Friday, March 27, 2015

On being an Easter basket case

http://www.webweaver.nu/clipart/easter/bunnies3.shtmlEven though I have lived in North America my whole life, I am still perplexed by certain American customs and traditions. I've mastered most holidays, like Halloween and for the most part, Valentine's Day. And I thought I knew Easter too, but I was wrong.  

As the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants who are not particularly religious, I grew up celebrating Christmas and Easter not as holy days, but mainly as American commercial holidays. For Christmas, our family exchanged brightly wrapped gifts, decorated a tree and hung stockings. My sister learned the true identity of Santa Claus when she caught my dad hurriedly stuffing McDonald's gift certificates into her stocking. For Easter, my sister and I embarked on indoor egg hunts, searching for foil-wrapped chocolate eggs my dad hid all around the house. When I was in high school, though, he was tired of the routine and instead of hiding a whole bunch of eggs, he half-heartedly plunked a single bag of chocolate eggs in one spot where it was easy to find - pretty lame, I have to say.

Anyhow, I have a few questions about Easter. I am a bit confused about the Bunny and the Baskets. I know that the Easter Bunny is kind of like the Santa Claus, except instead of depositing toys and treats into a stocking, he/she does it in a basket. I get that. But the baskets are meant for children only, right? Not for adults?

Today I was doing some Easter shopping with a friend and noticed that she was not just buying things for her children.

"Hey, what's going on?" I asked. "Are you buying Easter stuff for your husband?"

"Yes, we all get Easter baskets," she replied.

"What?! Easter baskets for everyone? For adults? Is this a thing?" I asked. As we strolled down the street of shops, flurries in the air turned into large snowflakes. It's spring in Cleveland, after all.

"I don't know if it's a thing," she said, "but in our family, we all get Easter baskets." Snowflakes landed on our heads as I looked at my friend quizzically. 

This is my same friend who makes Valentine's Day a family celebration, not a day focused solely on romance. For Valentine's Day, she makes sure everyone in her family gets sweet treats. She is very inclusive in celebrating special occasions. It's one of the reasons we are friends.

Still, I was puzzled. From polling friends over the years, I have learned what typically goes into a child's Easter basket: at least one chocolate Easter bunny, plastic eggs filled with jelly beans, small toys or gadgets, books, maybe some socks. For some reason, at our house for my kids, the Easter Bunny also delivers toothbrushes and toothpaste. 

So I understand what a child's Easter basket is all about. But what goes into an adult's Easter basket? The same thing? Does everyone in your family get an Easter basket? If so, what's inside? 

What does your family do for Easter?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"Fresh Off the Boat" features fresh faces - finally


"It's been a long time..." as Rakim and Timbaland would say.

It's been a long time indeed since I've seen people who look like me on prime time network TV.
Meet the Huang family from "Fresh Off the Boat"
Image credit: Center for Asian American Media

Tonight was a milestone moment for me in watching the premiere of "Fresh Off the Boat," a sitcom featuring the Huangs, an Asian American family finding their way in Florida.

The show is based on the memoir of Eddie Huang, a Taiwanese American celebrity chef and hip hop aficionado. Huang has expressed some criticism of the show, which I understand, yet I am still rooting for the show to be successful. I enjoyed reading his memoir and was looking forward to the show premiere, wondering how they would bring his story to life.
Image credit: Random House

It was more than 20 years ago that we last saw a prime time comedy featuring an Asian American cast. "All-American Girl" starred Korean American comedian and actress Margaret Cho but was short-lived, canceled after only one season. At the time it premiered, I was a journalism graduate student and the editor of the university's Asian American magazine. I contacted the producers of the show to learn more about it and received a press packet asserting that "extra measures were taken to ensure the show's authenticity, including the hiring of two Asian American writers."

Asian American Voice cover
Autumn 1994 cover of The Asian American Voice
I devoted the cover of our autumn 1994 issue to the premiere of the show and the university's Office of Asian American Student Services sponsored a viewing at a campus cultural center. Some students loved the show. Taehyun Kim, an undergraduate student then and now a mass communications professor, attended the viewing and expressed appreciation for the Korean dialogue on the show. "It was hysterical!" he said.

Others felt uneasy.

"It's hard for me to watch this," said Elayne Chou, a graduate student then who is now a psychologist and executive coach. "I have a lot invested in it."

One student questioned the name of the show: "I thought this was patronizing and placating. It's like saying to the mainstream - it's okay! We're just like you!"

Twenty years later, I am watching a show called "Fresh Off the Boat," which directly addresses cultural conflicts in its first two episodes. Young Eddie Huang, played by the talented Hudson Yang, wears a Notorious B.I.G. t-shirt to school and finds seemingly like-minded schoolmates to eat lunch with – until he opens his container of his mom's homemade noodles and is banished from the table. The show uses the word "chink" right off the bat. Wow.

So far, the show is covering a lot of familiar terrain for me - the hardworking Asian immigrant parents, the struggle to assimilate, the emphasis on academic achievement, the strange (but delicious) homemade lunches. Some of these experiences were quite painful for me growing up in the midwest, as one of a handful (if that) Asian American students in school. But I found myself laughing throughout the show. And I can't want to see more. 

Did you watch the show? What did you think of it?