Mar 2, 2013

Eddie Huang, the Future for My Generation of Immigrants

I just posted this clip on my Facebook page because it really hit home for me. When I encounter truth as seen in Eddie's anecdote at the recent TED talk, it brings back a flood of memories from my own experience growing up here. 

If you don't already know who Eddie Huang is, you need to. He is a chef, writer ("Fresh Off the Boat", innovator, and owner/creator of BaoHaus in NYC.

Watch this short clip of Eddie's talk at TED (he is one of the TED fellows this year). His anecdote about bringing "weird" Taiwanese food to school hit home for me. I had the same experience in third grade when we lived in Tampa, Florida. Kids made fun of my lunches because I had shredded pork with rice or anchovy with black bean sauce when everyone else had PB&J or ham/cheese sandwiches. I heard "eeews" and "gross"s about my lunch every day until I made my mom start making us "American" food. I also got made fun of all the time by the other girls because I didn't wear a whole new outfit every single day (more on how this trauma affected me later through high school- cray cray!). 

When I told my mom that kids at school were asking me, "Didn't you wear that yesterday?" and "Do you shower?" Oh, because I'm a dirty Chinese??? My mom being the practical Chinese woman replied, "You wore it once! It's not dirty yet. Wear it again tomorrow." We were also just too poor to buy new clothes to keep up with American kids never ending supply of brand name clothes. It's not a fashion show. You are going to school to learn. Again, mom saying. Anyway, long story short, the only kids who didn't cringe at my "weird" food or my shortage of clothes were the black kids who were the only friends I made during elementary school. 

Just like how Eddie became a "reaction" against the discrimination he faced by shunning all "white people" things (which he later regrets as he says in the clip), I took on the opposite approach. I tried to assimilate as much as I could. From packing the "right" lunch no matter that the sandwiches bored me to tears, to dressing more "American" by keeping a journal of what I wore every day and making sure I didn't repeat the same outfit two weeks in a row! Talk about psychotic. I think back on all these things now that I'm an adult and the amount of shame and embarrassment I feel now is incomparable to how I used to think I felt. Which is why I am invested in my shows such as Les Fleurs de Shanghai at Duane Park, The All Asian Burlesque Spectacular, and developing acts in which Chinese culture and heritage is celebrated via costume and song.

Btw- Eddie follows me on Twitter and when I tweeted him back saying, "Eddie Huang is following me on Twitter. I can die now!" He wrote back, "I support Asian business" - BOOM!  What a delicious badass! And thank you Eddie for helping me get in touch with my own issues.
Eddie's new book! Get it on Amazon >
Baos from Baohaus - serving up popular Taiwanese street food!


  1. Thank you for sharing the clip and your story. I still plan out what I wear for the week because I too got made fun of for wearing the same clothes. What Eddie said about seeing Taiwanese people doing all sorts of stuff reminded me of how you were the first Asian burlesque dancer I came across (incidentally on the Tumblr posted by my studio's troupe), and I was so happy to see someone who kinda looked like me doing something that I wanted to pursue, despite what people may say.

    1. Hi Jen, thank you for sharing your experience! To contribute to this circle of mutual admiration and "first time" stories, I saw Shanghai Pearl in the documentary "A Wink and a Smile" (on Netflix) and had the same reaction. She is also Taiwanese and a very established burlesque teacher and performer who tours nationally and internationally. If you don't already know her, google her! She's very articulate and smart as well.