It took Serena Wu and Teresa Wu all of five minutes to give their blog, and now book, the potentially incendiary title My Mom Is a Fob. “Honestly, it wasn’t something that we considered for very long,” said Serena, now 23 and living in Fremont. “We never had second thoughts about using that word” — which stands for “fresh off the boat” and can be used as a slur against first-generation Asian immigrants — “until we started getting e-mails about it.”
The name, mildly offensive as it is, captures perfectly the spirit of the blog, which collects reader-submitted e-mails, dialogue, and text messages between as-yet-unassimilated Asian parents and their second-generation kids. It could easily be seen as insulting, or at the very least exploitative, but the girls, who are not related, insist it’s all an innocent, if tongue-in-cheek way of sharing the particularities of hyphenated identity. For them, growing up in Fremont and attending the predominantly Asian-American Mission San Jose High School, commiserating about their parents’ trouble with the English language and misunderstanding of American culture was a way of bonding with their peers. “Fob” was less a slur than a value-neutral, in-group descriptor.
It was only after Teresa turned in a college writing assignment detailing her mother’s “fobbishness” to an overwhelmingly positive response from her peers and professor that the pair realized that a collection of this stuff might have broad interest. On a whim, the girls — then in their third year of college, Serena at UC Berkeley and Teresa at UC San Diego — set up a Tumblr account and issued a call for submissions. The response was so strong that within a week, the girls had to move the blog off Tumblr to a dedicated web-hosting service. Literary agents came calling almost immediately, and last month, My Mom Is a Fob: Earnest Advice in Broken English from Your Asian-American Mom was released with a foreword by comedian Margaret Cho.
Much of the blog’s popularity can be attributed to its sheer, shallow humor. There’s the girl whose parents tried to give her the all-American name Stephanie and ended up with Staphanie; the kid who had to explain that the band Far East Movement isn’t feeling “like a cheesecake,” but rather “like a G6;” and Serena’s personal favorite, the dad who e-mailed his daughter an excruciatingly detailed grading rubric to help her measure the value of potential boyfriends (Christian: plus fifty points).
Yet the concept’s appeal also runs deeper than that, Serena said: “We grew up surrounded by other Asian kids, but I think if you’re the token Asian kid in Utah or whatever, it makes you feel less alone.” Aside from the few scattered cranky e-mails, the response from both within and outside the Asian-American community has been almost overwhelmingly positive, she said.
And as for her own mother? “I know she’s proud that I wrote a book,” Serena said, “but I’m not sure she really gets it, you know?” Serena Wu and Teresa Wu read from the book on Saturday, February 19, at Eastwind Books (2066 University Ave., Berkeley). 2 p.m., free. 510-548-2350 or AsianBookCenter.com