about what comedy is, and what she feels the significance of the show is and where it fits in the landscape of contemporary television. Wu has been praised by many people as the standout in "Fresh off the Boat," and it is always interesting to hear an actor or actress talk about what went into creating a successfull performance or character:

Constance Wu

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-f ... ill-784132

Eddie admitted he didn't know what made now the right time for a show like Fresh Off the Boat to be embraced by a major network, let alone a mainstream audience. Why do you think it took so long, and why do you think it's resonating now?

Audiences are smarter than we think, and the nature of television is changing with our digital era. There's so much content out there that when you use the same tried-and-true formulas from great sitcoms like I Love Lucy, it can get old, because people are recycling formulas and forgetting the things that made shows like that so great. It wasn't the formula that it had; it was the spirit that created that formula.... I'm not relying on standard comedic turnarounds and practices and schtick. I try to make it come from a place of truth, universal family and love. To have that, and to have the lens flipped — instead of having a white person looking in on an Asian perspective, it's an Asian perspective looking out into a white world — that's new and relatable because it's born of the same truth that existed in those great sitcoms from before.

What kind of response have you gotten from Asian-American communities?

People are embracing the thing that made them different growing up instead of letting that thing elicit shame. It is from our point of view, so just to have a show that allows you to celebrate that I think has been powerful for our audience.

How do you feel ABC and Fresh Off the Boat have helped usher in a diversity push in general?

Networks are now seeing that people want to see the real world reflected in their television screens so that they can have a real community experience with their stories. Networks, because they are now seeing that when things reflect the real world, people tune in and people respond to that, they are responding, too. People's passion and desire for authenticity is strong. Some people may think it's politically minded, but I think at this point the audience response and the financial response show it's more. Authentic programming that shows the outside world garners authentic interest.

Now that you've been in the role for a little while, showrunner Nahnatchka Khan has really fleshed out Jessica's character. How did the character evolve? Was it a collaborative process?

I did not pitch any ideas to the writers; I just took what they gave me and tried to give it a lot of layers. There was one [time] well after we shot that I emailed [Nahnatchka] and asked to use a specific take of one of my lines. It was at the very end of the "Phillip Goldstein" episode, right after "Drop the mic." "Who's Mike?" "It means you did good, mom." In the other takes I had been really clever; I had improv'd some really funny repartee with Hudson [Yang], but on the last take I heard him say, "You did good, mom," and I just thought as a mother, it would be something really touching. So I didn't improv anything after it and asked that they use that one. Obviously, a lot of Jessica's mannerisms are things that are not necessarily written into the script, like when I sort of wave away the woman who's giving me samples in the grocery store; that was just something that intuitively happened when I was in character.

The show has introduced Jessica's family, and it's diving more into her back story before the season's end, with Rex Lee guesting as an old college friend. What new dynamic will that bring?

It's delightfully misguided! We show some photos of our younger selves, and we do talk about our younger selves, but we don't have flashback scenes. It adds layers and depth to a character, which is very important, because when you do a comedy, you run the risk of just trying to be funny. That can work in short form, but if you want to draw a fan base, I believe the humor must come from a place of humanity and some sort of universal truth. The more you know about somebody's back story, the deeper you can delve into that well, and the more your comedic choices resonate full-body, instead of just being quick, quippy one-liners that are just like a bunch of people trying to be clever. Because after a while, cleverness is just really obnoxious! We know you're cute; we know you're smart; get over yourself!

Fresh Off the Boat is the first Asian-American comedy since All-American Girl with Margaret Cho in the '90s, when this show is set. Do you think it's important to reference that as something the family may be responding to culturally at the time, but also for the show itself to acknowledge what came before?

