Hi. I don’t know if you remember me, but we briefly met on October 2, 2012. It was my birthday and I was celebrating it with a few friends at Blind Barber. We saw a guy in the corner that looked like you, but we weren’t sure. My friend Krista was insistent that it was you. My friend Ana and I thought your nose looked too big to be yours. Krista won and wanted to approach you. I was like, oh shit. I want to get in on this if it really was to be you. But I was also so in my head worrying if it wasn’t you and if we were gonna offend or flatter a random black guy. We approached you timidly and Krista did all the talking, “We’re fans.” And OH MY GOD, you smiled and it WAS YOU! You said thanks and we went on our merry way and I couldn’t stop telling people Childish Gambino was at my birthday party. #coachella2012 #asiangirlseverywhereucla
ANYWAYS, sorry. Wtf is my point. To be honest, I was a fan then, but after watching Atlanta and reading up on the analysis and layers of each episode, I am just really really GRATEFUL to you now. To the point that I felt compelled to write you this letter. Of course it’s more to process and articulate my complicated relationship with American television, but also to acknowledge my personal growth from such an influential and ubiquitous medium, with your show having the most unexpected profound effect on me.
Both parents worked so I grew up on television. Television was the easiest way for me to understand the world. But at an early age, I noticed a huge disconnect between my reality and what I saw on screen. First off everyone on television was WHITE. Had normal names. Ate American food. Second, I revered everyone I saw on the screen. Wanted a Full House family. Crushed on Zach Morris. Harrison Ford was my hero. At such a young age, I never expected my fandom would lead to harmful effects on my mental psyche.
But it did. The big difference that stared in my face, myself. My non-whiteness. As much as I loved the white people on television, as much as I hated my Vietnamese self. My Vietnamese name. The Vietnamese food I had to eat at home. I avoided anything remotely Vietnamese to the point that as an adult, I never crave Vietnamese food. NEVER. NOT EVEN PHO. (I crave burritos though, carne asada all day).
This self hate perpetuated a lack of self-confidence, a constant feeling of, I’m just not good enough. And this toxic voice was on loop even into adulthood. Ironically (or maybe obviously?) I grew up to be an actor. As of right now, an un-bookable actor. 😦 With the lack of opportunities for my look, coupled with the extreme difficulty of just breaking in the industry, every failed audition only verified what I already thought of myself — I suck. I’m not good enough. I don’t belong here.
And then Aziz’s Master of None came out. Oh shit. Here was something that told a similar story to mine. And it was on Netflix! The accessibility, the exposure, the camaraderie I felt for similar experiences. I remember thinking, this is it! They get me! They see me! They’re speaking my language! 😀
And then I saw Atlanta. And wtf. Where I thought Master of None did it for me, your show surpassed it in such a deep and meaningful way. Donald, I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but your show is very black. I hear it’s also very Atlanta. I’ve never been. I’m also not black at all. (Actually I wanted to be black too when younger. To me, black people have a sense of anti-establishment and self assurance that me, a scrawny pushover rule follower severely lacked). But where Master of None told me a story I already knew, Atlanta affected me in a way that was transformative.
Because your show is sooo specific and sooo ethnocentric and yet someone like me can relate to it, even more so than to Master of None, it made me realize that it’s not only ok to tell one’s story (a story not to be compromised and watered down to pander to a wider audience), it’s NECESSARY to tell one’s story. Because Donald, for the first time ever, Atlanta made me feel proud to be myself and to tell my story unapologetically.
So, thanks. Thank you so much.
P.S. Yo Donald, below is a pic of my friends and me that night at Blind Barber. It was 90s hip hop Tuesdays, I think. Do we look familiar? I’m the second from the left. Krista is first, then me, Ana and Annie.