Asians in America: ‘FOB’ Highlights Struggles Of Asian Immigration & Assimilation

Camilla Guo ’17 stood on a small black box, looking over the crowd and reciting a monologue about the experiences of Fa Mulan. She spoke of slaughter and devastation as if it were her own, detailing the death that had hung on Mulan’s family. But her tale of tragedy did not last long as she slapped co-actor Jackson Lee ’17 on the face, whose character tried to snap Guo’s character out of her monologue.

This scene was part of the play “FOB,” which was directed by Kalina Ko ’17 and took place in the Blackbox Theatre this past Friday and Saturday night. The actors, which included Guo, Lee, and Richard Zhong ’17, all played characters who were affected with different interpretations of their Asian American identity. Lee’s character Dale considered himself a true American, Zhong’s character Steve was an immigrant from Hong Kong, and Guo’s character Grace was stuck in the middle.

“I read this play about two years ago in the summer. I connected with it and I couldn’t really figure out why and there are some elements that are weird and I couldn’t figure out what it meant. And for some reason it stayed with me and I figured it would be nice to have some Asian-American experience on stage at Andover,” said Ko.

The play highlights the struggles of assimilation and living as an Asian immigrant in America.

“The play is really big on Asian-American [identity] — how there’s even disagreement amongst what we all perceive to be the same on a lot of ways. Dale’s character, [played by Lee], is viewed as being very similar to Zhong’s character and there’s not very much difference from an external perspective or a non-Asian perspective — someone who hasn’t taken as much time to engage with these individuals and their experiences,” said Ko.

“FOB” also delves into deeper issues such as class, which is quite evident in the way that the characters, especially Lee and Zhong were dressed. Lee’s style consisted of a clean, crisp white suit while Zhong’s outfit was complete with an oversized jacket with a collared shirt and khakis.

“The issue of class comes up a lot… There is nothing good associated with Chinese or any other kind of Asian wealth other than the fact that they’re selfish and they came to America and took it from all the people who deserved it here because they’re immigrants. The play definitely touches on class. The humor is supposed to make it easier to swallow, but I hope it came across serious as well,” said Guo.

The play revolved around Guo and potential love interest Zhong, who Lee looked down on for being considered a “FOB,” or an Asian person who refused to assimilate into American culture. One of the many scenes that Lee and Zhong had conflicts was during a dinner scene where, in the midst of disagreeing about their life experiences, Zhong spiked Lee’s food with hot sauce.

“The hot sauce scene was probably one of my favorites. I just thought that Jackson did a really great job staying in character while also conveying this humorous undertone. I also think that Richard did a great job just grinning and bearing it. He showed no reaction, which I’m sure was difficult,” said audience member Sydney Olney ’18.

The audience had also been given a glimpse of the characters when they began to play a game where they created a story with Zhong assuming the role of esteemed warrior Guan Yu, Guo as Fa Mulan, and Lee as a little bear.

“My favorite scene is the Three Bears part. It was the first scene we ran through, and I just think it’s the happiest part of the play to me. It’s when we all come together and when we’re all not fighting for once. We all come together and create this story about the bear, which is actually I think is a metaphor for [Jackson’s character]. We become a metaphor for characters to are like ourselves in that we’re kind of Asian, kind of not, and we discover the characters’ values — Asian versus American,” said Zhong.

“I enjoyed the fact that although it was a play primarily about Asians and Asian-Americans, the audience was much more diverse than that. It really showed the amount of interest that is starting to emerge for international perspectives and perspectives of races other than one’s own,” said Olney.