Once again, I really had very little idea what I was getting into with this book. I vaguely remember hearing that Fresh off the Boat was the name of a TV series, but as I haven’t had any sort of cable in a few years, I’d never seen it. I actually just saw part of it at the gym earlier this week. I always bring music or a book to listen to while working out, but when I glanced up at the TV hanging over the Arc Trainer, I saw the intro for the show and found myself glancing up at it several times during my workout.
Before picking up this book I’d never heard of Eddie Huang or Baohaus. I actually bought the book after reading a short synopsis of it in a catalog I get a few times a year which previews books teachers might want to use in their classroom. As I am always looking for new, interesting works of non-fiction for my AP Language kids and I have only a handful of non-fiction books in my classroom by Asian writers, I bought a copy and added this one to my summer reading list.
At times I struggled reading it. It’s not that the book is hard to read, bu there is a lot of slang in it, and even when I was young, I was never extremely fluent in slang. Well, I did 80’s Valley Girl ok, but that’s because I actually grew up in Southern California in the 1980’s and mostly just picked it up from friends. East Coast street slang is an entirely different world to me. I also know next to nothing about sneakers and my hip-hop/rap knowledge could definitely stand to be better.
What I really enjoyed about this book was that I feel like Huang’s voice is authentically his in this book. He starts off as a young man, searching for himself, trapped in world where the only faces he sees that look like his are members of his family. As he grows up, he is caught between cultures and trying very hard not to become the “stereotypical Asian” he sees so many people around him becoming. His identification with hip hop and rap artists felt so real to him because like them, he felt like an outsider, looking into a world that didn’t really want him.
I think it’s great that Eddie is unapologetically himself in his memoir. He doesn’t try to turn himself into some sort of flawless hero. He shows the world who he is and was, warts and all, so to speak. He admits to mistakes. He talks about what he’s learned. He shares his frustrations and anger with his readers.
He also shares his very real disdain for a number of people in this book. While I do think he goes overboard with the way he airs his disdain, I haven’t lived his life. I am white and have never felt out of place in America. Disappointed in my country, sure, but never like I don’t belong here, which he has clearly felt, and been made to feel, countless times in his life. I think his anger is justified. I can’t imagine what it is like to grow up in a world where I barely see myself reflected in the media or where I feel pushed toward a minuscule number of professions.
I’m glad Huang wrote this book. I’m glad he started a business that truly reflects who he is as a person and gives others the chance to do the same. I’m glad I read this book and I hope several of my students read it as well. I think it may give some of them a perspective they’ve never thought of before. I love the line he has near the end of the book, “My main objective with Baohaus was to become a voice for Asian Americans,*” which he follows up with this footnote: *”Note that I say ‘a voice’ not ‘the voice.’ I don’t speak for all Asian Americans, I speak for a few rotten bananas like me.”
I think more voices like Huang’s need to be heard in our country.