It still surprises me when I run into a white person who isn’t familiar with the term “FOB,” as used in the Asian American community.
FOB stands for “Fresh Off the Boat,” and is used to refer to a person from Asia who has recently arrived in America. More often than not, the term is used pejoratively to describe Asian men, particularly teenagers and young adults. (It’s also the name of a play by Asian American playwright David Henry Hwang.)
By and large, Asian Americans can be pretty harsh on FOBs. I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me that it’s an example of sh*t flowing downhill.
Growing up as an Asian American can be tough at times. You take an awful lot of grief from mean non-Asian people in your life, not to mention the grief you take from your own family. All that ill feeling has to get channeled somewhere. What better target than Long Duk Dong?
In case you’re not a fan of director John Hughes, Long Duk Dong (played by Utah-born Gedde Watanabe) is an Asian foreign exchange student in the film Sixteen Candles who attempts to provide some comic relief as Molly Ringwald strives mightily to survive the indignity of being ignored by her family on her 16th birthday:
Long Duk Dong is FOB. He talks funny, he dresses funny, and he has funny hair. He’s childlike, giggly, and socially inept. Early on in the film, he latches onto a crude phrase used to describe female anatomy, which he delightedly lets fly at the screenwriter’s whim. (To his dubious credit, Long Duk Dong manages to lose his virginity by the end of the movie, in what has to be the least erotic sex scene ever filmed.)
Here’s the thing — when you grow up as an Asian American male, you convince yourself that there’s no way anyone would ever confuse you with Long Duk Dong. You speak perfect English. You have better clothes and better hair (at least some of the time). You take pains to avoid acting in a childlike or giggly manner.
Yep, there’s no way anyone would think you were FOB.
Yet, deep down, I know that an awful lot of people in America just don’t see that much of a difference between me and Long Duk Dong.
And if I were living in Arizona, that would scare the crap out of me.
(By the way, I don’t want anyone to think I’m down on Gedde Watanabe for taking the role. There just isn’t that much work for Asian American actors. IMHO, he did the best he could with the script that he was given. Gedde went onto better things, including leading roles in the films Volunteers and Gung Ho.)