How use of the word “FOB” marginalizes Asians in the United States
by sunny kim
“Are you a FOB?”
Oh shit. What did I do this time to make someone ask me that question? Did I
pronounce a word with a Korean accent? Is it something I wore? Is it just the way I look? Ever since I came to the United States in second grade, this three letter word has haunted me. When I just started learning English in second grade, I heard this word used often by my classmates, and it was not
difficult to sense its derogatory connotation. Even now, I feel a high level of discomfort and insecurity when I am labeled with or even associated with the term.
It’s disappointing to me that the usage of the label “FOB” is still considered acceptable, even in a supposedly educated and socially conscious space like Berkeley. Fresh Off the Boat, more commonly abbreviated as FOB, is “a phrase used to describe immigrants that have arrived from a foreign nation and have not yet assimilated to the host nation’s culture, language, and behavior.”1 Most commonly, the “foreign nation” is a nation from Asia and the “host nation’s culture, language, and behavior” is what is considered mainstream American culture, language, and behavior.
Personally, I am used to hearing FOB being used to describe international
students or recent immigrants from Asia, but rarely have I heard FOB being used to describe an immigrant from a non-Asian country. FOB specifically marginalizes Asian immigrant communities within the larger Asian American population.
The label does not embrace the diversity that immigrants bring, but instead
subordinates them because of their failure to become a part of what is considered mainstream American culture. Through this process, things that are associated with being Asian become distasteful symbols of foreign origin, illlustrating an anti-Asian sentiment that groups have spent generations combating. My friends make derogatory remarks about my “Fobby” Korean pop song playlist on my iTunes. I hear students snicker when a classmate reads aloud with a “Fobby” accent. On the other hand, I can see the obvious contrast when anything associated with European is attractively exoticized. A British accent is many times described as “hot” or “sexy.” European way of dress is often portrayed as “sophisticated” and “classy.”
What I find particularly interesting is that it is most often the Asian students who commonly use the word to distinguish themselves from the “ F O B s . ”
Perhaps they subconsciously feel better because they believe that their assimilation puts them in a superior status in comparison to nonassimilated
This leads to another observation, which is that American culture is commonly equated with white culture. This notion indirectly opposes the idea of multiculturalism. The saying that America is a land of immigrants is cliché but true. Diversity was created through the entrance of immigrants including Asian immigrants, and this forms the culture that United States
prides itself in. Although the immigrant population in the U.S. is increasing, many of these immigrants groups are not accepted as “American.” Immigrants are not accepted, but are excluded as foreigners through the
usage of words like FOB.
Throughout American history, this same form of exclusion and marginalization has been practiced by the white population against Asian immigrants. Many derogatory terms have been used to label Asians as foreigners. Although this marginalization may seem to be less obvious now, the usage of the word FOB is a way that Asians continue to be marginalized in America, even by other Asians. It is hypocritical to condemn discrimination against Asians but to turn around and use words like FOB, which plays upon the foreign Asian sentiment still prevalent in the U.S.
Some may consider this issue as being blown out of proportion, but I have my own personal experiences of being victimized by this word, and I know I am speaking up not only for myself, but for other people who have been, and are still, offended by this label. So next time, before you use any form of the
word FOB flippantly, just stop and think about why you’re using it. Check your intentions and think about the effects of the words you choose to use. After really considering its implications, you’ll find yourself thinking twice before calling someone a FOB and participating in a system that continues to subordinate Asians in America.