When I was younger, my very Thai mom used to send me off to school with a very ethnic lunch. It wasn’t the school’s Mexican pizza or a homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich every elementary schooler had growing up; It was jasmine rice, fried eggs, and scrambled basil stir-fry (Pa Ka Pao).
I became an easy target and kids were cruel. They made fun of me because my lunch didn’t look like theirs.
They would tell me it smelled and the look of it made them want to vomit. I’ll never forget going home, crying to my mom, and begging her to let me buy Lunchables simply just to avoid the comments and the hell that awaited me every day during lunch. Even though their comments were nothing more than just comments, kindergarten I was hurt and lost myself a little that day. I mean, I was just being me? Yet, I was outcasted for it.
For a while, I’d try to understand it but it simply came down to this: representation. Growing up, the only hero or role model I had was Mulan. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Mulan. She looked just like me, saved China, and proved women can do anything a man could do, and better. But the lack of Asian-American portrayals in media at the time that wasn’t stereotypical or represented poorly seemed like a small percentage.
Not to mention the roles that were white-washed as well.
With that being said, to presently see a show like “Fresh Off The Boat” on t.v. warms my heart and genuinely makes me happy to see a show that I resonate with on a personal level and the progress we have made. During the first episode, the main character, Eddie, gets invited to sit at the lunch tables with what appears to be are the cool kids. They’re treating him as if they were one of them until Eddie opens his lunch.
The kids then point out the potent smell and tell him to leave the table immediately all while making fun of him. He then goes home and asks his mother if they can go out and get Lunchables. To think, someone out there went through the same struggles as me growing up was comforting. There was actually a show out there that was completely relatable while growing up as an Asian-American family.
The fact of the matter––representation matters. The importance of having a role model, not exclusively Asian-American, but of all different kinds of backgrounds is important to showcase for kids. To have someone who looks like you, understand your struggles, and representing that in a positive light is crucial.
To have cultural socialization promotes one’s culture and ethnic pride. Looking back, I was dumb to care about what other people thought about me and my heritage; I was a kid who was being picked on for simply being me and I decided to assimilate with what everyone else was doing. I realize now that they were just ignorant and I'm proud of my stinky lunches.
It's refreshing to see a new era that's beginning to showcase films, t.v. shows, etc. with different backgrounds, cultures, disabilities, or whatever it may be like never before. We're finally taking that opportunity to create these conversations; To learn, understand, and accept people for who they are.