The New Yorker
February 24, 2011
Around midnight on October 18, 2008, while sitting in their dorm room at the University of California San Diego, Teresa and Serena Wu (no relation) started a blog called “My Mom is a Fob.” In the F.A.Q. section on the site, the explanation for “fob” is as follows: “Fob stands for ‘fresh off the boat,’ and is a term often used to describe Asian immigrants who just aren’t quite on track with American culture.” For example, if your mom’s love advice involves treating boys the way you would chase a squirrel—“Do not scare the squarel”—or in an mp3 birthday message your dad ends the song by telling you he’s “praying you meet a good Christian husband,” or for advice on keeping a boyfriend, your mother writes in an e-mail, “I know you are wearing pretty pretty everyday, but just remember the most boys they don’t like his girl friend always be a spot in class (because other boy will notice you also), sometimes just be nature like a normal college girl, of course, when you are going a party with him then you should wear very pretty,” then guess what? Your parents are probably fobs.
Teresa wrote that she wanted to start a blog “documenting my mother’s hilarity (and trust me, there was a lot of it).” She mentioned the idea to Serena, and the rest is history. Within five days the blog had attracted sixty-five thousand visitors, and in the last three and a half years, the women have uploaded over seven hundred e-mails from Asian American kids across the country. In January, the blog turned book and can now be found in print. (I recently book-spotted it in the checkout line at Afterwards, Washington, D.C.’s most popular book café.)
Margaret Cho, who practically made her career poking fun at her Asian mother, writes the foreword. She explains that while her mom is a fob, her dad is most definitely not: “This is because when I was three days old, my father was deported.” Cho goes on to say that her father’s fight against “fobbishness” made her mother’s Asian qualities all the more apparent. The refrigerator, for example, was filled with “big jars of kimchi in various stages of decay.” Cho writes, “Our house smelled so bad, but you would think that Bing Crosby was living there, from the way my father would smoke his pipe and pick up the phone to say, ‘Hello?’”
The book also includes pictures of Fob fashion—mothers wearing plastic visors and “protective sleeves,” which I have deduced are pieces of cloth, wrapped around the arm, secured with a needle and thread, and are used to protect skin from sun damage (perfect in the car, or at the park).
One of my favorite additions to the book are the screen caps of text messages. I recently found this one on the blog, where a mother thanked her daughter for teaching her to “tax.”
While this may sound like a cruel way to treat your Asian parent, Teresa and Serena are careful to say that the term “fob” is no longer a slur. “It’s defined by our pride in having held on steadfastly to our half-Asian, half-American culture.” In a recent interview on NPR, Serena said, “Mom loves the blog and she loves the book. She checks it every night, and I can hear her laughing from her bedroom. At times, I don’t know if she fully understands the jokes, but either way, she’s really proud that we got to publish.”
Teresa and Serena have even begun a dad version of the blog, which is titled, of course, “My Dad is a Fob.” It has an illustration of a man wearing white socks with leather sandals, and contains such anecdotes as: “My dad sent me a weird email w/ some disgusting pics in it. His preface to the email was this: ‘Be Brave to look at it.’”
I’ll stop here and let you discover the fob-frenzy for yourself. Submissions or fan mail should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.