Eddie Huang’s hip hop memoir ‘Fresh Off The Boat’

June 3, 2013 

A Memoir by Eddie Huang

A Memoir by Eddie Huang

Coming out of the hip hop generation Fresh of the Boat is probably the best recent memoir written.  When it comes to destroying the model minority myth and Asian stereotypes look to Eddie Huang.  How he managed to compress so much wisdom in 20 some years of living before rising to the heights of celebrity chef is a remarkable story.  Chronicling his intellectual and professional growth Huang narrates his iconoclastic life through the prism of hip hop music and good food all the while struggling against American racism with an added zesty taste for life.  Coming of age then and thereafter whatever path he chose he did so bypassing conventional behavior.  He’s a rebel, a maverick and a nonconformist.  Whatever you call it, homeboy played by his rules.

A first generation Chinese-American he spent his early childhood in Washington DC before his immigrant father settled the family in Florida.  Eddie was a gifted rebellious child and for good cause.  Coping with a dysfunctional family while classmates called him chigger and chink, this one was no Uncle Chan but a warrior standing up addressing the struggle against racism.  He defends his Chinese heritage as defined by the American experience with the same outrage and reasoned eloquence found in the writings of W.E.B. DuBois.  Indeed he was weaned on DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Toni Morrison and other African American literary greats.  His role models and heroes were a host of NBA players.

Eddie Huang’s focused discipline allowed him to accomplish whatever he set out to do.  This character trait was forged either because of or in spite of a dysfunctional home, a temperamental mother and a former Taiwanese gangsta Dad.  Most minority kids Black, Asian, Latino and others know how white kids –more so the privileged–can be particularly vicious in their racist taunts.  Most looked the other way or dismiss it, but a few will step to the behavior with violence and that was Eddie Huang.  His behavior was often frowned upon by his own people but Eddie didn’t care.Eddie Huang

He was a honor student, an English major with felony record ending up at Cardoza School of Law.  He secured an associate position in a New York law firm, while becoming a sideline streetwear mogul capitalizing on designing and marketing the trendy styles. Then the economy tanked the streetwear market floundered and the law firm laid him off.  Despite the worst American society had to offer the immigrant minority Eddie Huang made the best of it reinventing himself as a celebrity Chef.   Huang says, “I wasn’t meant to be an attorney, but I was meant to go to law school.”  He would find his reason for being in food.

What stands out in Eddie Huang’s life is the confluence of hip hop, the cultural force of his generation, just as protest music was an indelible part of social fabric of the sixties and seventies.  Huang goes so far as to compare and contrast contemporary lyrics with Shakespeare.  Hip Hop influences language and fashion and his approach to food.  Hip hop is no longer defined by Blacks although originating in inner city ghettos; it’s defining today’s youth.

“My entire life,” Huang writes, “the single most interesting thing to me is race in America.  How something so stupid as skin or eyes or stinky Chinese lunch has such an impact on a person’s identity, there mental state, and the possibility of happiness.  It was race.  It was race.  Apologies to Frank Sinatra, but I’ve been called a ch!gg@r , a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a pawn, and a chink; that’s life.  I am obsessed with what it means to be Chinese, thing the idea of America is cool, but at the end of the day wish the world had no lines.  Like Michael Ondaatje writes, “All I ever wanted was a world with maps.”

Race has destroyed many a youthful ambition. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those affected all had Eddie Huang’s wherewithal?  Hip hop has done much to overcome the barriers of race. I highly recommend Fresh of the Boat.

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