Wassup Rockers

Playing “What If…?”

Here are some thoughts, unorganized, maybe inflammatory, but sincere and very much based on my own experience growing up.

I was reading this post on Racialicious on Excuse My Gangsta Ways, a documentary short about a young woman who was involved in gang life from the ages of 12 to 17 and her journey to transition out of that subculture and into being a “normal” person.

Oh, and the young woman, Davina Wan, happens to be Chinese-American, so for some reason I just looked at the picture and I really had to wonder if at one point in my life I could have been that girl in the picture.

To elaborate: when my family first moved to the US, one of the things my parents emphasized over and over and over to me and my brother was that we should be careful to make good friends. At this point in my life, I’m still struggling to be a good friend, but the people I’ve chosen and with whom I’ve connected have been, by and large, really positive and inspiring and fun friends. But for a short while there, my parents really worried about whether our adjustment to American life would be a success or a failure. They knew they had to work a lot and couldn’t necessarily guide our every decision the way they did when we were 2 years old.

One of my parents’ concerns was that my brother and I would end up in gangs. Of course anyone who has met me would LOL their hearts out, partly because I could pretty much get beat up by a fucking six-year-old but also because I’m not much of a “joiner.” I don’t blame y’all, it’s easy for me to chuckle about it too.

But I look at the picture of Wan and I’m like, well, she doesn’t seem like the type of girl who’d “attend 35 funerals before the age of 18.” This young woman joined her gang when she was 12! Can you imagine what sort of pressures led her there?

What my parents kept telling me about gangs is that they only pretend to be your friends, that it’s conditional love. For some people, the conditional love of a gang is better than no love, better than no stability. These gang members will tell you they’re gonna be your second family (or sometimes your only family), but ONLY if you succeed in your initiation. ONLY if you carry out whatever tasks the higher ups want you to do and ONLY if you don’t get out of line. And don’t even think about getting out, this shit is X VIDA. My parents would try to scare me straight with all sorts of stories: “You know what they have you do to join? They have everyone in the group beat the shit out of you until you’re barely breathing, and your face is unrecognizable,” and already being so sorry-looking, I was all like, “Erm… yeah, I’ma go back to reading my BSC books.”

Now, you’d think my parents would know me well enough to know that gang life was never gonna be a career move for me or my brother, but if things had unraveled the way they did in Davina Wan’s life, who knows what kind of shit trouble I would have gotten into.

I don’t know. I mean, in my case, the whole issue of growing up in one country and then having to transplant your entire life to another country where you don’t speak the language–that’s a huge deal. And I guess my parents thought that I’d look for a support group with people who looked like me. My parents knew that public school in the Bronx wasn’t gonna be easy-peasy, especially when you were the only Asian kid in the Spanish/English bilingual class. My parents had already heard of other immigrant families who had struggled to have their kids succeed.

Oddly enough, this led me, and I think my brother as well, to set ourselves apart from other immigrant Korean kids. A lot of them tended to run in groups, they would all fall in line and they all seemed to like the same music and all dress the same way and to me it was just such a joke.  I couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to pretend that I liked H.O.T. and S.E.S. and dye my fucking hair red and all that shit that was happening in the late 90s/early 00s. Most of these kids obviously end up fine, because they know there’s so much at stake to have your parents abandon their old lives just so you can have better opportunities. Most of these immigrant kids end up having pretty healthy interests and friendship circles, they join church groups or sports teams bands or, I don’t know, knitting groups. My brother and I fall into that category, but at the same time I think it was very necessary for us to set ourselves apart from other Korean-American kids because we thought that, even though most of these kids are good and not in violent gangs, there was still a group mentality that was stifling to me.

When you’re 12… It’s not even a strictly immigrant kid life narrative, though the immigration situation played a major part in my life story. But at 12, you just want to find a reliable group of friends and you’re looking to define who you are because if you don’t know who you are and what your interests are how are you gonna find friends who connect at your level and blah blah blah. A lot of times you’re not sure of who you are anymore so you wonder where you should turn. So sometimes the whole idealized concept of a gang, of protection and loyalty, can look real fucking alluring. I can see how shit can go really wrong in a kid’s life.

What am I trying to say? This is all so muddled, I’m sorry. Well, reading the Racialicious post, all I could think was, “Damn… I’m really lucky.” I doubt I might have ended up in a rough position like Davina Wan, but who knows if, at a particularly low point, I would have resigned myself to make a decision as drastic as joining a gang. I see how lucky I was, to have a stable home life with overworked but vigilant parents who really made me into a priority in their lives. I’m just acknowledging that I’m really grateful to my parents, that for every times I’ve bitched about them being overprotective, there’s way more times that I’ve felt thankful that they care about my safety and health and that they love me (unconditionally!). That’s a privilege that sadly not everyone gets, and I’m aware of that. C’est tout.

Oh wait, actually–I wrote all these words without even having seen the short.  So obviously this is way less a commentary on the film or on Davina Wan’s life, and more about myself.  I do want to see it on a big screen, it’s the sort of life narrative that you don’t hear about enough…


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