Do Asian immigrant moms really raise the best Americans? Teresa Wu and Serena Wu, the unrelated co-creators of an Asian-American blog, MyMomIsAFOB.com, poke gentle fun at strict Asian mom stereotypes—and their immigrant mothers’ creative grammar and old-world sensibilities. The popular blog has recently been made into a book. I spoke with Teresa about what a FOB is, and whether it’s a slur or a term of affection.
Mother Jones: For people who aren’t familiar with the term “FOB” can you explain where it comes from and what it means?
Teresa Wu: Yeah. So “fob” (F-O-B) stands for “fresh off the boat” and I think people used to actually use F-O-B instead of the word “fob.” FOB used to have a really negative connotation, it was something that people used against Asian immigrants or other immigrants. But I like to think that our generation has taken the term and just re-defined it. When we were growing up [in the 1990s] it was just kind of an endearing term that we would joke about. Like if someone wears clothes from Asia or is really into their Asian bakeries, we just call them “fobby”. And we call our moms fobby for wearing those protective arm sheaths. So fobbiness is just like holding on to your Asian roots I guess, even when you’re in America.
MJ: Teresa, the idea for your book came from your blog, right?
MJ: So can you tell me a little bit more about the blog and why you started it?
TW: I basically strung together a bunch of conversations, Skype chats and messages from my mom for my creative writing class. And my class loved it and said, Oh, you should get this published! So that’s the inspiration behind the blog.
MJ: Do you have any favorite moments of your mom’s fobulosity that you could share, any favorite moments you’re glad made it into the book?
TW: This one incident from when I was a kid sticks out to me. One morning my mom woke me up and she was like, you want to have a helmet for breakfast? And I was like, what’s a helmet? Why would I want a helmet for breakfast? Five minutes later my brother and I figured out that she meant omlette. I don’t even know how she got “helmet” from “omlette.”
MJ: Are there any embarrassing situations you saw as you got submissions through your site?
TW: It seems like so many things repeat themselves. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten submissions about people’s moms ordering “doggie-style” fries at In-N-Out.
MJ: Doggie-style fries?
TW: Yeah, you know how they have the secret menu, and you can order “animal-style fries” and the moms always order “doggie-style fries.”
MJ: So your mom has seen your blog, MyMomIsAFob.com… and does she think it’s funny or does she not quite get it?
TW: Yeah. That’s almost the funny thing about it. My mom just really doesn’t understand the site. She knows what the point of it is, but doesn’t really understand why things are funny until I explain them to her, which is kind of funny in itself.
MJ: This book is focused on Asian fobs, but do you think it’ll be applicable to those without Asian parents?
TW: I definitely think it’ll be applicable to those without Asian parents. Probably, to those with immigrant parents at least. I don’t know if the general public will relate to it necessarily… but I think anyone with an immigrant parent knows what it’s like to be on the end of that really amazing, unconditional love that’s just a little bit misplaced sometimes, you know, you get these weird misspelled messages, so I think a lot of kids of immigrants can relate.