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Battle Hymn of the ‘Fobby’ Mother

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Before Amy Chua’s memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” touched off nerves when the Wall Street Journal carried an excerpt about Chua’s child-rearing tactics, there was MyMomIsAFob.com, a blog that shares the lighthearted and idiosyncratic parenting moments of Asian mothers in America.

The blog, started by Teresa Wu and Serena Wu, features reader-submitted anecdotes — emails, handwritten notes, voice mails, text messages and photos — of Asian-American children and their oftentimes hilarious interactions with their immigrant mothers, the FOBs, or “Fresh Off the Boat.”

Despite English being their second language, these mothers are not shy about saying what’s on their minds, be it family recipes with disastrous typo, to awkward relationship analogies with unfortunate misspellings. One mother advises her daughter on the art of attraction, via instant message:

Mom: 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.

Mom: Do not scare the squarel.

The humor arises in decoding these well-intentioned maternal messages that become lost in translation, in both language and in culture.

Once considered a racial slur, the term Fob now empowers a new demographic that embraces the uniqueness of being both Asian and American. For Teresa Wu and Serena Wu, “Fob” defined their cultural experiences as first generation Asian-Americans of immigrant parents.

In October 2008, the childhood friends of Taiwanese transplants launched MyMomIsaFob.com from what began as Teresa’s college creative writing assignment. The website received 60,000 hits in its first week. In January, they celebrated their success with the release of a book, “My Mom is a Fob: Earnest Advice in Broken English from Your Asian-American Mom,” with a forward by comedian Margaret Cho.

cho.jpgCho, whose comedic repertoire draws from her Asian-American upbringing, shared some stories on what it was like growing up with her “fobby” mother. Listen to her here:

According to Jeff Yang, a columnist who writes about Asian-American pop issues for the San Francisco Chronicle, the shift in the definition of Fob reflects largely on immigration trends. After immigration reform in the ’60s and ’70s eliminated the quota system, a large number of educated Asian professionals settled in ethnic pockets such as the Silicon Valley and San Gabriel Valley in California and in Long Island.

“The kids themselves have also changed,” Yang says of children born after the influx. “All these things lead to the embracement among generations of Asian-Americans. You see that as well here; the humor is a gentle humor.”

'My Mom Is a Fob'Serena and Teresa, who were both born in the late ’80s, attended Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, Calif., where 75 percent of their classmates were also Asian-American. “We never thought twice about the title, ‘My Mom is a Fob,'” says Serena. “It’s unique to people like us who experience generational and cultural gaps — for future generations, this might not exist anymore.”

The site now draws submissions for a broader range of other maternal units, including Ukrainian and Mexican. Teresa also says they’ve received comments from those who don’t fully understand the Fob culture, but still laugh nonetheless. What translates as universal are the dynamics immigrant parents have in reconciling American culture.

“Young people sharing these interactions with their fobby parents [who] they consider to be hilarious and touching, sometimes embarrassing, sometimes goofy, I find it actually kind of empowering,” says Yang.

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