(Photo courtesy of Siqi Catherine Lee)
Chino Hills High School

My ‘fresh off the boat’ experience

There are many types of “fobs,” as with the countless different stereotypes of Asian-Americans. Whether it’s the “super-fob” with no English, the rich insta-famous “fob” in funky outfits, the anime “weaboo fob,” or the STEM “fob,” there seems to be more and more of them around southern California each year. The word “fob,” catchy and rife with meaning, is something I can strangely discern even when thousands of people are babbling at once; it’s too self-explanatory as that when I hear it, a sense of uncertainty and excitement nabbed me that made it all too conflicting. Of course, it’s because I am a “fob,” fresh off the boat. Or, at least I used to be.

I moved to America from Shanghai, China when I was about to enter sixth grade at Wickman Elementary School, for my parent wished for me to acquire a better education, different than the spoon-fed, monotonous kinds in China, one that’s less competitive, yet teaches students to be more creative. Although I always welcomed academic challenges, subconsciously I was looking for something simpler in life. The algebraic equations were indeed easier to manipulate, the homework load was lighter, my new peers less cutthroat and they seemed more mindful of their surroundings. But the rudimentary language skills I’ve learned from different versions of tests only sufficed to help me meet the standard level for second grade. My entire condition changed. Believing that other things seeming easier doesn’t make them easier; being simply better at certain stuff didn’t make me this better person. Fortunately, I was faced with the perpetual truth that the only option to achieve things is through the input of hard work, much more hard work than my peers, whether it’s fitting in or make some academic achievements. Guiltily and successfully I improved my English skills along with making a lot of “non-fob” friends in school, at the sacrifice of avoiding to speak my native language and hiding parts of my culture, I even thought to myself that “Oh, I’m not the typical ‘fob’ anymore.”

When I look back, my effort was not indecent, but my idea of the differences between being fobs and Asian Americans, or in contrast with the entire concept of being non-Americans, was wrong. I was forced to do introspection on this when my American-born-Chinese, colloquially known as an “ABC,” friend looked at my fob acquaintances snatching packaged food during one Chinese Club meeting and whispered with a derogatory tone, “This is exactly what ‘fobs’ do at Coach sales”.

While on the surface, it sounds like Chinese people spend a great deal on Coach products nowadays, underneath what it really insinuates is that “fobs” are both too bourgeois and lacking in taste. And you know what? My friend wasn’t wrong. I’ve seen the hordes of Chinese shoppers at luxury brands during a sale before (my mom being one of them), but fact or fiction, I nonetheless felt insulted. I felt ashamed of the unnecessary label that categorizes me as someone I’m not.

So, I told her that I am also a fob, to her surprise. While this may mean that I’m less Americanized, it doesn’t deprive me of the identity it couldn’t afford in the first place. In my opinion, assimilation into the mainstream culture is important, but it should not make people forget what their identity is with the fact that the society today especially has incorporated diverse cultures. While the choice to be what someone other thinks is better always brings you the happiness, I believe that the biggest gain is to understand how that types of happiness should also be derived from your most faithful identity. As such, please release the xenophobia harbored your hearts and take pride in the identity we have as significant human beings!

(Photo courtesy of Siqi Catherine Lee)