Saturday, May 26, 2007


That Sepia Mutiny keeps making me think. They posted an article on what appears to be a conflict between Canadian-born desis and foreign-born desis, in which the word FOB has come into play. Which reminded me of some of my own experience with FOBs and the general perception about FOBs. So South Asians say FOB and East Asians say FOB, chalk up one point for the Indians are Asian guy.

In general, I feel like FOB, as a word, has quite a negative meaning. The most interesting thing about the word, for me at least, is the way it's used. Unlike other slurs, it's primarily an in-group word, rather than an out-group word. So although it is a form of discrimination, it's one that occurs within a community rather that between communities. I also suspect that FOB is chiefly an Asian American word, I've never heard it used outside of the Asian American (East or South) communities. I guess probably in part due to the name (fresh off the boat implies that you had to take a boat to get here).

I think in the past, the part of the FOB was pretty clear. Recent immigrants, funny clothes, accents, bad haircuts, "Third World" behavior etc. It's picking out their overly "ethnic" appearances, and comparing them unfavorably with American-born Asians. Why do we do this? On a certain level, I think because their presence makes us uncomfortable. Making the distinction of FOB vs. American born is attempting to draw a distinction where in the eyes of white people there is none. Telling ourselves " Well I'm not like that."

Furthermore, I feel, at least on my part, there's a certain amount of fascination. What would I have been like if I hadn't been born in America? Could that be me? When we reject FOBs, we make them our Other, our monster. Both a possibility of what we could have been and also what we most certainly are not. And at this point, it's really not about them anymore, it's about us.

On a personal level, I guess I never had the same dislike or aversion to FOBs that some of my peers did. In middle school, most of my friends were recent immigrants, and I actually wished I could be more like them. This is probably because the school was pretty much divided between white kids and immigrant Asian kids who were there because the middle school was the only one that had an ESL program. So it would have been easier to have a "place" if I had been a FOB.

At the same time, I used to get kind of frustrated with them because they didn't want to or weren't able to fight back, and honestly it was pretty much the latter, when people teased them about their names, or teachers would shout loudly and slowly at them. I probably took it harder than they did. I guess maybe I just wanted to see them stand up and fight back.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this honestly, but maybe much as Asian Americans frequently are the other to white America, the FOB, and really just the specter of the FOB, rather than any actual recent immigrant, is our other.


baby221 said...

Not exactly a timely comment, but I came here via Vox Ex Machina and this post caught my eye. My brother and I are mixed, half Filipino and half white -- and all of his white friends call him FOB. Affectionately. But still. I'm not sure whether he introduced the word to him or whether they already knew it, but it bugs me that they use it so carelessly.

The worst part about it, though, is that I'm not sure why it bugs me -- because it's a racial slur, or because I don't want my brother or any of my family associated with the "perpetual foreigner" stereotype. I like to think it's the former but every now and then I read something (a post like this, say) and I wonder if maybe I'm just engaging in my own little form of Othering to make myself feel better.

lovelesscynic said...

Well better late then never, thanks for your comment. I think part of the thing about the FOB stereotype is there's this real revulsion among Americanized Asian Americans. It's everything that we think we're not and what we don't want to be (in my opinion.)

Othering is probably a pretty apt description I think.