Hey, Bruce Lee!

If my life ever became a book that became a tv show or movie, which may never or somehow happen, my biggest fear would be that I can’t recognize that life that’s being portrayed as mine…I think I might know just a little bit of how Eddie Huang was and is feeling to this effect about his memoir being made into ABC’s show Fresh Off The Boat, which premiered Wednesday…

FOB

Eddie’s the 11-year-old in this photo, set in 1995 (Courtesy of ABC)

 

Aside from the forced and inconsistent accents of broken English, there weren’t actually as many “negative stereotypes” of Asian people as many feared there’d be. And Randall Park seemed to just have been plucked out of Kim Jong Un mode in The Interview, and dropped right onto the set of Fresh Off the Boat as far as his speech was concerned. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t very much to grasp at all in the way of “real” scenarios growing up in an Asian-American family. The show was all over the place trying to please everyone, that too much was lost. The best and comedic moments were those in which network propaganda was dropped and we got actual glimpses into shopping/shouting in the “Taiwanese market” and what happens come “report card time” in an Asian-American household.

I have to assume Eddie Huang’s memoir is better than what ABC put forward, despite having some of the cutest and endearing little boys in the cast of this family. To say the show is white-washed would be an understatement.

I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that when All-American Girl came out, starring my Korean sister-from-another-mister Margaret Cho, in 1994, I was so excited to see a Korean person on a major American television network that I didn’t care whether or not the show was actually good. To me, at the tender age of 19, I felt validated as a young Korean-American. There she was, funny-as-fuck-to-me at the time, Margaret Cho, on her very own tv show! I ignored the fact that everyone else on the show wasn’t Korean, hell, MASH was supposed to be set in South Korea and there were no Koreans ever to be found in the cast. That was never a huge problem for me, just like it wasn’t in All-American Girl, because above all else I’m a realist. And no major television network is going to employ a slew of Koreans, or Chinese, or anyone who checks off the box labeled “Asian or Pacific-Islander” on government documents, for one television show. A friend of mine, who also happens to be a fairy princess, actually writes specifically about this on the regular.

So bearing in mind that not everything you see on television is accurate, let alone real, how much are we actually supposed to take away from this new ABC show Fresh Off The Boat? Well, I’ll tell you what I walked away with and what left an impression…

“Yo Chinese kid. What’s your name again? Something Chinese?”

This quote is taken from the first school lunchroom scene which young Eddie finds himself in. He’s questioned as to what his name is, in a most rude way, by another student. It seems everyone in this particular Orlando grade school is white, with the exception of Eddie and one black student.

This scene also happens after his teacher pulls this face…

Eddie

…while attempting to pronounce Eddie’s “Chinese” name, on this, Eddie’s first-day-of-class-in-a-brand-new-school…

This teacher’s face bugged me, and not just because I’d seen that same expression on some of my teacher’s faces, growing up, trying to pronounce my own Korean name. And also because this week in particular I had a putting-it-mildly-unpleasant experience with a teacher myself. Specifically, my almost-three-year-old-son’s preschool teacher…

I’ll rewind.

My husband Davy and I were eating dinner with our little Noah on Tuesday evening, when Noah tried to get my attention across the table.

“Hey, Bruce Lee!”

I tilted my head in cartoon-like confusion. Where had he picked that up? Bruce Lee? He knew nothing of martial arts nor had he ever watched Kung Fu Panda (this is where my brain went). So I asked Noah to repeat himself. Perhaps I’d misunderstood or heard it incorrectly.

“Hey, Bruce Lee!”

I put down the taco I’d been eating (it’s usually taco night in our home on many given Tuesday), and I asked Noah where he’d learned that name Bruce Lee. He replied that his teacher called him that at school. And he mimicked again…

“Hey, Bruce Lee!”

I was shocked. I didn’t want to freak out Noah by freaking out myself. He had no idea the significance of that name.

