For those of us growing up in the U.S. with immigrant parents in the seventies and eighties, there was no getting around the fact that the term F.O.B. (Fresh Off the Boat – pronounced letter “F”, letter “O”, letter “B”) was meant to be derogatory, when applied to ourselves, or to our parents. I had no idea, the term has changed in recent times to “fob” (rhymes with rob) and used affectionately as “fobby”. Jeff Yang tackles this topic in a recent article for SFGate. Specifically he writes about two websites, that have gotten a lot of attention in Asian circles, mymomisafob.com and mydadisafob.com. I’ve actually seen the first site, and read through many funny entries.
Yang calls our attention to these sites, not only because they are funny, but because there’s something endearing about them for those of us that have immigrant parents. We love our parents and all their funny quips and sayings. As I said earlier, for those of us of certain age, we’d never actually call them F.O.B., so Yang wanted to know why Teresa Wu and Serena Wu (not related, but creators of the two respective sites), included the “fob” in the title of their websites. It turns out they used the term as “fob”, not “F.O.B.” and referred to their parents as “fobby” in the most endearing way possible. Yang gets some help from another Yang, Gene Yang, to get the explanation for this cultural shift:
[Gene] Yang, who now resides in Fremont, notes that Mission San Jose, the high school Teresa and Serena attended, has one of the most Asian student populations in the nation. “It’s like 80 percent Asian,” he says. “The average SAT scores there are through the roof, and they have no football team, but an absolutely killer badminton team.”
It makes sense that kids growing up in an environment where being Asian is the norm would have a different view of being an immigrant than one where they’re in the minority. “If everyone has immigrant parents, it’s easy to go, ‘Oh, my parents are such fobs’ and feel affectionate toward them, even proud of them,” he says.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around calling my own parents “fobby”, but they definitely had their share of “fobby” moments. When my parents bought their first new car ever in 1973, they bought vinyl seat covers to go over the vinyl factory seats. They finally took the seat covers off 13 years later to sell the car. By then the rest of the car was rusted out from too many New York winters, but the seats still looked brand new. I was able to convince my parents in later life that should enjoy the velour in their new car in 1997, rather than wrap the car seats with seat covers, so the next owner could enjoy the seats. I’m curious if anyone else actually uses “fob” and “fobby” endearingly, or do you also think of “F.O.B.” as a derogatory term?