The term, "the bamboo ceiling," coined by Jane Hyun, describes the virtual absence of Asian Americans in top corporate CEO positions, despite the significant number of Asian American students at Harvard (18 percent) and Stanford (24 percent). According to The Atlantic article, “Cracking the Bamboo Ceiling” (Oct 14, 2014), "Asian Americans account for just 1.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and 1.9 percent of corporate officers overall. 63 percent of Asian men feel stalled in their careers, a higher rate than” any other groups reported. The bamboo ceiling can describe Asian Americans in mainstream culture and media as well.
Against this bamboo ceiling, Asian Americans recently filled viewing parties for the new ABC series, Fresh Off the Boat (FOB). Finally, Asian Americans can see our particular stories as told by Asian American actors and actresses. I can think of several indicators of "FOB Fever":
1. The Power of Resonance: How many times do Asian Americans see their own stories depicted in the mainstream media? Besides the contents, the presentation and representation resonate with Asian Americans unlike the way in the past when some white actors/actresses playing Asian roles. In addition, when the whiteness and maleness of divinity is presented as normative, usually people of color and even women don’t raise questions. Questioning the institutionalized norms, often means further social distance from the center for the minority. Therefore, the dissonance with the presentation of divinity often submerges.
2. The Power of Identification: One of the reasons that so many minority people have identity confusion stems from the absence of our stories and our figures in the mainstream. Our look and our manners are far from the mainstream media’s constant bombardment of what the heroes/heroines look like. Asian Americans, no matter how many generations have lived on this shore, have been treated as forever-guests because we look different from the white hosts.
3. The Power of Belonging: Living a life as an outsider or stranger causes one to feel insecure and vulnerable. The internalized “isms” of all sorts echoes self-denigration, and self-doubt.
With these daily experiences, ABC’s mini-series FOB presents and represents Asian Americans’ stories in self-belittling, satire, and humor. Hopefully, the series tracks enough attention because they are also part of American stories that crack the bamboo ceiling in corporate America. One caveat in cracking the bamboo ceiling, however, is that one has to be ready to be ostracized by both one's own ethnic group and the mainstream. For this reason, I find that the comic and satirical approach of FOB is indeed refreshingly engaging.
Rev. Dr. Young Lee Hertig is a co-founder and the second Executive Director of ISAAC (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity). She also founded AAWOL (Asian American Women on Leadership) under ISAAC and mentored Asian American women leaders. She teaches in the Global Studies and Sociology Department at Azusa Pacific University, was formerly a Vera B. Blinn Associate Professor of World Christianity at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and was an assistant professor of Cross Cultural Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary. She is also an ordained Presbyterian clergy as well as a commissioner of the Presbyterian Church USA to the National Council of Churches Faith and Order.