One of my goals for 2013 was to read at least one new book a month–which I’m happy to report I did! While taking a look back at what I read, I noted that my first three books of the year were all memoirs.
Wael Ghonim’s “Revolution 2.0″ charts how he utilized social media to play a major role in the 2011 Tahrir Square protest movement in Egypt. In “Breaking Up With God,” Sarah Sentilles discusses faith, theology, and her ordination process to become an Episcopal priest.
The third memoir was “Fresh Off the Boat” by Eddie Huang. It’s the story of Eddie’s life–how he grew up, and went from being a drug dealing thug to lawyer to streetwear mogul to Food Network cooking show competitor to restaurant owner. Whether he’s comparing Jonathan Swift to Ghost Face Killah or describing how neighborhood bullies invade his birthday party, Eddie’s voice is fresh and unique.
Everything is tied together by food, hip hop, sports, and a frank discussion of what it means to be a man of color–particularly Asian American–in America. I appreciate that Eddie wrote and published his story now while he’s in his early 30s to give a contemporary context to the struggle for cultural identity.
This particular passage stuck with me for a long time:
“People says kids always tease and that it’s an innocent rite of passage, but it’s not. Every time an Edgar or Billie called me ‘chink’ or ‘Chinaman’ or ‘ching chong’ it took a piece of me. I didn’t want to talk about it, and kept it to myself. I clenched my teeth waiting to get even. Unlike others who let it eat them up and took it to their graves, I refused to be that Chinese kid walking everywhere with his head down. I wanted my dignity, my identity, and my pride back; I wanted them to know there were repercussions to the things they said. There were no free passes on my soul and everything they stole from me I decided I’d take back double.”
I was very interested in Eddie’s thoughts about how Filipinos fit into the Asian American mix. He observes that Filipinos “weren’t militant about maintaining their identity like the Chinese were.” And in college, Eddie describes preferring their company to his fellow Chinese Americans. “I actually got along with the Filipino cats because they were frequently left out when the model minority net got dropped in the water. People weren’t fishing for Pinoys and they got to build a lot of their own identity in America…a lot of Filipinos were free to do their own thing because there wasn’t so much institutional or communal pressure to be one type of Pinoy.”
That’s serious stuff, but it never gets too heavy because Eddie is one hilarious dude. And some of the darker parts of the book are balanced by Eddie’s thoughtful and evocative writing about food–his first experience with tuna fish, a discussion of Taiwanese cooking techniques, the beautiful simplicity of cavetelli and red sauce.
I was planning to read something else for my third book of 2013, but then I saw Eddie Huang speak at Town Hall in Seattle. (You can listen to his full conversation with Geo from Blue Scholars here.) He was so funny, I bought his book on the spot and had it signed. In the photo below, I’m throwing up a “W” for Eddie’s beloved Wu Tang Clan.