For enigmatic reasons, my fortunate life has been fairly pleasant in comparison to other folks. Destiny? Fate? Perhaps…if one believes in the universe and such. In any case, ever since I could remember, I’ve been incredibly lucky in all facets of my life, which all commenced in 1974, the year I was born, a.k.a., the Year of the Tiger.
At the end of the Vietnam War, my parents and I followed the mass exodus from Vietnam and immigrated to America with the help of the Jewish Family Services. I was six-months-old at the time, and therefore, quite oblivious to the magnitude of our escape. However, later on in life, I soon discovered that if my parents and I had remained in Vietnam ensuing the war, our lives would have been ravaged by the communist regime that had taken control of this decimated country. These ignorant thugs, also known as the Viet Cong, went on to annihilate the rich history and cultural values of old Vietnam. They made it a point to obliterate the intellectual and erudite community, smothering the precious life force out of the commonwealth. As a consequence, Vietnam in the 21st century is mired by greed, corruption, and a philistine society that is deeply polarized by the astronomically rich and the abject poor.
My relocation as an infant enabled me to grow up freely in America and have access to its unparalleled opportunities. But there were other events along my journey that demonstrated and reminded me just how fortunate I was…like my parents’ divorce.
When I was 24-years-old, my parents woefully divorced. The incident was devastating as it demoralized our entire family. And yet, the apparent calamity was in fact — a blessing in disguise. It drew me closer to my mom and dad as I shared their grief and vulnerability. But more importantly, it provided my parents with an opportunity to grow, to mature and evolve into wiser human beings. Today, they maintain an amiable friendship while they prudently flower in their new relationships. In essence, my parents’ divorce helped fortify my ability to grasp the marrow of this thing called life. Moreover, my parents’ breakup had conveniently occurred when I was an adult, which allowed me to better cope with our family crisis. On the other hand, various friends of mine were subjected to their parents’ divorce while they were children, which made it significantly more difficult on their young and fragile psyches. I was very fortunate to have never contended with such a plight amid the debacle of my parents’ marriage.
In terms of the university, I actually had a choice, courtesy of my parents. They never imposed it on me, even though they were highly cognizant of the safety net that it provided. Ultimately, college was an option or an instrument in my parents’ eyes. It was solely contingent on my spiritual calling, i.e., what it was that made me feel alive. If I were passionate about chemistry, law, or engineering, then the traditional path of college would have been propitious to my career. But I was inspired by the likes of Edward Albee and Harper Lee along with Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen, who fashioned illustrious careers — without the aid of college. Luckily, my parents had bestowed me with the freedom to explore and find my own identity. And thereby, I had their support when I dropped out of college. But alas, my friends and cousins weren’t so lucky as their parents possessed an insular viewpoint with regard to the university. Their parochial outlook had stymied their children’s passion. And as a corollary, most of my friends perceive their jobs…as just a job, a means to material possessions. Their so-called joy is predicated on the money while their actual job is bereft of enthusiasm, which is rather sad. Thank God my parents had encouraged me to pursue a discipline that I truly loved, irrespective of the struggle.
And though I was Asian, a minority in America, the racism that chafed me on occasion was pale in comparison to other minorities. I was never harassed or pulled over by the police as a result of my race; yet for many black folk, police brutality was and still is a grim way of life, despite the advancements of black people. Additionally, I was never demonized or vilified for living in this country, but for many Latinos, an unjust guilt is viciously scorned on them — for coming to the States in search of a better life. I find it terribly disheartening when a human being is excoriated for bravery. Yet the prejudice is real. Regardless of the political rhetoric, society will in fact — treat an individual decidedly based on the implications of their race. It’s a painful truth to swallow, but its reality affects so many.
Given the circumstance of other people, I’m acutely aware of my prosperity, inward and outward, which is not to say that I’m free of hardships. I certainly have my share of hurdles. Whether we are rich, poor, or bourgeoisie, we all experience a great deal of stress and adversity. No one is immune to suffering and grief regardless of their talent or enormous wealth. However, the extent of that suffering is exponentially greater for a segment of our global society, which is undeniable.
