Eddie Huang, whose book Fresh Off the Boat is the basis for the ABC sitcom of the same name, infamously trashed the program when it first aired. In January of 2015, a month ahead of the series premiere, Huang harangued the show in a scathing article for New York Magazine. "My story had become an entertaining but domesticated vehicle to sell dominant culture with Kidz Bop, pot shots, and the emasculated Asian male," Huang wrote at the time, adding, "This show isn’t about me, nor is it about Asian America. The network won’t take that gamble right now."
Months later, Huang doubled down on his criticism.
But the show took off. It's been renewed for a third season and is a focal point of the conversation about Asian representation on television and in movies, earning the distinction of being the first primetime sitcom since 1994 to feature an Asian family. And it's finally won Huang over, as well.
In an interview with the hosts of the show Ebro in the Morning on New York City radio station Hot 97, Huang said he now supports the program:
A lot of Asians, and a lot of immigrants… they relate to it. So my thing is, once I saw people in the neighborhood relating to it, I was like, I'm not going to take this away from nobody.
Huang addressed his earlier concerns, and spoke about the sentiments that drove his New York Magazine piece—and how they've evolved in the past year:
I was like this feels like a bit of a Panda Express Orange Chicken version of our lives, but then what I realized is that is how a lot of people come to our culture. That is a gateway. When you are a person of color in this country, your story, if you're trying to tell it, it's going to get fragmented. And you have to tell it over and over so that these cats will listen to you and even let you in the building.
For Huang, it seems, the impact of the show on minority viewers outweighs his aversion to the network television version of his history. "Just so the record is clear," he said, "I fuck with the show. I support it, because you know what, it's doing a lot for the community. So I'm never gonna get in the way of positive movement for the community."
The conversation turned political, with Huang offering support to Bernie Sanders—with some caveats.
"I like Bernie, but then there's a part of Bernie when Bernie keeps talking about things, 'It's all economic, it's all economic, it's not a racial thing,' that does bother me, because I'm like 'Bernie, there is a lot of race involved in a lot of the economic things you're talking about.'" He added, "The solutions may be economic, the problems definitely involve race."
Huang also offered his support for New York's new minimum wage law, which will require employers to increase minimum wage for workers in New York City to $15 over the next several years. Huang owns the Manhattan restaurant Baohaus, so the shift will affect him directly.
"I like the minimum wage going up to $15 even though Imma have to pay that at Baohaus," Huang said. "I'm down for it. I believe people need to be making those wages."
Huang also offered a poignant anecdote about what it means to be a minority born to immigrant parents in the United States:
I remember a defining moment for me as a a kid, like you're five or six years old, I would always go like pinch the fruit at the grocery store. I'd be like touching the peaches, touching the plums whatever, and sometimes I'd knock them over and my mom would smack me in the grocery store like 'Yo, stop pinching the fruit, 'cause I gotta buy it if you bruise the fruit.' And I see like white kids come in and just like throw fruit on the ground—not throwing it but like, knocking it over, parents didn't really care. And I remember I would see like Muslim families or black families, their kids would get smacked up too for bruising the fruit. And just as a kid, 'cause you don't understand race at that time, I was just like, 'Oh I must be like them. Because their parents don't want them bruising fruit and they get hit too.' Simple things like that when you're trying to figure out your identity as a kid. And then there's like a kinship, when you're the only Asian in school and then there's only one other black person, you're like aight we're together. We gotta sit together.
"We're one and the same," he added, "we need solidarity…and I think what creates community is shared problems….and what makes us individuals is the answers we come up with."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.