Saturday, March 19, 2011

Just FOBulous

by Desiree Andersen

The term FOB or fresh off the boat was frequently used in my high school to refer to newly arrived Asians from various backgrounds. They were typically very separate groups from the “preppy Asians” that had assimilated to American high school culture. Just over 20 percent of my high school was Asian, that is more than the African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders combined. Reading the Shalini Shankar reminded me immensely of this experience.
The popular Desi teens of the Shankar article were much like the preppy Asians from my high school. In many ways their families and themselves lived up to the model minority stereotype. There are a large amount of Asian business owners in my community. They live in nice houses, drive nice cars and are overall of the upper middle class. From the outside looking in it seems that many of them have achieved the so-called American dream. This experience seems a lot like the popular Desi teens' experience and their parents' with the Silicon Valley technology boom.
In looking up visual media centered around FOBs and FOB style, it was interesting to find that there were many variations of FOBs. The Asians called FOBs in my high school were primarily Korean, though any other Asian was free to call themselves or others FOBs. In many of the videos online, there are very different visual depictions of FOBs. Different videos showed FOBs of different origins. Shankar focuses on Desi FOBs and there looks to be similar standards out there for this stereotype. In particular, the Desi accented English or DAE came into criticism by this pair:

The people in this video point out the ways in which the Desi accent annoys them. It is incredibly interesting that they call the linguistic practices that they bring up embarrassing. Perhaps this is because people's use of language is one of the elements people use to judge others and because the accent diverts from the white middle class standard. The pair in the video come up with guidelines for FOB speech, such as no excessive use of the “R” sound. The people in this video also criticize others for making things plural that should not be. Unfortunately, it is these markers such as excessive use of certain sounds that allow for people to be easily marked as being a FOB.
Language is a characteristic that is easy to use to place people in different categories, whether those categories are accurate or not. Sometimes certain accents or ways of speaking are mistaken for other styles i.e. mistaking Southern English practices for African American Vernacular English. Similar inaccuracies are brought about with the FOB stereotype. Shankar also points out that many of the teens labeled FOB are not actually newly arrived immigrants at all. Instead, they use the FOB speaking style as a characteristic for inclusion into that group. It must also be pointed out that one of the main differences between popular and FOB Desi teens is class based. By labeling the lower classed Desi teens as FOBS, the upper middle class popular Desi teens claim their American identity.
Shankar found that the teens he studied intermixed DAE with California accented English. A lot of the so-called FOBs in my high school were criticized for having accented English or for simply having trouble with certain words. Like the Silicon Valley FOBs, the teens in my high school would fluctuate between plain accents, Korean and accented English. The SiliconValley teens used African American slang and hip-hop lyrics were also intertwined into their linguistic practices. Though Shankar does not argue this, I thought this incorporation was intriguing. It is as if the FOB teens claimed their American identity in different ways. Slang and hip hop can be considered just as American as the typical standard, since it is in the U.S. that these styles have emerged.
The same duo from the video above came up with a series they titled “Rosetta Stone FOB.” They have videos for several science terms, geography and ghetto phrases (seen below):

Shankar pointed out that FOB use of slang, hip hop and Spanish was all tied to humor just as in this video. He argues that humor is used as a point of solidarity for the boys and girls in “an otherwise dull and alienating school environment” (281). The FOBs in Shankar's article, he argued, did not feel like school was working for them in the ways it appeared to be for the popular Desi teens. Perhaps this is tied to class or the ways they are viewed within the school by both their peers and their teachers. As Shankar discussed, the popular Desi teens view the FOBs based on their ways of speaking. Using DAE and other nonstandard uses of language, probably elicited questionable views from teachers for seemingly being immigrant students.
Shankar mentioned that the Desi teens in general were often confused for being Latino based on their appearance. This mistaken identity could have only been reinforced by the use of slang, Spanish and DAE as stereotypes of what immigrants are like prevail. It is no wonder that they do not believe in their education system, since the system repeatedly did not recognize their heritage. On the other hand, others within the system that were able to assimilate linguistically as well as actually to the middle class standard, while their families, and as a result the FOB group, were not able to live up to this model minority standard.

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