Real talk with Eddie Huang

Asian American Awareness Month keynote speaker Eddie Huang,  whose memoir inspired the new ABC sitcom "Fresh Off the Boat.”

“If you believe in something and you want to do it, do it! You’re not only doing it for yourself; you’re doing it for everyone who believes in you,” says Eddie Huang, whose memoir inspired the ABC sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat.”

 

♪♫♪ I met him in a club hangin’ out one night, he said “Hello I’m George…hi Lyte!”…

I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, but I am still mostly unfamiliar with any names and songs of hip-hop. A few weeks ago, in the Illinois Room of Student Center East, I got a tiny dose of it in the form of “Poor Georgie” by MC Lyte at a lecture hosted by the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center.

AARC has been hosting a slew of outstanding events throughout April to promote Asian American Awareness Month. The lecture I attended featured the keynote speaker this year, Eddie Huang — restauranteur and author of Fresh Off the Boat, the memoir that is the inspiration for the ABC sitcom of the same name that has been lauded for its portrayal of an Asian American family on TV for the first time in 20 years.

I didn’t know much about Eddie Huang other than his name, or the fact that he narrates the television show, but I was immediately interested in attending the lecture event after hearing about it in an email from AARC. After watching the entire first season of the show throughout this semester, I have been feeling increasingly conflicted about how I feel about it, and I wanted to hear the thoughts on both this show and race in general from its initial creator.

Eddie Huang’s lecture was not what I expected — in a very good way! Eddie has the personable attitude and charisma of all good speakers. What made his words even more approachable was the fact that he didn’t censor anything and freely spoke his mind.

In a packed room with an audience consisting of students, faculty members, and even social workers, I found his lecture to be a refreshing break from the stern and often formulaic presentations made on serious topics like racism or cultural assimilation. However, that wasn’t the crux of what Eddie had to say.

While many people — including me — were likely drawn to the event through the attraction of meeting a celebrity, Eddie only briefly touched upon Fresh Off the Boat, and only upon request with a question from the audience. Instead, his lecture highlighted key experiences in his life that helped him re-evaluate his life philosophies and goals. Overall, Eddie Huang gave an inspirational talk to UIC students about how to maintain a positive outlook when going through life.

Eddie began by openly shared details from his personal life that made him connect to the audience, including his mistakes. He touched upon an incident that led to his arrest for assault charges, and how he realized he was at a turning point in his life — and how he made changes to himself and his environment to turn his life around.

“College is a funny time,” said Eddie. “You’re supposed to be enriched, supposed to become scholarly and do intellectual work … but it’s a time when you’re very disconnected from everything … they ask you: what are you going to do? What are you going to be? … At 22, I had no idea what was gonna happen in my life. I was writing for a college paper, for fantasy sports websites … then I went to New York and it changed my life.”

In addition, Eddie cited Ralph Waldo Emerson’s American Scholar as recommended reading for all young people trying to figure out their direction.  The text helped him through his experiences, which included applying and being accepted to law school and attaining his JD degree.

Although the philosophies of law and justice interest him greatly, Eddie found that he was also passionate when it came to cooking — which helped him end up on a cooking show! Following that experience, Eddie made the decision for himself — despite objections from his family — to start his own restaurant in New York City. With little financial security but a great deal of support from friends, Eddie started BaoHaus, a Taiwanese bun shop that is still in NYC today.

Eddie expressed his continuing gratitude to his friends who gave extra time and effort to support him with the inception of the restaurant.

“My number one advice to college students is to ‘kiss the girl’,” said Eddie, quoting the motivational MC Lyte song. “If you believe in something and you want to do it, do it! You’re not only doing it for yourself; you’re doing it for everyone who believes in you.”

When asked about his opinions about how the network approached Fresh Off the Boat, Eddie laughed it off — he doesn’t watch the show anymore because it has deviated so far from his idea of what it could look like and include, such as hard topics like child abuse.

The show, while it has meant a great deal to Asian Americans, is simply not what he intended and does not capture the meaning of the book it was originally based off. Even still, Eddie related the idea back to American Scholar:

“Emerson had this idea — each generation must write its own books … [this idea] has always stuck with me and I repeat it. And like this, each generation has to have its own sitcoms, even if they’re crappy, because we have to create things that represent our lives and what we believe in.”

In his closing remarks to the crowd, Eddie reminded the group to always leave room in their lives for something new to come along — whether that’s a new person, a new idea, or a new avenue for change.

Like many in the audience, when I went to listen to Eddie, I expected a talk about race and growing up in America as an Asian American … but instead, I listened to an insightful talk that helped me be more reflective about my intentions with my education.

Kissed the girls and made them cry, kissed the girls and made them… ♪♫♪

(Poor Georgie— MC Lyte)

 

Sarah Lee (F)

 

Sarah Lee is a junior studying neuroscience and Russian in the GPPA Medicine program at UIC. She’s still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do, but some of  life goals include running a marathon, exploring Eastern Europe and becoming fluent in Russian. In her free time, she loves running, playing piano and guitar, and reading. A Naperville native, Sarah is a peer mentor in the Courtyard residence hall.