There is — it's in a later episode. There is a scene in which we are actually watching All-American Girl. I do think it's important to start a conversation about the fact that it did take [20] years — not to get mad about it but to start a spirited conversation so that it encourages people to express their voice about wanting to see the real world on their screen. A lot of people think Eddie Huang is really outspoken, but if you're not going to speak out for yourself, then who will? We've gotten pretty far in terms of socioeconomic status, but not necessarily in media, and at some point you need to be outspoken. This starts a dialogue. And the louder your voice is, the more people will hear you.
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Re: Eddie Huang & "Fresh off the Boat"

Postby pianoman » Sun Sep 20, 2015 2:47 pm

Constance Wu was interviewed again in the New York Times Magazine. In this interview, she talks a lot about the politics of Asians in American culture and her approach to pursuing a career with very dim prospects. She also mentions some of her influences, including Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Mark Ruffalo (???) and, conditionally, Cate Blanchett. She reads Jeffrey Eugenides and David Foster Wallace. She quotes Yoda.

Constance Wu

Constance Wu Is Making Her Way in Hollywood
Interview by NICOLE CHUNGSEPT. 17, 2015

When “Fresh Off the Boat” had its premiere in February, some viewers were nearly as anxious as they were exhilarated by the prospect of seeing the first Asian-American family sitcom in 20 years. The questions were many: Would the writers play to stereotypes about Asian-Americans or flout them? Would the show’s punch lines land at the expense of the immigrants and their experiences? And if the show flopped, would we have to wait another two decades for a show about Asian-Americans? Eddie Huang, on whose memoir the show is based, had his own concerns about the story being repackaged as “pasteurized network television.”

Despite these concerns, “Fresh Off the Boat” was an unequivocal hit in its first season, winning devoted fans as well as renewal for a second season, which begins Sept. 22. Perhaps the show’s biggest breakout star is Constance Wu, who plays Jessica Huang, Eddie’s mother. Wu’s strong comedic performance as an unapologetically striving parent with no shortage of self-confidence or strong opinions led to Television Critics’ Association and Critics’ Choice Television Award nominations for the actress.

On Saturday, Wu and I spoke about her own family history, how she spends her time when she’s not ruling the Huang household and what the real Jessica Huang thinks of the show.

You’re from Richmond, Va., born and raised; your parents are from Taiwan. What was it like growing up the daughter of Asian-American immigrants in the South?

That’s a question I didn’t think too much about until I read Eddie’s book, and I realized his experience was very different from mine, and wondered why. I feel like he faced some more overt discrimination and racism than I did. Where I grew up in Richmond, manners are very important. So even though I grew up with a lot of socially conservative people, they just had their views, and if you spoke about yours, they would listen and consider. They would probably still have their views, but there was never any rudeness.

How did your family end up in Richmond?

My dad got a job as a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. He teaches biology and genetics. My dad has been obsessed with science his whole life. Both my paternal grandparents were illiterate bamboo farmers, so he really worked his way up and then got a Ph.D., full ride and everything, from universities in America.

Were there actors you looked up to when you were growing up?

There were so few Asians on-screen when I grew up, and the ones who were on-screen weren’t given complex characters to play. In terms of pure acting, my role model has always been Philip Seymour Hoffman; I really always loved what he did. I love what Mark Ruffalo does. When I was younger, I liked Cate Blanchett a lot. These are all actors who are given stories and allowed to carry the whole story. You get to see a human at their highest point, their lowest point and everything in between. Asian-Americans haven’t been allowed that.

Given the lack of diversity on-screen, were you ever concerned it would be more difficult for you to break in or get the kind of roles you wanted?

If I was thinking about that and spending my energy worrying about that, I would never get out of bed. Being an actor, in and of itself, is just hard. You have to just do it for its own sake. I could still be waitressing, and I wouldn’t have as much money, but I’d still have the thing that was meaningful to me, and the pursuit of it, which is greater than the accolades. Because accolades go away. Even if I did win every award ever, Hollywood forgets things in, like, 15 minutes. If you base your value on those types of things, it’s very empty. If you’re always chasing truth and meaning and things that matter to you, you’ll never get enough of that, and you’ll feel like you did something useful while you were on the planet.

