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When a Sitcom Made Me Cry


It's been an interesting year for diversity on TV. From the Shonda trifecta (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder) to a slate of new, multicultural sitcoms, there's been a variety of faces on the television recently. NPR described this year's TV lineup as having an "almost unheard of level of ethnic diversity."

I never intended to blog so much about television. Not only does it reveal how much I watch (my secret shame!), but it feels a little bit outside what I write about here. Except it hasn't.

What's kept me coming back to the boob tube over the past few months is how much I have been able to relate to the stories in these diverse shows. What I've appreciated most is that race and culture topics have not been ignored, but have been presented in humorous, relatable ways. (My favorite!)

I've been writing about TV because it does connect to my life and experience. We've witnessed the various, uncomfortable ways people can relate to intercultural couples like Cristela showed. We relate to Jane the Virgin's worry about immigration. We've experienced the same nervousness and sometimes overwhelm living cross-culturally that Fresh Off the Boat demonstrates. And we're more than familiar with Spanglish conversations at home.

These shows have continued to find ways to address real issues, such as racism in the workplace, cultural identity, and immigrant parent expectations, without sacrificing humor and entertainment value. That's no easy task!

This week I watched the season finale of Fresh Off the Boat where the Huangs are getting settled into their new, Tampa life. In fact, they've been invited to join the country club, "the ultimate symbol of success" for mom Jessica.

When the Huang couple proudly announces they'll be the first Asian-American members, their white friend responds, "You know, sometimes I forget you guys are Chinese."

Jessica inquires further, and the white wife adds, "You guys are just like regular old Americans to us." And she laughs. I almost yelped.

This exchange pushes Jessica to enroll the boys in Mandarin school, stop cooking macaroni and cheese, and start dressing "like Chun Li from Street Fighter." She has an impassioned conversation with her husband about how their family, she worries, is losing their identity.

At that moment, her son walks in and asks for help with his Mandarin so he can speak to their grandma. She is so proud until he continues, "How do you say, 'Can you say that in English, grandma?'"

Then I felt myself tear up. I worry about my kid's bilingual skills, about how their life in the U.S. will cause them to not feel connected to their Guatemalan heritage. Maintaining a flexible, multicultural identity is a challenge, and it always comes with some form of loss. Jessica Huang captured that mother's fear for me.

I'm grateful that the networks promoted more diversity this season, and I'm glad these shows have been doing pretty well. The future is still uncertain for several, including Fresh Off the Boat and Cristela. I hope they return, and I'm still looking for a quality sitcom about cross-cultural families like ours!
Did you watch the diverse shows this season? Which was your favorite? 

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