I exchanged a glance with my husband and continued to eat, although I could barely taste my homemade salsa anymore. Like I said before, I’m a realist. I know that raising an interracial child in a homogeneously-white country such as Belgium comes with its pros and cons. I just didn’t think I’d have to deal with it so soon, and certainly not involving a teacher, Noah’s teacher.

Thoughts raced through my mind as I watched Noah finish his dinner. But I knew the answer in my heart was that he was, in fact, telling the truth, as children his age brutally do, and that there simply was no good explanation for an adult and educator calling my Noah “Bruce Lee.” And obviously repeatedly, for Noah to have brought it home.

Noah is his name. Noah is what he should be called, at school and anywhere else for that matter. I told Noah that the next time someone called him by another name he didn’t know, that he should reply, “My name is Noah!” We practiced this a few times. Silly stuff. I called him by different animal names and cartoon names and each time he replied, “My name is Noah!” I felt better about it all going to sleep on Tuesday night.

Davy and I decided to nip shit right in the bud and have a private talk with Noah’s teacher on Wednesday morning. We arrived at school early, determined to get to the bottom of Bruce Leegate, and were disappointed to learn that Noah’s teacher was in another building “making copies” and we should return in the afternoon. I actually did learn later what these “copies” were, and what was so important about them that she wasn’t available to talk that morning…

So Davy and I returned in the afternoon, to collect Noah, and to speak with his teacher. We started the conversation off by relaying our taco night conversation and the teacher’s eyes bugged out, and before we could even get to the part where we ask Noah where he’d learned “Hey, Bruce Lee,” we were interrupted. The teacher pointed out the window to the courtyard and claimed Noah must have heard it outside playing. We replied that most toddlers don’t know who Bruce Lee is. The teacher quickly replied that it must have been a third-grader then, and that “a talk would be had with the third-grade teacher.”

Strange.

Stranger still, the teacher went on to say that sometimes “handicapped people with mental issues pass by the school and one of them must have said something to Noah.”

?!

The whole time I had my head tilted and my lips pursed, as I listened to this teacher (in Dutch mind you) go on and on until she finally asked, “Did Noah say who said it?” And before I could answer she answered herself with, “No, Noah doesn’t know everyone’s names.”

But oh, Noah knows names that matter. Still, I never answered, and I looked right into the eyes of the teacher and saw that she knew I knew she knew I knew. And I made a decision then not to crucify her or vilify her because I saw in her eyes fear and remorse and…

That was enough for me, and for Davy, and for Noah for whom we are the greatest advocates. We told the teacher that this was unacceptable and that we didn’t want this happening again, without pointing our fingers at her, because we all knew what had happened. And she knew we’d all but called her out. And Noah’s teacher is in fact a fine and good-hearted soul who simply let her ignorance shine on the wrong side of right. I don’t believe in my heart that it was done maliciously. And I do believe said teacher got the message. And that’s all that matters. The message.

Since then, Davy and I have shared this experience with several friends and family members. Most decent human beings were rightly outraged and supportive of our reaction and handling of the incident. Those less decent have made excuses as to why any white figure of authority would call a small child of Asian descent, Bruce Lee. Some people choose to ignore ignorance, which is a whole different kind of ignorance unto its own. Some choose to deny it, and excuse it, and even consider me “too sensitive.” Because I’m a minority? Because I’m Asian? What if I was Black or Hispanic or Middle Eastern? What are the Bruce Lee equivalents of that?

“My name is Noah!”

This is what I’ve taught my son to say proudly.

Fast forward, and coincidentally, to the lunchroom scene I mentioned above from Fresh Off the Boat…little Eddie’s response to “Yo Chinese kind. What’s your name again? Something Chinese?”?

“My name is Eddie!”

Kinda perfect.

And that all-important document that was being “copied” by Noah’s teacher on Wednesday morning? It turns out it was copied eight times because eight students, including Noah, out of the twenty-two in Noah’s preschool class, are being advanced to the kindergarten class mid-school season at the end of this month. We discovered the photocopied letter and evaluation, in Noah’s backpack, after we left his teacher and awkward conversation. It turns out we probably did do the best thing in this case, since Noah’s teacher will no longer be his teacher come March.

