“Fresh off the Boat” is one of the only running shows on TV to feature an Asian family as its lead cast of characters. However, the plights of the children shown (first generation immigrants) are not entirely unique to those of Asian descent. I quickly realized how many plot points were shared between episodes of “Fresh off the Boat” and “One Day at a Time,” a show about the life of a working-class Cuban family. There were two storylines that I particularly noticed: when Eddie and Alex both wanted to buy new shoes for school but were denied the chance by their mother, and more importantly when both Eddie and Alex beat up kids who called them racial slurs. The fact that two shows decided to address this problem shows that it is a serious issue that needs addressing, especially at a time where hate crimes are on the rise. So for my free entry blog, I wanted to take a look at how “Fresh off the Boat” handles the issue of responding to racism addresses.
In the aforementioned episode (in fact, the very first episode of the show), Eddie punches a classmate who called him a slur. To Eddie’s surprise, we see his family defend him against his punishment from the school. In contrast, Alex is chastised by his mother for fighting his classmate, emphasizing the idea of “by fighting back, they win.” So, which show was right? Defend yourself, or come back with words? Unfortunately, this debate isn’t entirely wrapped up in “Fresh off the Boat.” Writers generally stayed away from the addressing of direct racism in future episodes, except for some minor cases where characters would assume something about the Huangs based on stereotypes.
However, another commonality between these two episodes was a direct response to the overall racism: both kids wanted to suppress their culture as a result. Alex wanted his family to stop singing their support for him in Spanish; Eddie wanted to only eat American food at lunch. Luckily, both episodes end on triumphant notes, with both characters choosing not to hide their roots, but to embrace them. This is important: the shows do not force the viewer to hear that you should respond to racism with love. However, they make two important points on handling racism: first, the self-suppression of culture is never an appropriate response to racist comments. Second, it is always important to stand up against the racist (even though throwing punches is not necessarily the best means of doing so). I found this very first episode of Fresh off the Boat to be very moving, which is why I decided to return to it for my last blog entry. The shows both tackle racism in different ways, but they do have one thing in common: they show that no matter what, racism cannot be allowed to win.