My first recollection of someone’s despair happened in elementary school. I remember this kid named Alex who was socially awkward. He was kind of a jerk; yet in spite of this, I genuinely sympathized with his isolation. I felt sorry for the guy when no one played with him during recess. He was an outcast, a pariah of sorts. And though he purported a tough exterior, I could still sense his pain and loneliness.
In middle school, I recall a girl named Angela who was bullied by the so-called popular girls. It disturbed me to witness her agony from the constant harassment. The disturbance I felt was heightened when I learned of her upbringing. She supposedly came from a broken family, and being the new kid, she didn’t know anyone in this hostile environment. There was a rumor that she had brought a knife to school as a result of the taunting. Whether or not it was true didn’t matter to me. I just commiserated with her internal malaise.
More of the same continued in high school. There was always a group, a particular sect of kids, who were somehow alienated from the mainstream culture. These outsiders didn’t fit well into the framework of high school society. As a consequence, they were viewed with condescension and mild disdain. No one could prove it; yet everyone could feel it. This existential crisis that I had observed was a microcosm of the real world. Fortunately, I was in a position to bring about change via my artistry.
For some odd reason, my social life had always been enjoyable and pleasant, which is a tad paradoxical, given my reclusive nature. Yet because of my openness and integrity, I connected with people on a genuine level regardless of their social status. In short, I never discriminated, for compassion and sincerity were integral parts of my modus operandi.
All through my years in high school, I had possessed an innate ability to entertain — via my writing, my public speaking, and of course, my dancing. My personality was demure and quiet, but once I stood up in front of an audience, I just “rocked the house” as it were. I could draw in the people and mesmerize them with my artistic wizardry. As a result, I touched a nerve with everybody, teachers and students alike. Their social status was irrelevant since my appeal was universal. The introverted kids could relate to me as I was reticent and low-profile. Yet conversely, the extroverted kids could also connect with me since I was dynamic and larger than life while I performed. Whatever it was, my artistry enabled me to affect all walks of life.
The compliments from the student body that ensued my performances were certainly flattering. However, the most exhilarating aspect was my impact on the socially awkward kids. I could see my influence in the gleam and reaction of their eyes, which was pretty special. And even though I didn’t know them personally, it still delighted me that I was able to connect and provide these kids with a genuine moment. It gave my artistry a deeper sense of purpose.
I would endeavor to do the same in the real world.
But alas! Despite my good intentions, the reality of the real world flabbergasted me. The pain and suffering that people endured were so immense and gargantuan. I soon realized that creating entertainment as a means for escapism didn’t seem to help much in the long run. It only numbed the pain temporarily. In fact, entertainment as sheer escapism had only cut the weed — yet ignored the root. Then sooner or later, the inward pain would vengefully return and the quandary would exacerbate. This pain would become cyclical…a ramification of incessant distractions. By the same token, though, I still understood the important value of escapism, but only in managed doses. We all have a natural, inherent need to blow off steam; yet nonetheless, escapism in perpetuity only encouraged alienation, human detachment, and cowardice.
In my mid-20s, I made a conscious effort to create art. I wanted to amalgamate education with entertainment. I realized that education by itself could be dull and insipid, like listening to a drab and boring lecture, given by an equally bland professor. On the other hand, entertainment by itself was comparable to eating popcorn. It was more or less ephemeral. However, if I could somehow combine the world of education with the sphere of entertainment, I could truly help an individual rise above the mediocre, the superficial, and of course, the loneliness.
The past 18 years (1998 – 2016) have certainly been educational. But no matter what transpires going forward, I have no regrets…by virtue of my effort. I had toiled compulsively to “spark that fire” for my friends and family. And people who I didn’t even know.
When my time on earth has concluded, I hope to have demonstrated my gratitude to the miracle of life — by carving my own path. For the beauty of life is the infinite paths that we can discover, and in turn, create and develop a wiser society. A compassionate society…that will hopefully ameliorate the standard of living for its citizenry. In the end, if we can muster that courage to dance with life, then we shall never be victimized by the ache of loneliness.
Photo credit: Khoa Nguyen
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