ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat Stirs Controversy: “People Are Both Criticizing It and Praising It as This New Hope”

The cast of Fresh Off the Boat

By Ada Tseng

The term “fresh off the boat,” frequently abbreviated as FOB, describes Asian immigrants that have recently come to the U.S. but not yet assimilated into American culture. For Asian Americans born and raised in the U.S., especially in the 1990s — when the new ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat takes place — it was often used as an insult, based on the premise that if assimilation is the No. 1 goal, it was in your best interest to separate yourself from the FOBs, their Nautica jackets, their uncool accents, and anything culturally distinct that you would be horrified if your white friends knew about.

The controversial name of the show comes directly from its source material: celebrity restauranteur Eddie Huang’s best-selling 2013 memoir Fresh Off the Boat, which tells his own gritty, second-generation, Taiwanese American story. A lover of hip hop, where the term “fresh” has a positive connotation (think Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Huang uses the term as a source of pride: In the show, 11-year-old Eddie (Hudson Yang), who has recently moved with his family from Washington D.C.’s Chinatown to the very white suburban neighborhood of Orlando, Florida, learns very quickly that while fitting in (bringing Lunchables instead of Chinese food to school) is necessary for short-term survival, the ultimate goal is to learn how to stand up for yourself and, like young Eddie says, eventually “change the game.”

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