Somewhat. The first Asian-led cast of a television show in twenty years (even I thought All-American Girl was terrible) has been more or less well received, despite its inspiration basically smack-talking before it even premiered. Based on the memoir of gangsta-wannabe chef Eddie Huang, Fresh Off the Boat chronicles the 80s upbringing of a Taiwanese immigrant family to Florida.
I’ve been sticking with the show, despite my uncontrollable impulse to want to smack the child actor playing Eddie. It does capture a lot of familiar elements of my own Chinese-American upbringing. My dad still yells at my mom to turn off the air conditioning because it’s costing him money, my grandmother kept the plastic covers over her furniture to protect them for probably fifteen years, and we do wear our bargaining skills and cheapness as badges of honor.
However, I also have a Caucasian mother, and my bi-racial status (even in the racial lollapalooza that is Hawaii) made life more than a little confusing. I fully admit to being a “banana” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), and I still remember the shock of visiting my mother’s enormous Fresno family and being the only Asian at the picnic. I was lucky enough to have had amazing relatives who never treated me any differently, although that may have been helped by the fact that our family offered free housing for vacations to Hawaii.
Times have changed, and there are certainly more examples of racial diversity available to kids than I ever had growing up. I mean, I had an Oriental Barbie, and I don’t remember anyone thinking that the term was offensive.
What I’ve always sought out, often with limited success, are books with characters who share my mixed-race upbringing. More often than not, if the Asian characters have white parents it’s the result of adoption and not interracial marriage. My parents were married in the late sixties, when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states, and the only well-known marriage between and Asian man and a Caucasian wife was Bruce and Linda Lee (which could perhaps explain my mother’s infatuation with the martial arts movie star. TMI?)
It was with joy that I first came across the books by Sujata Massey, which feature a Japanese-Caucasian heroine struggling with her identity in Japan. These books wonderfully capture how Rei Shimura often feels like an outsider, whether while working in Japan or living back home in California.
Naomi Hirahara’s new mystery series quickly became one of my favorites as well. Here, a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian rookie LAPD bicycle officer attempts to navigate through a suspicious Asian community, as well as the treacherous ranks of the LAPD. Ellie is mentored by her aunt, the highest-ranking Asian officer who has set the bar high, pushing through a glass ceiling and color wall.
Not surprisingly, I was immediately drawn to the Ken Tanaka mystery series by Dale Furutani. They feature a Japanese-American man from Hawaii, who is enamored with noir mysteries and becomes an inadvertent amateur detective in Los Angeles through the fake PI agency he sets up for a bookclub.
I was introduced to the Kimo Kanapa Hawaiian mysteries by author Neil Plakcy, whose Honolulu Police Department detective is a "poi dog" mix of Asian, Hawaiian, and Caucasian ancestry. The book titles may raise eyebrows in Hawaii, but they are fun novels that accurately portray the Islands' diverse culture.
I have to admit, the 1950 mysteries by Juanita Sheridan are some of my favorites. Lily Wu was probably one of the first Chinese-American female sleuths, and her life during post-World War II Oahu is astounding relatable even for today. I adore these books.
So, until I get my Chinese-American female superhero, one who isn't an evil villain, I will be enjoying these mysteries.