“Yo, you notice Asian people never get any pussy in movies? Jet Li rescued Aliyah, no pussy! Chow Yun-Fat saves Mira Sorvino, no pussy. Chris Tucker gets mu-shu, but Jackie Chan? No pussy!”
“Damn, son, you right! Even Long Duk Dong has to ride that stationary bicycle instead of fucking!”
Then, as a college student, Huang tries to get out of officially joining his school’s Asian student union, which he accuses of subscribing to a model minority myth. His emblematic problem with the “bamboo ceiling” they all embrace is that “Jet Li gets NO PUSSY!” in Romeo Must Die.
Huang is arguably better known for statements like this than he is for his cooking. As the host of a ViceTV show, Fresh Off the Boat With Eddie Huang, he’s become a pop anthropologist franchising relationships between Asian Men 2.0 and the rest of America. In the show’s second episode, Huang orders a German bratwurst dish at a Taiwanese café that serves food in miniature toilets. The sliced sausage is festooned with a brocolli floret, which obscures the meat. Cue a veiled, metaphorical lesson on making the best of a bad situation (small Chinese sausage) by trimming the shrubbery (i.e. don’t bother covering up the sausage with broccoli).
While on ViceTV Huang may show how to be a Big Dick Asian by way of example, in his writing and stand-up—Huang was a stand-up comic in between selling clothes, practicing law and running a restaurant—he does it by piggybacking on the more virile stereotypes of black men. Huang describes part of his comedy philosophy as an experiment in stereotyping. By exchanging tropes of the emasculated Asian male and the “dick-swinging” black man, he demonstrates that all stereotypes are volatile and irrelevant. One could argue though, that he fetishizes the black size myth to neutralize the Asian one. Amid references to hip-hop and gangster rap, the author fantasizes about an America that fears the mentally unstable Asian-American man, just as it fears black male anger. In a set he calls “Rotten Banana” he exclaims, “White people weren’t scared of kung fu, but you know what they were scared of? Black people! …. THEY’LL FEAR US!” He even suggests that the stigmas of black culture “could be used to empower Asian and Arabic people who had been considered model minorities.”
Huang’s success as a restaurant owner is matched only by his storefront antics—hiring employees through obscure hip-hop references posted cryptically on Craigslist, getting blitzed the night before a New York Times review, antagonizing patrons who insist on bespoke versions of a fixed menu of Bao pork buns. He’s not just fucking around; he’s trying to rewire assumptions about the Bulletproof Chinese Food Vendor, one of Asian-America’s least understood stereotypes.
Because while Fresh Off the Boat’s celebration of the success of a young and charismatic New York restaurant owner may obscure the message, the fact is these kinds of success stories are minimum entry for Asian-American acceptance. An Asian kid opening his own business and “making it” is about as shocking as a black power forward. If hyper-masculinity is the new frontier for Huang, a sense of boredom with the model minority trope was the gateway.
He’s not the only one getting restless. Missives like Fresh Off the Boat come on the tide of a critical mass attempting to blow up the status quo. Wesley Yang’s “Paper Tigers” for New York magazine abolished the notion of a model minority with loud yawns of boredom. Carolyn Chen’s New York Times piece “Asians: Too Smart For Their Own Good?” negotiates for the end of affirmative action policies that punish good work by taking Asian performance for granted. If the fallacy of the Asian male has gone unchallenged in the media, it has at times been cannibalized by the Asian-American woman. Jenny An’s “race trolling” piece for xoJane.com, “I’m an Asian Woman and I Refuse to Ever Date Asian Men,” may have outraged the larger public, but it arose from a broadly acknowledged problem with interracial dating: Asian-American men supposedly “lose” every time. (Ask Jet Li.)
Huang’s memoir has the self-indulgence of comeuppance rap and the tempo of a stand-up routine, with citations ranging from Nas to Jonathan Swift, as if the author’s in a hurry to prove something. (The size of his phallus, explicitly.) Between junior high and college he is tossed by and tosses around enemies, strangers, and even family at a rate that makes him come of age at least once a year. So no, his memoir is not a traditional immigrant’s tale. It is an anthem. For if the unspeakable fallacy is that Asian men have small penises, the crime against Huang’s humanity is that Asian men haven’t been allowed a proper phallus. That phallus is to Asian men what a college education is to the underprivileged, and Fresh Off the Boat is affirmative action into "plates and plates and plates of titty.” This is about, in other words, a Big Dick Asian suiting up against the status quo and rallying his “chinkstronauts” to venture with him into the great unknown—because this is America. Because in America, it’s not the nice guy who finishes last. It’s the guy who has to believe size doesn’t matter.
Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang. Spiegel and Grau.