And in particular, Noah was evaluated as demonstrating very advanced lingual capabilities. Not surprising as he’s fluent in both Dutch and English and picking up new Korean words every day, and explaining a lot, and another reason why Davy and I must always listen. Always listen to your child. And always stand up for what is right.

NoahSchool

Noah will be the youngest student in the kindergarten class, which usually starts at age 3.5, something Davy and I are most proud of.

Now if we can only get him to tackle potty-training…

Always dishing,

Jun

21 Comments

  1. Janet

    So proud of the way you handled it. You had more patience and restraint than I ever would have! Keep doing what you’re doing because Noah is a kind and compassionate little man!!!

    Reply
  2. You both handled that perfectly! No need to pounce on her….she heard you loud and clear! Hopefully her eyes opened to her own ignorance and that will never happen out of her lips again. Imagine being Italian and called “spaghetti & meatballs” (that happened to my friend’s son) by a nun/teacher. This needs to end, and it will, if everyone steps up to the plate and immediately puts out the flame of ignorance, as you did, by tactfully aiming cold, intelligent water on it.
    “My name is Noah” – perfect title for a book, movie….

    Reply
  3. Carie

    I love the way you and Davy handled this situation *and* I can only hope that this teacher takes a good, hard look at herself, examines her ignorance, and grows. I hope. Congratulations, to Noah, on his grade advancement!

    Reply
  4. Chris

    First, Congratulations to Noah! We all knew he was way ahead of his game when he arrived in our lives early!

    Onto that teacher. She will remember this forever and never do it again. From what you explained she was horrified and surprised that Noah is as smart as he is.
    You will encounter more surprised teachers in the future. Noah will always surprise everyone at how smart he is. He’s got that Song blood running through his veins.

    Love you Jun, hugs and kisses for Noah

    Reply
  5. SueZK

    Jun you couldn’t have handled that any better. You are strong and smart. Noah is extremely lucky to have you in his corner. He will know that as he grows. Congrats on his brilliance too. You are doing a great job as his mom..never doubt that :)

    Reply
  6. Carrie

    I got to say I died a bit inside when I read what he had been called. The ignorance of some people still never cease to amaze me. I believe you handled it right though I know you wanted to snatch her up by her hair and show her Bruce Lee. Great Job Noah. We knew he was smart. Now the school system does also.

    Reply
  7. I was anxious to read your thoughts on the show, but that melted away when tears welled up at Noah’s great news. Real life wins again. Thank you for letting us be proud of him too. I do have to say I got goose bumps at the parallel of “My name is Noah”/”My name is Eddie.” Goose bumps and tears in one post. We love your awesome family.

    Reply
  8. When something is wrong, it’s just wrong. Bless you for handling it in a positive manner. Noah’s not just adorable, he’s smart, too! So nice to read your blog; been missing it.

    Reply
  9. Missy

    I had decided that my child was going to kindergarten (at age 5) in diapers. He had no interest in potty training. But on September 12, 2000, about 6 weeks before his 2nd birthday, he woke up & stated he was wearing “big boy underwear” to school. I tried to talk him out of it; it was the day after 9/11 & his regular teacher was off this day. But he had it set in his mind. So I packed several outfits, extra big boy underwear & dropped him off at daycare. I told the teachers that if things went badly, they could put him back in pullups. But when I picked him up that evening, he was still in the same outfit from when I left him. He decided it was time & that was that.

    Reply
  10. Jenn

    Jun, the way you two handled that was perfect. So proud of you both. I respect that you didn’t get down to the level you could have but handled the best way possible. Glad Noah is moving up and that maybe that teacher will not do what she did to Noah to the next child she teaches. Good work Mom.

    Reply

Feel Free to Dish!