People, young Asian actors, will ask me all the time: “What’s your advice? How do you do it?” You just do it. I could have looked around as a kid and been discouraged because I didn’t see any Asian leading people. In terms of movies, there’s never been an Asian-American actor who was allowed to carry their own movie for several movies. You can look at all these stats, and it’s very discouraging, but you either just do it or you don’t. And if you fail because Hollywood doesn’t want to let an Asian person be the lead in anything, well, you failed doing something that mattered to you.

It’s like Yoda says: “Do or do not. There is no ‘try.’ ” I came out to L.A. from New York with credit-card debt, thousands in student loans. I’ve been on my own financially since I was 18. It was the dumbest move I could have made, coming out here. But I did it.

What do you like to do when you’re not acting?

I read a lot — I actually think that’s a big part of what made me become an actor. When I was little, I wanted to become a writer.

What is it about reading that led you to acting?

I’m one of those people who thinks there’s nothing more human than a book. If the writer is really good, they get into a character’s life and their heart and their head in a way that makes you, the reader, feel less alone with your own personal little embarrassments or hopes or dreams or heartbreaks. I think really good writers have always done that for me — made me feel less alone in the world by showing me characters who felt the way I did on the inside, and maybe weren’t brave enough to show it on the outside.

I’m not able to write characters in the way Marilynne Robinson is, or Jeffrey Eugenides is, but I think I approach character in acting similarly to the way a lot of these writers write characters — which is to have anything I do be informed by a deeper thing, even if I don’t always intend to show it.

Did you ever consider another career?

When I was in New York, I quit acting for a couple of years to study psycholinguistics. The fact that it is biological, that there’s an acquisition period, that we have a part of our brain that is programmed to carry language, the way all languages have a grammar and the lexicon — when you break down what language is, and how unique it is to us as a species, it’s amazing. My first intro to it was an essay by David Foster Wallace called “Authority and American Usage.” He breaks down why the evolution of language matters. That essay is still one of my favorite things I’ve ever read.

A big theme in the first season of “Fresh Off the Boat” was the family trying to find its footing and fit in among new neighbors. What themes or new conflicts will we see in Season 2? And how much more will you veer from the book? Are there things you’d like to see explored on the show that haven’t been yet?

I think Eddie’s story is going to be the most interesting, because he’s going through that teenager time. I’m interested in seeing how he becomes an adult.

The book is really sort of a springboard. I think one of the greatest things about our show is that it is a family show. We have our own plot elements that are not in the book at all, but are definitely still informed by the Asian-American experience. All of our shows and books in America are told from the white framework. I said the other day, “ ‘Togetherness’ is a show about white people in Highland Park,” and my white friend was like, “Aw, don’t say that, they’re just people.” And I’m like, O.K., why isn’t my show just about people? Why are we a subset of people? Why are white people allowed to be “just people” without the label?

The fact remains that they’re allowed to exist as “just people” because that’s the normative standard. Do I begrudge the Duplass brothers or Lena Dunham for writing about their own experiences? Of course not; the best writing is about experience. But their experience is allowed because they come from a framework of privilege.

What’s cool about our show is that on the surface it may seem like a standard family sitcom, but it’s special because we’re claiming ownership of the story and saying it’s just as valid, just as worthy of an audience.

Do you have a dream role, or other goals or projects you’d like to work on when you’re not working on “Fresh Off the Boat”?

I have dream roles in theater, like Masha in “Three Sisters.” I do come from a dramatic background, so I’d like to continue doing drama. And I’d like to promote Asian-American stories, where the Asians carry the story and where being Asian-American is not the only part of their identity, but it’s a beautiful part of their identity that we want to show.

How would you like to go about promoting Asian-American stories? Are you thinking of producing or directing?

I’m not thinking of directing, because I directed once, and it was the hardest thing I ever did! I don’t think I have the type of brain for that.

