Andi Mack, the new serialized Asian-American TV show, conceptualized by the white woman behind “Lizzy McGuire”, is airing on Disney Channel. That sentence sat strange with me too. The premise: you’re thirteen and waiting for your first period. You’re in love with eighth-grade Jonah Beck from the ultimate Frisbee team. Your shack is detached from your house. You have a yellow mom and a white dad. You bought an electric bicycle behind your mom’s back, but your very old, very cool sister named Bex has a motorcycle. Then Bex tells you she’s actually your mom. Which means your mom is actually your grandma. Which means America’s new teen mother is yellow, suburban, and rich.
On the 1 Bus to Roxbury a man sat next to me and claimed to be a real live Panther. He placed his feet in the middle of the aisle, cold. I came from Alabama, he said. Power to the people, he said. I’m a real live Panther, he said. He picked a fight with the white boy behind me. The bus driver got up. The man resisted. His side sifted close then far from mine. I looked for sympathy like a wallet, lost. When I was thirteen I walked through a furniture store in Flushing with my best friend, who was a poet, and told her I’d decorate my college room like this, glossy. My fingers passed through red lamps. When we got out, she told me she saw a man talking to himself in the Au Bon Pain across the street. Later, she wrote three poems on him. She remembers him as I do, distant. When we passed through this Christmas we passed by beggars and old men with nonchalance, grace. Do you write poems about strangers anymore? I asked. We walked on, beat, because it was no longer fashionable to love strangers, to imagine their lives with care. The world had expanded since we were children, and we deemed outsiders useless, a survival tactic.
The best argument I heard in favor of identifying as a feminist was from a teacher, who said combatting sexism with semantics provided no armor. I trusted her because she was everything I wanted to be: black; tinged with bravado; brimming with stories of San Francisco, the Bronx, and Ivy League dorms; articulate; cosmopolitan. But back then, I wasn’t too concerned with the flex of self-definition. There were a million reasons to not be a feminist, including that I was too sympathetic to the yellow man’s plight, straight as hell, in love with Rihanna, cuffed up by libertarians, okay with makeup, pretty certain feminists were racists, believed in joint custody as a standard, and attempting to make my virginal body look as un-celibate as possible.
I wasn’t too big on getting Asians into the hip-hop room because I felt it wasn’t our place. Boys I knew were trying to hack simultaneously into Harvard, their neighbors’ wi-fi, and our high school grading portal until one kid got suspended for two years for a prank and they figured that wasn’t the way to go. Most of us were under house arrest until the tail end of senior year, and though I figured there had to be some Asian kid somewhere who knew the struggle past trying to sneak out of the house, back then, it felt a lot like really believing Schrodinger put the cat in the box. We were diasporic, but it wasn’t as cool as the word sounded, because that diaspora consisted mostly of knowing our parents were all friends with bad childhoods that manifested in some ugly competition. We took SAT practice tests on Christmas Eve. We were ridiculously bored. We all had our striving, trifling, petty Asian cards on the table. Then Rich Chigga walked over. It wasn’t that he was hard. The kid was just recognizable.
Director Bernardo Bertolucci stated in a 2013 interview that resurfaced last Saturday that a scene depicting rape in his acclaimed 1972 film “The Last Tango in Paris” was not consensual. He was attempting to get actress Maria Schneider’s “reaction as a girl, not as an actress,” which sounds a lot like artistic bullshit, so after, in framing his guilt, he said, “to obtain something, I think that you have to be completely free.” During the film’s premiere, critic Pauline Kael described it as “the most liberating movie ever made,” and though the words “free” or “liberation” may have been nonchalant choices, they still remain political, read holy and coveted to my modern and problematized sensibilities.