May 21, 2017


Future Asian & Pacific History Month: Eddie Huang's Unfiltered Voice for Asian Americans

Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images
Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Fuse is celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History before our eyes. Today we're spotlighting Eddie Huang, chef, author, Viceland personality and the inspiration behind ABC's Fresh Off the Boat.

Before venturing into network primetime, Huang was known by New York City food aficionados as the brainchild behind critically acclaimed restaurant Baohaus. Serving up homestyle Taiwanese buns in an edgy East Village space, the establishment sent the then 20-something to the forefront of rising Manhattan chefs. Since then, he's built up a strong following as a food personality after stints with the Cooking Channel and with his current role as host of Huang's World on Viceland.

Recently renewed for a fourth season, Huang's World showcases its star's knack for witty, engaging cultural commentary spanning topics beyond just food and travel—a skill evident in Huang's award-winning Fresh Off the Boat blog that eventually led to his 2013 memoir of the same name.

In 2014, ABC ordered a primetime series based on Huang's memoir—with Huang as producer. Fresh Off the Boat premiered in February 2015 with Constance Wu and Hudson Yang leading its cast, becoming the first American sitcom starring an Asian American family to air on network primetime in over two decades (shoutout to Margaret Cho's All-American Girl for paving the way). Loosely retelling Huang's experiences growing up in Orlando as a Taiwanese-American child of immigrants, Fresh Off the Boat positions both the Asian American and immigrant narratives front and center. Asian viewers across the country finally saw themselves starring in mainstream media as protagonists rather than peripheral, token Asian characters.

In successfully increasing visibility for Asian Americans, the series in turn cast a long overdue light on Asian American issues. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Huang praised the show's pilot episode for tackling the word "chink" head-on:

"That's one of my favorite things that [showrunner] Nahnatchka Khan did. She read the book and highlighted that package and was like, 'This is the story we're going to go with for the pilot.' It's the one decision I never fought. I fully agree with it. This is powerful; we make a statement. It's a historic show, and if we are going to market it as historic, let's do something historic. I think it's great that we deal with that word because I have never seen it dealt with in the media."

Huang's mission to provide a voice for Asian Americans also includes calling out ignorance when he sees it. Earlier this year, comedian Steve Harvey hit a major nerve when he joked that neither white nor black women would ever find Asian men attractive. Referencing a 2002 book titled How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men, Harvey acted as the perfect example of the media's longstanding emasculation of Asian men.

Huang responded with an impassioned op-ed piece in The New York Times a few days later, diving into his personal struggles with self-acceptance as an Asian male in America. Explaining how stereotypes often become self-fulfilling prophecies, he wrote:

"Yet the one joke that still hurts, the sore spot that even my closest friends will that women don’t want Asian men. Attractiveness is a very haphazard dish that can’t be boiled down to height or skin color, but Asian men are told that regardless of what the idyllic mirepoix is or isn’t, we just don’t have the ingredients...I told myself that it was all a lie, but the structural emasculation of Asian men in all forms of media became a self-fulfilling prophecy that produced an actual abhorrence to Asian men in the real world...For [Harvey's] own personal profit, he’s willing to perpetuate the emasculation of Asian men regardless of how hypocritical it is."

To further make a statement about body positivity, the 35-year-old recently teamed up with MeUndies for an exclusive capsule collection featuring panda-print underwear—a campaign that he boldly modeled shirtless for. Supportive Twitter and Instagram comments flooded in, and Huang's initial insecurities soon morphed into renewed body confidence.

"I didn't think this is something that I was going to see in my lifetime...a husky Asian dude modeling underwear with almost unanimous positive feedback," he told Esquire.

Tune in to Fuse and come back to everyday for profiles, videos, galleries and more on the individuals around the world who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History. Join the conversation with #FutureHistory and find Fuse in your area with our Channel Finder.