I looked up the people who went to the Sundance screenwriters’ lab last year, and I saw there were two Asian-American artists — Yung Chang and Christopher Yogi — who had screenplays in the direction lab. These labs are just an opportunity to help teach young filmmakers how to direct and run a set. I actually turned down a Bruce Willis movie to go and do this workshop for free — to support and meet these Asian artists. I worked on Chris Yogi’s script. So I make choices like that. The luxury of having a network show is I financially have a bit of freedom, so I would like to use that freedom the best I can [and] hopefully help Asian creators.

I’m not going to ask Lena Dunham to write a story about Asian-American girls; that’s not her experience. But if we want more stories about Asian-Americans, then we have to help foster the creators, the writers, the producers, the directors. I’m trying to read more books that are written by Asian-Americans. It’s important to me that I read these stories. If I want to open Hollywood’s mind to Asian actors, I should do that for Asian writers.

I appreciate what you’ve said about how you aren’t trying to tell the universal Asian-American story, because that doesn’t really exist. But I imagine portraying real people creates a different kind of pressure, because you’re borrowing their story. Do you know what the real Jessica Huang thinks of the show?

The real Eddie Huang told me that his mom definitely approves! She likes it, and for the most part, likes my portrayal. But you know, to be honest — this is one of the lovable qualities of Jessica Huang — she also doesn’t really care. That’s why it’s so fun to play her: She doesn’t really care what people think about her. She is who she is.

I think Jessica has confidence, but the confidence doesn’t come from thinking she’s better than other people. I actually think her confidence, which is similar to mine, comes from a place of vulnerability and knowing that you can’t please everybody and you never will, but you can stay true to yourself.

I was looking at your Instagram before this interview, and I love all the pictures and videos of your pet bunny, Lida Rose! She should probably have a cameo on the show.

I think if she were on the show, Jessica’s character would probably try to eat her.
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Re: Eddie Huang & "Fresh off the Boat"

Postby pianoman » Tue Feb 02, 2016 7:25 pm

Producer of FOTB, Nahnatchka Khan, answers questions from the NYT and readers about the show. A lot of topics covered, predictable but telling responses:

Nahnatchka Khan, Constance Wu and Randall Park

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/02/arts/ ... chang.html

Nahnatchka Khan on ‘Fresh Off the Boat,’ Chinese New Year and Michael Chang
Ask a Show Runner

Once mostly anonymous, the producers who oversee top television series have sometimes become as well known as the actors who star in them. On occasion, The New York Times will pose questions from readers (and some of our own) to notable show runners and post their responses.

Coming soon: Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould of “Better Call Saul.”

This week, Nahnatchka Khan discusses her ABC sitcom, “Fresh Off the Boat.” When the series debuted on ABC last February, it was TV’s first Asian-American family comedy since Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl” in 1994 and 1995. Now, as Hollywood contends with its embarrassingly monochromatic slate of Oscar acting nominees, “Fresh Off the Boat” is part of a growing list of sitcoms with ethnic minorities in leading roles. This also includes ABC’s “black-ish” and “Dr. Ken,” NBC’s “Superstore” and “Telenovela,” and Netflix’s “Master of None.”

“It feels like TV is leading the way,” Ms. Khan said. “The floodgates opened up, and people are seeing themselves represented more on television.“ On Tuesday “Fresh Off the Boat” — based on Eddie Huang’s memoir about growing up Taiwanese-American in Florida during the ’90s — will become the first American TV series to do an episode focused on the Chinese New Year holiday. In honor of the occasion, Ms. Khan recently fielded questions about the show’s cast, its hip-hop theme song and her previous work on the cult-favorite sitcom “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Q. Why did you initially want to tell Eddie Huang’s story?

A. I loved being able to talk about the first-generation experience. I really related to the experiences Eddie wrote about: having parents who are immigrants but being born here with siblings, and being that bridge between the old and the new schools. I’d never seen a family sitcom deal with that.

