Picture this: A 7th-grader sits on the couch of her living room, rewinding a well-worn tape in her VCR. She just finished watching an episode of a show she taped when it aired a few weeks before. She’s going to watch it again, and probably once more before the day is over.
It was 1994, and the show I was watching ad nauseum was All-American Girl, an ABC sitcom starring Margaret Cho as a young Korean American woman struggling to reconcile her interests and ambitions with those of her traditional family. Reviews of the show were mixed at best, but to me as an Asian American middle-schooler in suburban Michigan, this show was everything. It didn’t matter to me that the show featured stereotypes that I would now probably denounce, along with some truly cringe-worthy accents; it didn’t matter that the show’s premise changed several times mid-season without explanation. What mattered to me was that, for the first time in my life, there was a family on TV that looked like mine, and experiences I had that I didn’t know anyone else had were being enacted and validated on national television. And because of that, I watched the show over and over again, even after its cancellation the following spring.
I’m reminded of that show now, a full 20 years later, as ABC introduces not one, but two shows with Asian American leads for their fall lineup. These shows take drastically different approaches to portraying Asian American characters, and I’m sure each will face its own barrage of criticism. But the 12-year-old in me who thought she was alone in her experiences is thrilled that these shows even exist.