‘Vulnerability is weakness’: the ‘House of Ho’ cast on Asian masculinity, filial piety and a new gen of Asian Americans

The Ho family returns for their second season after an almost two-year hiatus, promising more Hos and a ho’ lot of drama.

Centered around a wealthy Vietnamese American family based in Houston, Texas, HBO Max’s reality TV series “House of Ho” gives viewers an intimate glimpse into the opulent lives of immigrants who have achieved the American Dream. Viewers may be surprised, however, to discover that the Ho family deals with the same issues that many average Asian Americans deal with in their own lives, some of which stem from cultural dissonance. Disagreements about how children should be raised, differences in the treatment of sons and daughters and the pressures placed upon them by their parents well into adulthood are just a few sources of drama viewers can expect to see and possibly relate to while observing the Ho family.

A lot has changed for the Hos since Season 1. Judy has moved on from her ex-husband and found love with her fiancé Nate Nguyễn; Bella and Kim have moved back to Houston after living apart from their family in California; and Washington has been working to maintain his sobriety.

In preparation for Season 2, Judy, Lesley and Washington Ho spoke with NextShark to discuss how their lives have changed since filming first started and what fans can expect going forward. Their younger cousins Bella and Kim Ho, who are making their debuts in Season 2, also spoke with NextShark to talk about their experiences as young Asian Americans on- and off-screen.

Vulnerability as strength

When Washington last spoke with NextShark prior to the series premiere, he compared himself to notorious internet playboy Dan Bilzerian, saying he makes Bilzerian “look like an amateur.” Later in Season 1, he refers to himself as the “Asian Bradley Cooper.” Coming into Season 2, Washington expresses that his outlook has changed at this stage in his sobriety: 

“I think, you know, Brad Pitt is going through his journey with sobriety, and he’s settled down a lot,” he explains. “That’s where I’m at in my life. I had a good time in my 20s and 30s, but right now my focus is on my family —- it’s on my kids, my wife and how I can be the leader that I know I can be. Through my journey in sobriety, what I’ve learned is that every day it takes a lot of work, and nobody gets away from it easy. I’m just inspired by my own family and my kids.”

For Washington and Lesley, shooting the show seems to have been, in a sense, a therapeutic process for their relationship. Much of the first season revolved around tension building in their marriage, but the couple insists that being on camera was a major factor in getting them to open up to one another.

“I think it expedites your relationship,” Lesley says. “Stuff that you may not talk about for months, or kind of let bubble for a little bit, we’re forced to talk about in front of the cameras, so it kind of puts pressure on your relationship. So good or bad, but in our case, I don’t think we’d be at this point now with him sober if it weren’t for this show.”

When asked what advice they would give as to how to make a relationship last, the three all agreed that communication and vulnerability are imperative. 

Judy, who began dating Nate in Season 1, says that being open about their needs is what makes their relationship work: “Nate is so good about being nurturing and supportive about everything that I’m going through, and everything that he’s going through, I try to be there for him. So I think it’s a real partnership. If he’s going through something then I’m there with him. I never want him to feel alone in anything that he’s going through.”

The communication component is still a work in progress for Lesley and Washington, with Lesley noting how she had “no idea” what Washington was suffering through alone over the course of Season 1.

“The way we’re [Asian men] raised a lot of times is that ‘vulnerability is weakness,’ but I would say that what I’ve learned is vulnerability is strength,” Washington adds. “So the more you can be transparent, and the more you can communicate with your life partner, then you can set the boundaries you need for your marriage to work. Where I suffered before was I lived with a lot of shame and guilt, and I was always scared to run to my wife or run to my father who’s an Asian male and this really successful guy. I had no one to run to. But when we get married, we marry our best friend — that’s what we’re supposed to do — so we should be able to communicate and Lesley has had to accept me for me.”

A fresh perspective

Younger cousins Bella and Kim hope to bring a new perspective to “House of Ho” in Season 2:

“Bella and I… we bring on a new, fresh perspective to what it’s like to be Asian American,” says Kim. “The things we face as young Asian Americans, how there’s a lot of societal pressure to have some filial piety while also navigating — to be individualistic and also mindful of our own mental health while also respecting the sacrifices that our parents have given to us so we are able to live the lives that we live today.”

“Yeah, it’s like just us sharing our own stories and our own individual problems and battles with our parents and with our friends,” Bella adds. “Just your own self-worth and who you feel as a person, we deal with that all the time just like every individual person. Kim has her own problems, I have mine, I’m sure you have yours. It’s just sharing that so that people can be — not feel alone, I guess.”

When it comes to the struggles of their older cousins and what their ideas of what it means to be Asian American might be, Bella and Kim say they don’t think their perspectives are so different.

“I think it’s not so different, because from Season 1 you can tell Judy is her own person. She’s amazing, she’s so inspirational that she’s able to go through her divorce and not let anyone’s opinion get in the way,” Bella says. “For us — I don’t want to speak for Kim, but I know we talk about it all the time — it’s just so hard to do that when you feel a sense of duty and responsibility to your family. You feel like you owe them everything, you owe them your entire life, and that’s kind of what you’re taught. It’s so hard to sit there and want to do things for yourself and be your own person, but… you cannot water your own plant while you’re trying to water someone else’s.

“I still feel that strong sense of duty and responsibility towards all my family and my cousins, and Judy and Lesley and Wash feel that way too, but they’re at the point where they have kids. They’re a little bit different. They’ve gone through many years of their lives where they’ve gotten to be comfortable with that, and we’re still trying to navigate through those types of issues.”

“There’s a term in Vietnamese called ‘khiêm tốn,’ and that means filial piety in a rough translation. That’s just appreciating your parents for all the sacrifices they’ve given us and giving back everything they’ve given us,” Kim explains. “But what’s so unique about Asian American culture is that we have the opportunity and space to be a little more individualistic, to take care of our mental health, something that our parents didn’t have the luxury of doing. So to be able to have an open dialogue with our families members, for them to heal from being displaced from starting a whole new life from their home country and what we know to us not only having that khiêm tốn, that filial piety, but also having that self-expression, and to put emphasis on our mental health, something that our parents might not have the luxury of doing but we do now, and having them understand that without being disrespectful.”

Season 2 of “House of Ho” premieres on HBO Max with three new episodes on Aug. 25.

Watch our interviews with the cast below.


Featured Image via WarnerMedia

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