Why did you decide to do a Chinese New Year’s episode?

When we got the Season 2 order, it initially was for 13 episodes. We didn’t know if we’d get a full order, with the back nine. We knew Episode 13 was going to end up around Chinese New Year, so we’ve always had that earmarked. Even if we don’t do any more, we definitely want to hit that, because it’s such an important holiday for so many people. The fact that it hasn’t been represented at all makes it such a great opportunity for our show. Hopefully, this will become part of our show’s canon; every year, we’ll do our Chinese New Year episode.

How familiar were you with the holiday’s traditions?

The writer of the episode, Sheng Wang, is Taiwanese-American, and he grew up in Houston around the same time that the show is set, so a lot of his experiences were like this. We have Korean writers, Chinese writers, Indian writers, and I’m Persian. Some of us would go to school and explain about our New Year’s and get made fun of by our classmates. “What are you talking about? New Year’s is in January.” It was unexpectedly emotional for people to talk about that. Hopefully, after this episode airs, more kids on the playground will know what this is. That’s kind of a cool thing.

Do you feel less like an outsider since you’ve been able to share “Fresh Off the Boat” on such a large platform and to see how many people can relate, no matter their backgrounds? — Anisha Adusumilli, Los Angeles

I feel really satisfied that so many people can relate to it. I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling like somewhat of an outsider, because my experience is not the majority’s. Being a woman, Persian and gay, I become more and more of an outsider with every click of the microscope. But what’s fun for me is to take the way I’ve seen the world and have it inform the way I write the characters. It feels different to me than maybe the way a white guy experiences the world through his prism.

It seems many controversial topics are brought up through a comedic portrayal of cultural stereotypes in order to appeal to a wider audience who may think they are laughing with characters about culture clashes but may really be laughing at them based on their own prejudices. Do you think new avenues for TV, like Netflix and Amazon, will allow for a deeper, more honest look into these topics? — Scott Yeilding, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Because of successes like “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Dr. Ken, “Master of None” and “The Mindy Project,” there will be more shows like these, and then you can get more nuanced with what you talk about. As far as dealing in stereotypes, you can’t control viewers or know what their inner thoughts or beliefs are, but we are always telling stories from the inside out. The family is not the butt of the jokes. They’re not the ones in the fishbowl being pointed at. We see the world through their eyes. They control the narrative. That is kind of revolutionary.

Why is the part of Louis Huang played by a Korean actor? Were you unable to find any capable English-speaking Taiwanese actors to portray the part of an English-speaking Taiwanese character? — Katie C., New York

Randall Park is one of the funniest comedic actors working today, regardless of race. I obsessively watched “Veep” for his performance. Randall understands this character, and he knows how to be funny, emotional and real, and how to carry story weight. He’s like a utility knife. He can bring it all. I’m so grateful and lucky that he’s part of this show because of his skills.

Constance Wu is such a powerhouse, yet she hadn’t done much comedy before you cast her. Did you see this kind of potential in her?

I remember seeing her picture, and she looked so young. She’s got to be the mother of three boys, and I thought, “I’m never going to buy it.” She came in, and from the first second she opened her mouth as Jessica, she nailed it. She inhabited that character. The choices she makes are so unusual, and she elevates everything. She makes it so much funnier than you thought it ever could be.

How do you balance the specificity of the experience of growing up Chinese- American with the constraints of a sitcom? And not being Chinese-American yourself, how do you incorporate and maintain the Chinese-American experience and perspective in a non-stereotypical way? — Caroline, Washington, D.C.

Luckily, we have a lot of Chinese-Americans on staff, from executive producers to writers to cast members. We always try to make sure the show has an authenticity and a specificity, because we want it to feel like these are real people. This is just one family. They’re not going to represent everyone’s experience ever, but we really spend time making sure we get these characters correct.

