My first experience with immigrants happened during my time in Miami. I married into a family, whose father was Fresh Off The Boat from Cuba. Actually, he bought a plane ticket in the early 1950s, became a citizen, joined the Army, saved his paychecks and brought his mother, father and sister to America.
I didn’t think much about this thing called the American Dream. I was young, admittedly naive and then, a few days before Hurricane Andrew (August 24, 1992), Aunt Onelia arrived in Miami, from Cuba. She was probably closer to my grandmother’s age, than my mother’s.
Then Andrew ravaged Miami, and this family I married into and I were all making the best of it. Onelia did not speak, nor understand English. I did not speak fluent Spanish, and I understood barely a little more. Somehow, through Onelia, my love for where I was born, here in America, suddenly had significant meaning.
It was a long night as Andrew howled, pulled ceramic barrel roof tiles off the house and dropping them on my new car, and taking out power, water and any other luxury we had, the next morning is when reality struck! In the midst of chaos, Onelia announced she was going upstairs to take a bath.
“You cannot take a bath, we have no water,” Onelia’s niece broke the news to her.
Onelia, Fresh Off the Boat, with dramatic animation exclaimed, “I can! This is America!”
I wish it had ended there. I really do.
Instead, thirty, forty minutes passed and Onelia exits the restroom. She is telling me something in spanish and I’m left looking for a translator. When I find my nephew, he shares that Onelia used the bathroom. I walked in and “torpedos” where in the commode. I came out shouting, “You cannot use the toilet!” grabbing the Home Depot bucket and a grocery bag, “Here! You take this outside!”
Onelia’s response? She gasped in disgust and said, “This is AMERICA!”
ABC’s new sitcom, Fresh Off the Boat, has me rethinking my place in my pedigree. Based on Chef Eddie Huang’s book by the same name, it shares the journey of a family who moves from Washington DC to Orlando’s suburbs. The father, starting up a Cattleman’s Ranch Steakhouse and the mother strict and missing DC. They have three young boys. It’s 1990 something. From the looks of it, first generation Asian immigrants, seeking the American dream.
Most likely the same American Dream Aunt Onelia had during the 1990s.
Fresh Off the Boat is Eddie Huang’s story of his family holding on to their heritage, yet trying to “fit in” with a population that is long rooted in American soil.
The Executive Producer, NAHNATCHKA KHAN (American Dad, The B in Apartment 23) shared that this new sitcom was presented by Melvin Mar. She thought it was hilarious and says,
“I sort of pitched to Melvin and Jake Kasden, who’s his Producing Partner and we took that to 20th or Studio, who was immediately on board with it and we pitched it to the Networks . Multiple Networks wanted it and ABC’s Paul Lee and Samie Falvey, who’s the President and the Head of Development, were like, ‘here’s why it belongs at ABC and here’s our commitment to diversity.'”
So? With a great story line, it became about casting. Fresh Off the Boat is about a family of five: parents plus three boys.
Khan explains the casting process.
“Man, it was tough. We had an Open Casting Call all across the Country. North America, we had Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Honolulu and we found Forrest (Wheeler) and Ian (Chen). We found Hudson who plays Eddie; he put himself on tape. He lives in Brooklyn.”
Hudson Yang plays Eddie and Khan shared that he had never done anything before. He is new to the business, but that doesn’t keep Khan from teasing him, or praising him.
“I think he was in a School Play I think? I joke with him that he played like the 3rd Tree in the School Play so he has a few more lines in this! He is just great. He really has that sort of raw authenticity that we were looking for in young Eddie. Forrest was so perfect as Emery; the Counterpart to Eddie, who just everything comes easy for. And Ian was so perfect as Evan where just he is the perfect! Momma’s little son, the youngest.”
Before we came into the ABC building, we were tourists, taking photos in front of the ABC building, when a black SUV pulled up. The doors opened and these two adorable boys emerged, with their mothers. They are Ian Chen and Forrest Wheeler.
After their mothers straighten their Fresh Off the Boat hoodies, they handed out ABC Fresh Off The Boat key chains. They were so eager to make certain each of us had one. There was true pride for their show.
Fresh Off the Boat is so much more than a family of Asians pursuing the American Dream. For Khan, it’s personal.
“My Parents were both born in Iran and my brother and I were born here. It was that exact experience where, when you’re from an Immigrant Family, you have to explain things. You have to sort of be that bridge between your Parents. You know, the sort of Old School and the New School, and explain things to them that I feel like other people’s Parents just understand.”
She let that sink in and then Khan shared one of the funniest stories I’ve heard:
“I remember KFC was a big thing— My Mom didn’t understand that you would pay for food that came in a bucket. To her, a bucket was a cleaning item, and she wanted to know why? ‘I’m paying for it. I want it like on a Platter; A plate at least.”
