I love ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, and every week I eagerly wait to see what the writers have in store for us. In last week’s episode “The Masters” (3×20), Emery, the middle brother struggled to share the excitement of Tiger Woods’ win in the golf tournament, the Masters, as a triumph of a Asian and African American athlete with his peers. Everyone he spoke to only saw Woods as a African American athlete, 搬瓦工 citing Woods’ African American father as evidence of his racial heritage. Much to the frustration of Emery who spends the entire episode trying to get people to acknowledge Tiger Wood’s Thai ancestry as well. At one point he even says, “This does not take away from Tiger’s African American side, but to paint a complete picture so all Asian kids out there can see themselves in him.”
This episode addresses one of the same issues I discussed in my about Asian representation in media. In the U.S. especially, people from multiple ethnic heritages can find it difficult to equally identify with all aspects of their heritage. This can be true for anyone of any heritage, but especially tricky for people who grow up in a multicultural setting.
One of the ECAASU workshops, Mixed Identities, I attended back in February discussed this at length. Why can’t people who identify as mixed race claim in equal part their racial identity? Genetically, they are half their mother and half their father (not that race is even related to genetics), but society forces them to pick a side, usually the one that comes with less privilege, which is why mixed race people of Asian and African ancestry are usually seen as only African or black. This perception affects the way mixed race people are seen and treated by others. Even if someone personally lays claims to some combination of cultures, if they are only treated in a certain way, then they might naturally lean toward that identity more.
In the case of Tiger Woods, everyone in the 1990s saw him as an African American golfer, and as such media coverage of him only described him that way. Being Asian in addition to being African American doesn’t make Tiger Woods any less African American, but no one acknowledges his Asian ancestry, which prevents him from identifying with the typical Asian American narrative- one that rests on other people accepting your identity just because of what you look like.
Personally, I’ve had plenty of people tell me that I’m not Chinese because I’m American, but no one is ever going to tell me I’m not Asian even if they say I’m the whitest Asian they know, I’m still Asian to them. For me this episode of Fresh Off the Boat could not have better timing. Not only does the show provide representation of Asian Americans in media, but it provides a platform to see Asian American experiences of all kinds and that’s something I’ll never tire of.