I was really glad that the “Good Morning Orlando” episode dealt with the Long Duk Dong issue from “Sixteen Candles” as well as paying tribute to Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl.” Will there be any more episodes that shine a light on other Asian-Americans? — Kenix, Calif.

We have an episode coming up in a few weeks called “Michael Chang Fever.” It’s 1996 on the show, and that was around the time he made it to the finals of the Australian Open against Boris Becker. It’s a huge deal in the Huang household. Louis is an enormous fan. He gets headbands made as a member of the “Chang gang.” That’s a really fun episode, and Billie Jean King plays herself in it. She’s amazing.

Could you please replace the opening theme song? I think the show itself is cute, but I have reflexively changed the channel on more than one occasion because the song is so unpleasant. — Matt Lemmons, Jonesboro, Ark.

Oh, no, I love the song! It makes me so happy. It doesn’t sound like any other theme song on TV. Some people said, “It’s a little loud,” and I said, “That’s exactly right.” We have to announce ourselves. We need to make a little noise.

Would you ever consider reviving “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23” and pitching it to Netflix? There is a rumor about a Christmas special. Is that something we can look forward to? — Jorge, Arizona

Absolutely. I love that show so much. We’re talking about possibly doing some sort of Christmas special. There’s been a lot of interest in it. We felt like we didn’t have enough time with that show. We only got to do 26 episodes, and there are so many more stories we want to tell. I’d love to do it.

What advice would you give to female writers of ethnic minorities early in their careers? — Chantal, Montreal

Always try to stay yourself. When you start out as a TV writer, you get a lot of pressure from outside forces to fit into what they think people want. Writing in another person’s voice is a skill you have to develop when you’re working on someone else’s show. But if you can maintain your perspective, that’s what will make you stand out. And as you move up, that will serve you more and more.

What kept you going early on?

Just paying the bills. I never had a backup plan. I’ve only been good at one thing. I admire people who are jacks-of-all-trades. That’s not me. I’ve always been passionate about movies, TV and writing, and I’ve been working so hard at it for so long. There were lots of setbacks, but I loved it so much, there was no alternative. I just picked myself up and kept going.
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Re: Eddie Huang & "Fresh off the Boat"

Postby pianoman » Sat May 28, 2016 4:16 pm

A short catch-up with Eddie Huang that appeared in the New Yorker. Several FOTB references. He is coming out with a new book about traveling to China, which he calls a "Classic Eddie Downward Assimilation story." The book itself is called Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China.

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultur ... experience

Eddie Huang’s Spiky Chronicles of Asian-American Experience

By Wei Tchou

In an episode of the new season of “Huang’s World,” the culinary travel series from Vice, the chef and author Eddie Huang returns to his home town of Orlando, Florida, to celebrate Chinese New Year with his family. For lunch one day, Huang and his father, Louis, eat at a Hooters situated at the site of Louis’s former steakhouse, Cattleman’s Ranch—one of a number of successful restaurants the elder Huang started after immigrating to the United States from Taiwan, in the late nineteen-seventies. Father and son order a spread that says just as much about the influence of immigrants in the United States as their conversation eventually does: buffalo shrimp, the requisite chicken wings, and a General Tso-flavored basket of chicken strips served with a side of blue-cheese dressing. They chat about assimilation and the differences between their generations. Where Louis Huang found success by catering to the tastes of white tourists in Orlando, Eddie is a hip-hop-obsessed sneakerhead who quit being an attorney in order to open a Taiwanese gua-bao restaurant and who, lately, has fashioned himself into an ambassador for Asian-American culture at large. “I envy you,” Louis says. “Your courage—you’re attached to your roots. I really respect that.” He points out that Eddie, having been born in the United States, feels entitled to a version of freedom that he, as an immigrant, may not have sensed he deserved. Eventually, Eddie moves on to an equally loaded topic: What does his father think about the General Tso’s?

