Last night, at the end of the second episode in this second season of the TV show Fresh Off The Boat, something revolutionary happened: The Huang family sat at the dinner table—all six of them—and the four male members of the family sang a hilariously sad rendition of Boys II Men's "End Of The Road," as the mother and grandmother looked on. Each character had his own reason for singing and feeling forlorn—set up through various plotlines and events that had occurred earlier in the episode—and the moment was genuinely funny. But it was also groundbreaking.
As someone who's watched TV for decades, before Fresh Off The Boat, I can't recall the last time I saw an Asian-American family sit down at the dinner table together.
There have been a smattering of characters played by Asian actors—from Lost to 2 Broke Girls to The Walking Dead and The Mindy Project—but, as has been noted before, ABC's Fresh Off the Boat is the first primetime sitcom to star an Asian family since 1994's All-American Girl, starring Margaret Cho. For TWENTY YEARS there were no Asian families on a primetime sitcom. (Full disclosure: Fusion is a joint venture of Univision and ABC.)
And last night, the scene of the Huang family singing Boys II Men was perfect. Because it wasn't a depiction of a Chinese family doing something Chinese together. Singing that Boys II Men song—a track ubiquitous in the United States in the mid-90s—proves that this is a quintessential American family. The likes of which have been ignored for years.
This country has been full of Asian families for centuries, from New York's Chinatown in the 1880s to Japanese enclaves in San Diego in the 1900s—and don't forget the history of Honolulu, or San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or Boston. But more than that: This has always been a nation of immigrants, and cross-cultural pollination is at the core of what it means to be an American. Growing up in New York, my friends in school came from families whose heritages spanned the globe—Mexican, Puerto Rican, Filipino, Senegalese, Korean. And sometimes 2 or 3 different heritages in one family; Italian/Russian Jewish, Domenican/Irish, or Trini/Cuban. None of these were special or unique cases; this country is full of those kind of stories. It's just that we rarely see them on TV screens.
Which brings us back to Evan, Emery, Eddie and Louis singing "End Of The Road" as Constance and Grandma look on. In that moment, those glorious 75 seconds, the Huang family is not a Chinese family singing an R&B jam released by black guys. They're an American family, singing an American hit. That's what America looks like. And it's beautiful.