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Why I Know Exactly How Jessica Huang Feels


I had been looking forward to the season premier of Fresh Off the Boat for some time. Articles had been popping up in my newsfeed, both positive and negative, and my interested was piqued. The uptick in diversity this year on TV has definitely been interesting to watch. (See my obessions with Cristela and Jane.) I love it, of course. I get a kick out of humor and cultural observations.

The title of this show has made me a bit uncomfortable since it's historically a derogatory description for first generation Asian immigrants. As Pamela Tom points out in this article, "Would you call a new show about Hispanic immigrants, 'Wetback'?" 

But the first two episodes had some moments that made me laugh and were totally relatable. Early on, the mother Jessica Huang (played by Constance Wu) complains about how one of the suburban, roller-blading housewives was carrying around dog poop in a baggy. I was transported immediately back to when we first got our dog Daisy. Billy was horrified when it came up that we're supposed to clean up after her. We still joke about it! 

Probably the most stand-out scene to me also centered on the mother and her discomfort in a U.S. grocery store. She waits outside, overwhelmed by its size and enthusiasm while creating a worst case scenario plan with her son. ("If we get separated, try and join a white family. You will be safe there until I can find you.") Her apprehension was so powerful to me.

I have talked to enough parents whose young adult children are considering a cross-cultural relocation. And so many are terrified. It's a universal feeling that new experiences can be intimidating and/or frightening. 

Of course, it's almost humorous to me to be unsure of a supermarket because it's too quiet and big. Jessica reminisces fondly over haggling and jostling in Chinese markets in D.C. But that's because we can rarely see some of the idiosyncrasies in our own culture. "Normal" is relative, and what may seem run-of-the-mill for one person, can be bizarre for someone from a different background.

When I first moved to L.A., my prior city living experience had been a year spent in Atlanta. Los Angeles and Atlanta are two very different cities. While they both share awards for traffic congestion, I was initially overwhelmed by L.A.'s diversity, density, and noise.

I lived near MacArthur Park in Filipinotown. The neighborhoods were packed tightly together, and people were always on the streets, waiting for the bus, hawking tamales, or returning from family trips to the market. Helicopters hovered overhead, and ice cream trucks sang out at all hours of the day and night.

My first week in town, I remember darting into the staircase of a local business to literally hide from the crowds. I needed to pull out a map, and I didn't want anyone to see me. I felt lost, completely overwhelmed, and ironically alone.

So when I watch Jessica Huang staring at that grocery store, I knew how she felt. Stepping into a new world, a new culture, is equal parts exhilarating and nerve-wracking. I'm looking forward to more episodes of Fresh Off the Boat, curious to see how the story evolves.

Did you watch the show? What did you think? Can you relate to the feelings of being overwhelmed in a new place?   

2 comments

  1. Christine Nolf8:02 PM

    I had my worst reverse culture shock in the grocery store when I returned to the US after living in Venezuela for three years. Every thing (including the food) was so bright and not real looking. It felt so different. I burst into tears trying to pick an avocado. I still remember the glare of the fluorescent lights.

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  2. Isn't it crazy which events or places can trigger those emotions? And I am thoroughly convinced that food, in particular, affects are experiences of comfort and safety and familiarity. Thanks for sharing that, Christine!

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