“Spicy, sweet, with the blue-cheese sauce. Very complex, actually,” Louis says. Eddie nods, then ventures, “What if I tell you the cameras are off? What do you think about this General Tso’s?” “It sucks,” his father responds, grinning sheepishly, and Eddie erupts into conspiratorial laughter.

What struck me about this scene wasn’t the elder Huang’s opinion of Hooters’ General Tso’s (the big surprise would have been if he had liked it) or, really, the father-son exchange about what it means to be Taiwanese-American; it was the question of whether the cameras are on, of who is watching, and how a person chooses to behave depending on the answer—a modulation that is at the heart of the Asian-American experience. Huang has explored this question, in playful and fruitful ways, in many of his ventures—most recently, in the new season of his Vice show, in his new memoir (out on May 31st), and in “Fresh Off the Boat,” the ABC sitcom based on his 2013 coming-of-age memoir of the same name. These projects, rather than combining to create a case of Huang overexposure (how many ways do you need to tell the same story?), play off each other in ways that strike me as a sharper articulation of what it’s like to be Asian-American than any one of them taken alone.

Consider, for instance, the difference between the version of Huang’s family revealed in the documentary-style “Huang’s World” and the one depicted on the fictional “Fresh Off the Boat.” In the sitcom, the Huang household is ostentatiously immigrant, with its Chinese-restaurant plasticware and a Buddha figurine in the living room. In real life, the Huang abode is expansive and glitzy, and the markers of the family’s immigrant identity are more subtle: there are logs of processed cheese that expired three years ago taking up valuable real estate in the fridge—Huang’s mother, Jessica, couldn’t stand to let them go to waste when the family’s restaurant closed. A variety of massage beads, massage chairs, and massage wands are strewn about the living room. (Huang jokes that such devices are a feature of “any real Chinese household.”) On the sitcom, Ian Chen, as Huang’s brother Evan, is a highly articulate nerd, and Constance Wu plays a polished, Type A version of Huang’s mother, who prefers to do taxes on Valentine’s Day; in real life, Evan is a handsome hipster with a man bun, and Jessica Huang is brash, cracking jokes at everyone’s expense. When a cameraman asks how she makes her seafood soup, she snaps back, “Why would I tell you? It’s supposed to be in our cookbook, for sale!”

Before “Fresh off the Boat” premièred on TV, in 2015, Huang wrote a striking diatribe in New York magazine, accusing the sitcom’s producers of whitewashing his memoir in order to pander to mainstream audiences. “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,” he wrote. (In a piece earlier this month, on New York’s Grub Street blog, he took the food Web site Eater to task for the “oppressive whiteness” of its restaurant coverage and reviews.) Huang threatened to pull the plug on the entire television show, until his producer reminded him, in Huang’s telling, “White people keep you on the air. They have to feel included. . . . We gotta hold the viewer’s hand through this, because they’ve never been inside an Asian-American home before.” Eventually, Huang came to the conclusion that it’s better to have a simplified depiction of Asians on television than no Asians at all. Watching the unscripted version of his family on “Huang’s World,” with all of its nuanced non-Americanness, I began to think of Huang’s two shows working in tandem: “Fresh Off the Boat” answers the question of what life looks like when the cameras are on, and “Huang’s World” answers back with what life looks like with the cameras off.

A recent episode of the sitcom dramatized a similar discrepancy with a plot line in which Evan applies for a bank account and must decide whether to sign his Chinese name or his English name on the official document. To help him understand the stakes of this decision, the Huang parents reflect on how they arrived at their own English names. Louis cribbed his from a hip aquarium owner he met while working at a diner. Jessica borrowed hers from an Allman Brothers song after she noticed that one of her college professors, daunted by the pronunciation of her Chinese name, avoided calling on her in class. “I wasn’t losing my identity,” she tells Evan. “I still had my Chinese name, but by giving myself a name that was easier for people to pronounce I was opening the door to more opportunity.” Evan remains conflicted and asks his grandmother for advice, expecting her to advocate for his Chinese name. “I think you shouldn’t worry so much,” she tells him instead. “Your name doesn’t make you. You make your name.” In the end, Evan signs the papers offscreen. “Fresh Off the Boat” may not offer any practical insight into how one might proceed in this dilemma, but in a sense that is exactly the point.

