Where are you from?

My friend and I had just stepped out of the cinema hall. It had been a perfect evening—a good movie, wind in the hair, popcorn—lots of it.

We’d watched Crazy Rich Asians, starring Constance Wu, my latest crush. She’s featured in Time’s 100 Most Influential. I forget which year. But, they say she waited tables for many, while auditioning for roles she never got.

“When Eddie Huang’s book was made into a TV show called Fresh Off the Boat, Constance got famous.” I fill my friend in with Hollywood trivia as we look for a taxi in the middle of the night.

“So, she really waited tables?” My friend asks, surprised.

“Yep, for eight years!” I reply.

“She’s a brilliant actor. Funny how no one could see that?”

(I think my friend feels bad for her. I don’t.)

“May be, because she’s Asian?” I try and answer his question. “But that’s not what she likes to tell herself. She’s a proud woman, who hates making excuses.”

I admire the choices Constance has made in her life. She is fierce. She speaks her mind. And even though she’s a big star, she chooses every role to shine light on people forced to live in the shadows.

I have watched her every interview. Perhaps, in the hope that some of her magic will rub off on me.

Fresh Off the Boat—is it?” My friend interrupts my reverie. He is new to the States, full of many questions. He doesn’t get what the expression means.

A pedestrian standing right behind us butts in.

“How was the film?” The eavesdropper is curious.
“Good. I enjoyed it.” I give him a funny look. “Was just telling my friend here what ‘fresh off the….” I am quiet for a moment.

I am trying to explain the word used for people like me to a person who could’ve prolly used it. I don’t want to point fingers at the stranger. The situation is a comic paradox. I cannot help but laugh.

“Just telling him what I am,” I say with a wink. Then I look at the stranger’s face, trying to figure out where he’s from.

Before I can gather my thoughts, he breaks into laughter.

There are reasons why I love New York City. This is one of them. Everyone here is from someplace else. We are a city of FOBs—and proud of it.

22

 

“Don’t think…just run for your life.”

Moving to a new country has been a unique experience. At first everything was different—good different. There were new places to see, new things to do, new foods to eat…the list of ‘new’ was endless.

So, one day I decided to venture out with my camera to capture the world I saw. I had the eyes of a toddler—full of wonder. I started by photographing bridges, buildings, lakes, but what caught my attention were faces. Faces that I had seen before in my country, but they were now wrapped in different color.

As a foreigner, I felt timid pointing my lens at strangers in a strange land. So, I stuck to crowded city roads and caught my subjects when they weren’t looking. As I clicked away, my fear began to dissipate and I grew more confident.

Then, I saw an old man—his face sculpted with wrinkles, his eyes lost in contemplation, his body scrawny yet strong. I wanted to photograph him up close but I was scared to ask permission. It just so happened that he was standing in front of a mural. All I had to do was pretend that I was capturing the graffiti than him. A friend had given me tips on avoiding similar pitfalls of street photography.

“What if someone got real mad if I took a photo without permission?” I’d inquired.

“In that case,” my friend said in a serious voice, “Don’t think. Pick up your camera and just run for your life!”

Now, that I had photographed people on streets all day, I found his advice cowardly. I was happy with my results and happier that this man’s portrait was going to be the high point of my excursion. Little did I know that a woman standing right behind had seen me capture a dozen shots of my unsuspecting subject. Without batting an eyelid, she walked up to him and snitched.

“This girl has been secretly taking photos of you. You should do something.”

I wanted to say something in my defense, but I was caught off guard. I saw the confusion on the old man’s face. His face now wrinkled into a smoldering stare. He was clearly unhappy about my intrusion. He picked himself up on his walking stick and started walking toward me.

In that moment I could have done a million things. But, my friend’s words came to my rescue. I picked up my camera, turned around, and ran the fastest I ever could.

FullSizeRender 8