Family Matters

    The culture gap between first-generation kids and their immigrant parents has, for one Taiwanese-American alumna, gone public. No longer are the “unsolicited advice bout everything from homosexuality toonstipation” or the “passive-aggressive text messages ‘from the dog’” private affairs; thanks to Teresa Wu, who graduated from UCSD in 2010, the most “endearingly fobby” family moments are now available for mass consumption.

    Wu — together with her childhood friend and neighbor, Serena Wu — created a website in October 2008 that chronicles, among other things, parental advice.Between MyMomIsAFob.com and MyDadIsAFob.com, the guidance covers more than the familiar childhood idioms of “eat your vegetables,” “do your homework” and “call your mother.”

    “Get a cat. But don’t get an lazy American fatty cat. Get a hungry Chinese cat.”

    “Be sure to wear lots of underwear, so if you get rape it’ll take them longer and you can escape.”

    Or on how to best attract guys: “Think when you little you chase a aquarel, the squarrel will run fast away. But if you stop, the squrel will dstop too, he may also peek on what you doing. Do not scare the squarel.”

    What started as Wu’s UCSD writing assignment and an Internet joke — something between friends that others of a similar background might identify with — took less than two months to become a viral phenomenon that, between the two sites, generates 90,000 hits weekly. It also turned into a book deal; after being approached by publishers in November of 2009, Wu and Serena condensed their fan-generated content into My Mom is a Fob: Earnest Advice in Broken English from your Asian-American Mom. The book, featuring a foreword from Asian-American comedian Margaret Cho, will be released tomorrow, Jan. 4. The cover is an user-submitted image of chopsticks resting in a half-eaten bowl of popcorn — which, according to Wu, is how the photographer’s mother eats the stuff.

    The websites chronicle fan-submitted incidences of parental worry, heightened by a language barrier (One contributor, who set his Google chat status to “food coma,” received this message: “Eric, I saw that you had a food coma? Are you okay? Please call back to make sure that you are okay.”), as well as dating advice (“What? You had a boyfriend? How old? Is he Chinese or Vietnamese? Did you meet him at a disco or casino? Don’t meet boys at discos orcasinos, they only want one thing.”) and health warnings (“I think you are very pretty now. Just don’t get any fatter? I see you eating alot lately. Daddy little girl not so little anymore :)”).

    According to Wu her inspiration for the website came from two major sources — her blog, where she posted snippets of her mother’s “fobby” moments to positive responses, and her classes at UCSD.

    “I had a creative non-fiction class at UCSD, and I basically strung together little snippets of Skype chats, conversations and e-mails that my mom sent me, and I added a little commentary in between, and I turned it in as one of my creative non-fiction assignments,” Wu said. “And I got a great response from the class. And I think that kind of spurred on the whole thing.”

    That’s when she called up her childhood friend and fellow first-generation American, Serena. The two had long been swapping stories of their experiences with Taiwanese parents. “Teresa was like, ‘It would be really, really cute to make one for Asian moms,”’ Serena said.“So we got a bunch of submissions from our friends, and we pulled out stuff from our own moms, and we started a blog on Tumblr.”

    When they started attracting hits, Serena and Wu moved the blog from Tumblr on to an independent host. A week after its conception,they added the mirror site MyDadIsAFob.

    “We split it up so that now, I run MyDadIsAFob and [Wu] runs MyMomIsAFob,” Serena said.

    According to Wu, the two websites have distinctly different tones. “The brand of humor is kind of unique to dads and moms, in a weird way,” Wu said. “The kinds of things that moms say versus the kinds of things dads say — like, moms are always concerned about their daughters’ love lives and their daughters being fat … and then dads give really weird advice that’s really vague, and there are a lot of Chinese proverbs that don’t really make sense. You start to recognize patterns, I guess. Moms have a lot more grammatical and spelling errors that become really funny.” Two months after the site launched, Wu and Serena were offered a book deal from Perigee Trade.

    “A bunch of literary agents e-mailed us and we were like, ‘What? Is this a joke? What would literary agents want with this?’ And then more and more came … so I think we had about five literary agents e-mail us,” Serena said. “It actually took quite a long time to get a book deal, because for the first two months our agent was like, ‘No luck, no response.’ [But] it worked out. It was definitely nothing we expected.”

    The word “fob” – an acronym for “fresh off the boat” – has long been used as derogatory term for recent immigrants who have not yet adapted to the cultural nuances of their new host country. But Wu argued that the site takes care to portray parents in an affectionate — if humorous — light.

    “We definitely didn’t expect [the site] to blow up the way it did,” Wu said. “We didn’t brainstorm, like, ‘What should we name this website?’ We thought about changing it — we genuinely thought about whether or not to change it because there are negative connotations to the word ‘fob’, but by that time we were kind of like, ‘As long as we’re careful about how we use the term, and people aren’t getting the sense that we’re using it in a derogatory way, then I think we’ll be fine.’”

    And although the women have received what Wu refers to as “respectful hate mail,” from viewers who disagree with their use of the term, the overall response has been positive.

    “It was mostly like, ‘I don’t really like what you’re doing.’ I think people understand the intention behind our blog — we love our moms and we think they’re adorable,” Wu said. “It’s not like we think their English is atrocious and we want to poke fun at them.”

    Plus, Wu added, the website offers a sense of solidarity to those who lacked the same sense ofcamaraderie that she and Serena had growing up with immigrant parents.

    “For a lot of people who didn’t grow up around an Asian-American community, it’s really refreshing for them to stumble on something like this and find out that there are other people like this,” Wu said. “For me and Serena – we grew up in Fremont… our high school was 70 percent Asian. It was not weird at all to have really fobby parents. So it was something we always reveled in. So for people who didn’t grow up with that experience, I think it’s really nice to come across it and realize — and this is so cheesy — just realize that there are people just like them with parents just like theirs.”

    Of course, comedy isn’t the only way the women make their living. Serena graduated from UC Berkeley in 2009, and works as a website and iPhone game designer. After graduating with a B.A. in communications this year, Wu now has a job working with the Google Docsteam in New York City.

    “I was a communications major,” Wu said. “I was one of those people who did not know what they were going to do after graduation. I didn’t go into senior year thinking, ‘Oh, I’m definitely going to work at Google.’ I totally thought that I was just going to freelance after I graduated and just figure it out from there.”

    But Wu is confident that their website will continue to grow.

    “We do want to expand more and hopefully do merchandise, so that’s a 2011 goal,” Wu said.

    “I wouldn’t say that it’s an incredibly profitable venture — I’m not going to make a living off of it any time soon, at all. There’s no way. But it’s good side income.”

    As far as the future of fob parents, Wu said that much depends on the fate of the book after its Jan. 4 release date.

    “People always ask us about MyDadIsAFob.com — so who knows? If My Mom is a Fob goes over really well, then maybe we’ll think about doing My Dad is a Fob, the book,” Wu said. “I actually think that the dad stories are almost funnier… [but] more people relate to MyMomIsAFob.”

    Though traffic at MyMomIsAFob is decreasing — instead of 10 submissions a day, they get roughly 10 submissions a week, according to Serena — new fobby moments continue to trickle in. And, as long as parents continue to confound their kids, those submissions will keep on coming.

    “From: Mom

    Subject: HAPPY BIRTHDAY

    hey 25 years old girl

    wow u so old, I can believe spend time with

    u 25years. be a fung girl today.”

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