I recently met up with Hudson Yang, the young actor who co-stars in the new ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat alongside the first all-Asian American cast since the 1990’s TV show All-American Girl. Fresh off the Boat is based on celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same title, which recounts the struggles and experiences of his Taiwanese immigrant family living in Orlando through his rise and success as the restauranteur behind the NYC Lower East Side’s BaoHaus. Known for their classic and variations of gua-bao, Taiwanese braised pork belly buns, TaiwaneseAmerican.org has been a fan since its start. Fast forward years later, the autobiography of Eddie Huang was picked up by ABC for development as a sitcom for a mid-season premiere. As the story goes, it was Eddie himself who encouraged Hudson to try out for the role of young Eddie after seeing his audition tape for the role of one of his siblings in the show.
For those who follow the adventures (and controversies) surrounding Eddie Huang as he challenges preconceived notions of what constitutes quality cuisine and the issues of cultural commodification, you know that beneath his urban hip-hop image and an unabashed straight-forward in-your-face style is a highly-educated lawyer who speaks his mind with an unrivaled sense of honesty, truth, and logic. No one can stop Eddie Huang from expressing his views and perspectives or pursuing his mission. It’s an admirable quality that keeps us transfixed on his endeavors.
That also means there are big shoes to fill, and the question in my mind is, is actor Hudson Yang ready?
During an early morning meet-up with Hudson and his father, Jeff Yang, who is well-known within the Asian American community as the Tao Jones columnist for the Wall Street Journal, I’m ready to find out. It’s a brisk morning in San Francisco and both of them are in town for a panel event at a dim sum restaurant in Chinatown. At 11 years old, Hudson is clearly like other grade school-aged kids. His attention wanders occasionally, his energy level hits highs and lows, but he’s definitely excited about his role in this TV gig. He tells me he’s gotten to meet some famous people, many whom he considers his friends now. He’s even hung out with Eddie Huang himself. One thing he tells me flat out is that he’s not famous yet… I’m fairly sure he just doesn’t realize how things will quickly change once the show airs.
It’s refreshing to see this young pre-teen is taking it all in stride and continues to be the child that he is. At opportune moments between photo ops and autograph requests, he pulls out the handheld video game he’s brought along with him. Throughout the event, he attempts to escape into his own world of video games and things children do, but ever-so-lovingly nudged to return to the reality of PR work and networking by his dad; Jeff Yang, whom I respect and consider one of the “godfathers” of Asian America, does know best. But it is amusing to see how typically Hudson offers a quick rebuttal or a strong opinion of his own.
There’s something fresh in Hudson, the way he’s unafraid to speak his mind and do whatever he wants to do that makes you wonder… is this what the younger version of Eddie Huang was really like, too? When I ask Hudson if he thinks he can live up the challenge of playing the role, he responds, “[Eddie Huang] has swagger, and I feel that I can match his personality in a lot of different ways.” Maybe this is the perfect role after all.
Hudson Yang is relatively new to the acting scene. It seems to me he’s still slightly unaware of how important a role he’s playing. Not just for the success of the TV show itself, but on a larger scale representing Asian America during prime-time network television. The last time we saw this happen with comedian Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl, we saw the show go down in flames. Even the Asian American audience showed little support for that project.
The pressure is on, but maybe it’s a good thing that Hudson is just doing what he wants to do. It’s not about pleasing Asian American audiences or the mainstream for that matter. He just gets to do what he loves to do. His family supports him and encourages him to flourish. And from the looks of it, no one is going to stop him from being himself anyway.
In my imagination, this was probably how little Eddie Huang started tackling the world and found his success. I’m sure Hudson is on his way too.
Fresh Off the Boat premieres on ABC on February 4th.
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