As a 1st generation Asian-Canadian in a neighbourhood riddled with pockets of low socio-economic status and blue collar workers, I experienced my share of oppression. Being one of the few Asian families in the neighbourhood, I made it my responsibility to share my traditional Chinese-Vietnamese heritage through food, clothing, music, and cultural history to anyone who would listen. Absorbing Western cultural and social values, mixed with the upbringing of Eastern family traditions and morals, I was torn in both my cultural self-identity and a cultural sense of belonging. Was I White? Black? Asian? Or a mixture of something so far removed that resembled Frankenstein’s monster.
Eddie Huang is a Chef, owner of BaoHaus in NYC, host of Fresh Off the Boat (renamed Huang’s World) on Vice Media network Munchies, author of Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir, former lawyer, drug dealer, sneakerhead, hip-hop and basketball aficionado, and a voice for the Asian-American generation. Eddie’s story is one that is unique to the Asian household. Even though Eddie’s personal life parallels much of my own, the reason for choosing Eddie as my role model entrepreneur was not based solely on upbringing or ties into family values – though that may play a significant part. Eddie is doing something remarkable for the Asian generation growing up in Western society. By cleaning the lens of dominant culture – filtered through broadcast media, Western norms, and societal prejudices – Eddie is stirring the mixing pot and removing the bad ingredients while adding aromatics and flavour. He’s providing a voice for the Asian community.
Never in my life have I found an Asian role model to follow, and Eddie Huang is not your “typical” role model. He provides an inspiring and educationally fulfilling medium through television and writing without being confined within the borders of academic syntax. With references to pop culture, hip-hop lyrics, basketball, and the sneaker game in both his book, interviews, and television show, his message is not only for the Asian community, but for the wider audience of non-dominant culture living in North America.
His food show, Fresh Off the Boat (recently renamed Huang’s World), is often compared to No Reservations, hosted by Anthony Bourdain. In some ways it is similar, but the major difference is in the lens in which Huang presents the information – and like Bourdain, it’s not served with a silver spoon. The raw genius is in the medium in which the information is presented. Using food as the through line into the world views of non-dominant culture, Eddie gives a voice to those who have been oppressed, muted, and stigmatized through popular media and brings their stories to the surface. The show touches on the lost art of kung-fu tea ceremonies, the issue of oppression from the voices of the Islamic people in America, or the ruins of Detroit from the profiles of those living in abandoned warehouses. From an entrepreneurial view, Eddie Huang is disrupting popular broadcast media and changing the way we approach food by placing it as a cultural centerpiece in which we can segue into deeper conversations about the reality of everyday life and the people involved – as an individual, a society, and as a whole. It’s one thing to say a dish is from a certain part of the world, and another to describe the dish as a coming together of slave rations, or a unique way to commemorate national holidays.
This idea of food being a gateway to bigger ideas is represented by his restaurant BaoHaus. BaoHaus is a piece of Eddie’s personal history surrounding traditional Taiwanese food. Preserving authenticity on his menu, his Pork Belly Gua Bao is his identity on a plate. Acting as the hot spot for youth to hang out, the restaurant plays hip-hop from all decades. Their hiring policies on Craigslist feature requirements ranging from “must like hip-hop” to “moon boots and puffy vests”.
Throughout his life, Eddie was no stranger to making money. He sold scanned copies of Playboy pages to his classmates, sold burnt CD’s of the latest hip-hop albums, flipped limited edition sneakers through calculated methods of buying and selling, and created T-shirts that rallied the younger generation to vote during the Obama election campaign in 2008.
As a 1st generation Asian-Canadian growing up in a black and white dominant neighbourhood, the book Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir really spoke to me as a person of unique characteristics and represented who I am as a human being. We hear a lot about the lack of representation of non-dominant culture in the media, television and other large scale networks, but Eddie’s book was the first time I had a heard a voice that spoke my story. For him to tell a story through food, travel, television, and allowing others to represent themselves fully as individuals, he’s bringing to light the underground and hushed experience of immigrant culture.
In summary, the overarching message that Eddie Huang represents is the idea that individuals should, especially immigrants and 1st generation youth, move away from the idea of assimilation and to preserve authenticity, express their self-identity and self-expression through conventional and unconventional methods and for the world as a whole to grasp individuality as a normal part of everyday society. While Asian’s certainly aren’t the minority on the global scale, he begs the question: Does Western society fully understand the immigrant experience? Or do we belong on an island of misfit toys?
Live in the U.S, U.K or Canada?
Buy Fresh Off The Boat by Eddie Huang here on Amazon.
Live in Canada?
Buy Fresh Off The Boat by Eddie Huang here at Indigo Chapters.
Note: This is an adaptation of BET 100 assignment 1