Huang’s upcoming memoir, “Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China,” began as a bit of culinary stunt journalism: he would travel to China and cook there, in order to see if Chinese-Chinese people would accept and perhaps even enjoy Taiwanese food cooked by an American-born Chinese-Taiwanese celebrity chef. “Classic Eddie Downward Assimilation story,” he calls it. It’s a premise designed to overtly address themes of authenticity, immigrant identity, and race, and Huang admits to having anxieties about the whole idea. “I gotta level with you for a second,” he writes. “I wasn’t sure why I was going to China.”

Huang’s upcoming memoir, “Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China,” began as a bit of culinary stunt journalism: he would travel to China and cook there, in order to see if Chinese-Chinese people would accept and perhaps even enjoy Taiwanese food cooked by an American-born Chinese-Taiwanese celebrity chef. “Classic Eddie Downward Assimilation story,” he calls it. It’s a premise designed to overtly address themes of authenticity, immigrant identity, and race, and Huang admits to having anxieties about the whole idea. “I gotta level with you for a second,” he writes. “I wasn’t sure why I was going to China.”

But what began as a gimmick evolved into a love story of sorts between Huang and his girlfriend, Dena, who grew up in an Italian-Irish-American family in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The plan is for Dena to fly to China to meet him halfway into his trip, and Huang has decided that he’s going to propose while they’re in his ancestral homeland. We follow him and his brothers as they hunt for pork belly in a hot and sticky open-air market, cobble together enough cultural wherewithal to devise a menu to serve in a bar, and navigate their way through the Chengdu club scene. All the while, he daydreams about Dena and the family they’ll someday start together. As in his first memoir, Huang writes in a rapid, stream-of-consciousness style, laced with pop-culture references and inside jokes. His mind naturally bumps over questions of race and ethnicity a few dozen times a day. “I wanted my kids to enjoy capicola too, but what if they turned out like those people at dim sum who only ate shrimp dumplings and crab claws?” he writes in a typical passage. “What if they didn’t speak Chinese?”

These fears are called into sharper relief when Huang decides to call Dena’s father, Mr. Fusco, intending to ask for his permission to propose. Fusco, it turns out, possesses only stereotypical, Hollywood ideas of what China is like. “Eddie, it’s a Communist country and, look, you know I’m an open-minded guy, but come on,” Fusco says, the first time Huang calls him, expressing concern about his daughter’s coming trip to Chengdu. “I don’t have to tell you how bad it can get. It’s not the same. It’s not America.” Taken aback by these comments, Huang postpones bringing up the proposal, and his conversation with Fusco continues to rattle in his head for the rest of his trip. It’s enough of a compromise to have to participate in the antiquated, sexist custom of asking the father’s permission, but accepting this flattening-out of his identity is something Huang feels he’s unwilling to do. He wonders how Fusco can purport to accept him “but be diametrically opposed to the country and culture my ancestors are from without ever understanding it.” Eventually, though, he calls back and asks the question, and Fusco gives his blessing.

Eighteen months after their trip, Huang and Dena called off their engagement—Huang later wrote about the breakup in a piece titled “Epilogue: I’m Not in Love.” Like Louis Huang’s dismissal of the General Tso’s, this outcome isn’t particularly surprising. Hooters makes bad Chinese food, and relationships often don’t work out the way we’d hoped. But the point is that Huang is determined to tease out the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which Asian-Americans give up parts of themselves in order to move forward. “I wanted to cross a bridge so I paid the toll,” he writes. “I paid the toll, I asked the father, I felt like a monkey.” Huang played the part, and he paid a price, and, fortunately for us, he’s not afraid to speak up about it.
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