By: Mrs. McLean
Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat offers a unique perspective on culture. His frankness about race and cultural relations in the United States made this white girl fresh off the farm feel uncomfortable and confused at times, and that was likely his goal. It’s easy to identify a plethora of reasons that growing up as a minority in white America is difficult, but knowledge and understanding are two very different things. Although I will not claim to understand Huang’s experiences, how can anyone claim to understand anyone else’s life, I will say that reading this text gave me a glimpse into what his life was like. I learned some things about Asian cuisine, streetwear, and Taiwanese customs, but more importantly, Huang’s text made me think. Specifically, he made me consider how I work with students who are first generation American or who are new to the country. He made me think about how I work with students with whom I do not easily identify. He made me think about why students act out. I am confident that I am kind and fair and empathetic…just like every other white teacher I know. Teachers all want to think that we do the best we know how with all of our students, and white teachers want to think that we do the best we know how with our students of color. Maybe I (read: we) have been missing something though. Huang has spent a huge portion of his life being angry, and he talks a lot about how educators did not understand him or his anger. Perhaps this is because his teachers did not care enough to chip away at his armor or perhaps it was because they did not know how or perhaps it was because his defenses were impenetrable. In any case, he rarely got what he needed from the American education system, and it gives me pause. Do I give my students of color what they need? Can I?
I can think of several students off the top of my head who were frustrated, angry. Some were minorities, some were not. Some were privileged, some were not. Most were marginalized. I am ashamed to say that I know I did not make progress with several of them. I recognize that this is part of teaching. Not all students will like you. Not all students will enjoy your class. Not all students will open up to you. I am a good teacher, but I am not a good teacher for every child. That’s impossible, but most of the time there are other teachers in the building who are good where I’m not, and then students are able to connect with someone who cares about them, their stories, and their direction. I worry about those students who do not find that though. Eddie Huang did not have a great educational experience. He did not connect with his teachers, but he turned out great from what I can tell. He’s successful because he followed his passion and his heart. He worked very hard for this success, and from his tale, I doubt he takes it for granted. But not all kids are like him. He was angry, but he was very bright. Though he struggled with family dynamics as outlined in his book, he had a support system. A lot of kids don’t have that, and that is scary.
I want people to read his book because it makes a person think about some tough issues and challenges one’s conclusions. I want teenagers to read his book because it’s relatable and thought-provoking. I want those on the fringe to read his book because he delineates between the things about which a person should be angry and those for which anger is a wasted emotion. Further, Huang brings the humor through the pain, and when a person can do that, he or she has beat out whatever demon he or she was fighting.