The first season finale of “Fresh off the Boat” marks a complete turnaround for the conflict faced by the Huangs. In this episode, Jessica realizes that they have immersed themselves too well into their American surroundings, and she now fears that her family has lost their culture. She then does everything in her power to stop this. What’s interesting about this conflict is that it is the exact opposite of the one the Huangs faced at the beginning of the season. They started with the struggle of feeling out of place and doing their best to assimilate, but now they are faced with the problem of “fitting in too much.” This brings up the theme of identity, the center of this particular episode and the show as a whole.
The episode grapples with the question, “to what extent can you adopt a culture without losing who you really are?” Jessica’s stance at the beginning of the episode is an extreme: to no extent at all. Her strong opposition to everything American around her is a result of her new fear of being “whitewashed.” In contrast, Eddie’s stance appears that it is entirely okay to adopt a new culture. However, the shows true argument doesn’t manifest until the end of the episode, displayed by two key events. The first is when Jessica caves to Louis, professing her love for American TV shows and mac-and-cheese. The second is when Eddie stands up against his friend for making a joke about China. These both perfectly describe the show’s argument. Jessica’s realization conveys to the audience that adopting elements of American culture that you appreciate isn’t necessarily whitewashing. On the other hand, Eddie’s rise shows that is it important to never forget where you are from. As a result, the show’s answer to the question is a compromise. Identities are unique, and while it is fine to embrace what is new, it is important to appreciate what is traditional.
The theme of identity in this show is universal to the entire show. A large number of conflicts within the show relate to the issue of identity, whether it is debating one’s own identity or embracing those of others. “Fresh off the Boat” as a whole is a comment on a very real scenario for millions of American families and their own personal debates with identity. A large challenge with moving to America is acclimating to an entirely different culture while attempting to maintain one’s own. However, this challenge leads to one of the best qualities of America: the blending of cultures. The sharing of food, music, and traditions has allowed for identities to be spread and shared, creating new connections that would not have been present otherwise. The first season finale shows this exactly: heritage is essential, but there’s no harm with the Huangs enjoying some mac-and-cheese.
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