By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Donning a bucket hat, thick-framed glasses, and a baggy button-down shirt as if he were dressing incognito, or on vacation, Eddie Huang spoke to a filled room in the student union building of the University of Washington on a rainy Tuesday night in April. The lawyer/chef/writer/creator talked about race, life, food and a little bit about the ABC network show that he states he no longer watches.
Recently, Huang voiced displeasure about the television series “Fresh off the Boat” as it no longer resembled the memoir he wrote about his life. Through his twitter feed, Huang dispatched a number of tweets proclaiming his distaste for the direction the show had gone. He stated that he no longer watches the show although he is glad that some people of color see the show as a reflection of their lives. However, Huang no longer saw the show depicting his own life story. While he was accepting of the first episode, he had expressed frustration and voiced his opinion over the changes made to the show. Interesting enough, on the Tuesday that Huang visited the University of Washington, April 21, it was the same night as the season finale of “Fresh Off the Boat.” Clearly, Huang was not going to tune in.
In a New York Magazine article, he described executive producer Melvin Mar as an “Uncle Chan,” – a slight at the Asian American that was attempting to shape his story to fit in with perceived American values so that the show might thrive for network audiences. In his talk, Huang ruminated if calling out Mar was a good idea. “I don’t know if that was productive,” said Huang upon reflection during the question and answer session. Whether or not Huang’s introspection was genuine or mocking is up to interpretation but it showed the Taiwanese American’s unabashed commentary on something he believed was wrong – a theme he impressed upon throughout the night.
Huang’s career path, like his memoir, is his own. The 33-year-old was born in Washington, D.C. to immigrant parents from Taiwan. They were raised in Orlando, Florida where his father managed a group of successful steak and seafood restaurants. He went to the University of Pittsburgh, Rollins College, and eventually moved to New York City to attend law school. It was in New York that his career really began. Huang started in law, moved to standup comedy, wrote, became a chef, opened a restaurant, and became a media success culminating in a published memoir and the network show.
Huang and Seattle native, Promethus Brown from the rap group Blues Scholar fielded questions from the audience with seemingly no limitations on the subject.
Prior to fielding the extensive question and answer session from the audience which consisted of mainly young Asian Americans inquisitive about Huang’s ascension without compromise, Huang spoke briefly about thinking about a “starting point” and defining yourself. Although Huang was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Orlando, Florida he considers himself from New York because as he described, “it set me free.” He explained the city “encouraged me to be me” and that it was fine to be “perfectly imperfect.”
The former lawyer told the audience to be willing to accept the unknown when it came to shifting career paths.
Huang went to law school in New York and worked at a big law firm in the city when he was laid off. He started his career as a stand-up comic and eventually started to cook which led to opening BaoHaus, a bun shop in New York.
Huang expressed his passion for basketball and soup dumplings to a young fan asking about his favorite hobby and food. On the web site of his New York City restaurant, he currently has NBA-themed specials.
He indicated that while his memoir’s title, “Fresh off the Boat,” may be a derogatory term to some, he found it as a “term of endearment.” Another bone of contention with the television version of his story was the fear that the title was too offensive.
Throughout the night, Huang’s message was to be yourself and don’t let others define you. “I want you to fuss, I want you to fight, I want you to listen to yourself,” advised Huang. (end)
For more on Eddie Huang you can follow him on twitter @MrEddieHuang.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.