It’s these personal moments of Khan’s own up bringing that make her feel Fresh Off the Boat is fun.
“It’s like when you explain things like, “Well, Mom, it’s just a bucket. I don’t know why it’s a bucket but…”
Khan made it even more personal, after we had watched two upcoming episodes, one of which featured, something my town is famous for, NASCAR, saying,
“The things that we sort of take for granted, like in the NASCAR run down, where when you sort of really break it down, you sound a little crazy when you talk about it. And that’s what’s sort of this perspective–the Immigrant story allows you to kind of shine the spotlight on some of the things that we take for granted…and make fun of them.”
While the book is based on the characters from Eddie Huang’s book, Khan does share,
“Once the Show got Greenlit, we put together a Writing Staff, and everybody sort of started to contribute stuff from their lives. In the Pilot, it’s really channeling my Parents and my Brothers and my experience. This is what is so great about television, it’s a collective collaborative Medium and for a Show to succeed, you have to have a lot of people’s stories and a lot of people have to be able to relate to it, even if they don’t have that exact same experience. If you’re from any kind of immigrant experience or if you just felt like an Outsider for whatever reason, this is a Show to which you can relate”.
Meet Kourtney Kang, who was with How I Met Your Mother from beginning to end as a writer and now calls the set of Fresh Off the Boat home, having written the episode Home Sweet Home.
“That’s what I think is so neat about the Show. Even though it’s like this sort of like Asian thing, it’s really about this broader sense of not feeling so much like you’re a part of things.”
She used the example,
“I wrote the second episode that aired after the Pilot on Tuesday. Jessica decides to teach Home School. I grew up, half Asian, but I grew up in Philly. I didn’t go to fancy Private Schools or anything like that and now I live out here. My daughter goes to a fancy Private School out here and she really does take a class called “Animal Encounters” after school where they hold Animals– It’s like her favorite thing in the world!”
I loved when she tied it all together with,
“The greatest thing about being on staff is there are so many stories and it becomes — it becomes bigger than just Eddie’s story. It’s, a little bit of not just such funny stories about Eddie’sfamily, or Khan’s parents and like the American Kentucky Fried Chicken thing. It all becomes part of the collective. The Collective is bigger than any of us in such a cool way.“
Sorta makes you want to fist pump and shout, “Preach it, Sistah!”; doesn’t it?!
Khan takes the conversation and molds it even more.
“Fresh Off the Boat is such a relate-able show. I think that’s one of the great things that Notch did in developing the show. There are so many entry points and it’s all based in something so real that everybody feels.Everybody feels like they don’t fit in at some point for some reason. I’m sure we could go around this room and everyone could tell 5 stories about something that happened to them and you could use any of those stories in this. I think that’s what people latch onto, hopefully.”
So why the 1990s?
Khan let’s us know it was a conscious descision.
“When we were developing it, the first question that always sort of comes up is why set it 20 years ago? Why not make it present day? You could still tell the same story. And for me, it was really important to keep it 20 years ago because of the references, but also because it was the last time before the Internet sort of exploded.”
I’m going to let that sink in for you because what she says next was brilliant!
“You know, when you couldn’t just get online and like find other people who thought like you, or liked Music like you, and you sort of had to make it work with where you were? You had to befriend kids at school or the neighborhood and if not, then you were alone. That reinforced the feeling of isolation and feeling like we need to make this work, and we need to keep following our dream. There’s no room for failure and so as the general idea of keeping it 20 years ago, we didn’t want that to be the joke. Instead it is the stuff we know, the ’90s references, the dialogue, Internet,the Musical references.”
And then Kang and Khan have us all reliving our youth with their conversation about the 1990s:
Kang: “The other thing too to think about is that with no Internet… I remember back in the day, when you had to call a boy; the Mom might answer. The stakes were so high. Now, everybody’s got their own phone. “
Khan: “Yeah… or like your Mom would pick up and you’re like ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were on the line,’ and she’d stay on. “
Kang: “Your brother’s on the line and you know this because someone’s breathing. You’re super paranoid.”
Those who have watched the show know that the Huang’s move to Orlando to support their father, Louis’ dream of owning and operating the Cattleman’s Steak House.
Is this fact or fiction?
Khan let’s us in on a secret.
“That’s really the name. We went to Orlando, when the Pilot got picked up to Series, me, Melvin, the other Executives, Randall Park (who plays Louis) and Constance Wu (who plays Jessica). We all went to Orlando to visit with Eddie’s family. The real Louis took us on a tour and we drove past and he says, “here’s Cattleman’s Ranch”, and it was a Hooter’s! I’m lke what? It was bought and now it’s a Hooters. It’s right on Industrial. Cattleman’s is now Hooters.“
It’s funny sometimes how dreams, American Dreams turn out!
Follow along on social media with the Hastags #ABCTVEvent and #FreshOffTheBoat.