My Mom: 'Fresh Off The Boat'

Being family often means that your kids will poke fun at you. Two young Asian-American bloggers shared the antics of their immigrant parents on their website, which spawned the book, "My Mom is a Fob: Earnest Advice in Broken English From Your Asian-American Mom." The authors, Serena Wu and Teresa Wu — no relation — share their funny stories with host Michel Martin.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

We're continuing our special look at family this hour. We started out by talking about family secrets, something we were thinking about after Oprah Winfrey announced that she had discovered the existence of a sister she hadn't known anything about until a few months ago.

In a few minutes, we'll talk more about just who Americans consider family and why, particularly whether they consider gay couples family.

But, first, we note that one out of 10 people living in the U.S. was born somewhere else, which means that many people have parents who might have very different ideas about how to be a parent than many of their friends' parents. They might be particularly strict, for example, in a way that many Americans are not used to.

One such parent has been getting a lot of ink lately: Yale law Professor Amy Chua, whose book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," has become a bestseller. But hers is not the only story. For a couple of years now, Teresa Wu and Serena Wu have been cracking themselves up and their friends and blog followers by passing around the wit and wisdom of their Chinese immigrant mothers. Their blog is called "My Mom is a FOB." And that blog is now a book by the same name. It's subtitled "Earnest Advice in Broken English from Your Asian-American Mom."

And Teresa Wu and Serena Wu are with us now. Interestingly enough, they're not related. Teresa is in our New York bureau, and Serena joins us from San Francisco.

Welcome to you both.

Ms. TERESA WU (Blogger, "My Mom is a FOB"): Thank you for having us.

Ms. SERENA WU (Blogger, "My Mom is a FOB"): Thank you for having us.

MARTIN: Now, Teresa, I'm going to start with you. FOB means fresh off the boat. I thought that was a mean thing to say about somebody. Not so?

Ms. T. WU: FOB used to be a derogatory term that people used to make fun of immigrants. But in my generation, at least, growing up, it was never used as a derogatory term. It was kind of a friendly, joking way of describing people who are half-Asian, half-American - you know, culturally not all American, but just half there. So...

MARTIN: And, Serena, how did you two get the idea to start this blog?

Ms. S. WU: Teresa and I, we've both been long-time bloggers, and we always post funny snippets from - emails from our parents. And so then one night, Teresa was, like, we should start a blog where users can submit their own stories and we can make it, like, a compilation - sort of like an anthropology of all these fobby, cute tales from our parents on a blog together. So that's what we did.

MARTIN: Now, unfortunately, I cannot read some of the funnier entries because they are a little - how should we put it - double entendres, unintended double entendres and quite innocently meant, but, nevertheless, not for sharing at work. So why don't you give us just a couple of examples of some of the things that you think are particularly funny? Teresa?

Ms. T. WU: One of my favorites is this one from my mom. She says: Think when you little, you chase a squirrel, the squirrel will run fast away. But if you stop, the squirrel will stop, too. He may also peek on what you doing. Do not scare the squirrel. And that's, like, her idea of love advice to her daughter.

MARTIN: Oh, that was love advice. OK. I wasn't really sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I wasn't sure what that was advice about, feeding the squirrels. OK. Love advice.

OK. Serena, do you have one?

Ms. S. WU: Yup. So, this one's titled "Dating Analogies": Never give anyone a free trial and take your product home. They must pay full amount first. Because if they get free trial - I know, because I sell cosmetics for many years - they will always return the product.

MARTIN: That's dating advice, too?

Ms. S. WU: Yup.

MARTIN: Oh, OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now, you say in the book that you are not trying to make fun of your moms. You think they're freaking adorable and you want to showcase those precious moments to a community of Asian-American kids who know exactly what it's like to be on the receiving end of that amazing, unconditional and sometimes misspelled love.

One of the things that I was noticing about the blog - and, of course, about the book - is that it started off with a bang. I mean, once people heard about it, people just kept sending you stuff. They all wanted to talk about it. Why do you think that is?

Ms. T. WU: This is Teresa. I think that people just identified so much with it, and there hasn't really been a community online that's been, like, children of immigrant parents. So that was the first community that people found online that they can relate to. And everybody just loved the idea so much that they wanted to jump in and contribute and be part of it and talk with other people who shared the same experiences.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're talking to Teresa and Serena Wu. They are the co-authors of the blog and the book "My Mom is a FOB." They're sharing the hilarious, adorable and endearing antics of their Asian immigrant parents. Many times, I think maybe there's an image of people who are immigrants being very suspicious of other people outside of their community. There was a funny entry about enjoying some steaks that one of the moms has grilled on her new grill. Do you want to read that one? It's on page 156.

Ms. T. WU: (Reading) Me: Ma, these steaks are amazing. Mom: Yes, and my grill is so great because it drips excess oil while it's grilling the meat. Simple and easy to clean and keeps us healthier. I just love my Morgan Freeman grill.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. T. WU: (Reading) Brother: Ma, did you mean your George Forman grill? Mom: You two always like to pick at my English. Their names are similar, OK? And they're both nice black men I see on TV.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Oh, no. I thought that was so funny. But one of the things that I thought was interesting, too, is that some of these funny things happened because your parents desperately want to stay connected to you and they want to be up to date. Does anybody want to talk about that?

Ms. S. WU: I'll add to that. So, this is Serena. So, the funny thing about my mom is she likes to think that she's super-techy and super-hip and up to date with the latest technologies. So she's Facebook friends with me, although she has a lot of restrictions. She's also on Twitter. And a lot of times she'll tweet me messages, assigning me homework, like, you have to read an article every day and tell me what you learned. Or even she'll post on my Facebook and be, like, oh, how did that book signing event go? So she really likes to connect with me online.

MARTIN: Teresa, what about you?

Ms. T. WU: I think the funny thing about a lot of these stories is that on top of our moms, you know, not quite understanding our culture in terms - just, like, American culture. They also are technologically challenged. So they try to go on Facebook. They don't really understand what it's for. They make weird comments, like, inappropriate comments on other people's, you know, your friends' pages.

And, like, there's one particular story that I thought was really funny. It's called "Online Predators Via YouTube." The girl writes: So, my mom is a very protective mother. This is what happened after she watched a "60 Minutes" special on online predators. While I'm watching the video blog on YouTube, mom says, who is that guy? I say: I don't know. Mom: Why is he talking to you? Me: It's a video. Mom says to the computer: Go away. My daughter don't want to meet up and talk to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. T. WU: Clearly, she did not get the concept of YouTube.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. T. WU: And at the same time, it still demonstrates her, like, overprotective, overbearing Asian mom-ness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, do your parents - have your parents read the book? Have they read your blog? Or are you - what do they think about it? Teresa?

Ms. T. WU: So, my mom has looked at the book. She's flipped through it. I don't think she understands why most of those passages are funny. But she's proud. So, I'm happy of that.

MARTIN: OK. Serena, what about you? Have your parents checked the book out? What do they think?

Ms. S. WU: Mom loves the blog and she loves the book. She checks it every night, and I can hear her laughing from her bedroom. At times, I don't know if she fully understands the jokes, but either way, she's really proud that we got to publish the book.

MARTIN: Serena Wu and Teresa Wu are not related, but they are both co-authors of "My Mom is a FOB," a new book. The subtitle is "Earnest Advice in Broken English from Your Asian-American Mom."

Teresa Wu joined us from our bureau in New York. Serena Wu joined us from San Francisco.

And I thank you both so much for joining us.

Ms. T. WU: Thank you so much for having us.

Ms. S. WU: Thank you for having us.

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