Performer Special: The Side B Story by Jackson Li (jaeL)

I’m here to tell Asian Americans the Asian American narrative: Side B. We already know what Side A is; a culture that only equates academic achievement and financial stability as success. We grew up in Side A. American media also knows about Side A very well and even affectionately renamed us as “The Model Minority.” But despite how our communities feel about the Model Minority myth…there is still a rather large sense of comfort about living in Side A.

There’s also a rather large curiosity towards Side B, even if it’s buried underneath layers and layers of fear. If Side A represents the desire to master the math and sciences, then Side B represents the desire to master the arts and athletics. If Side A represents a bright, clear day, then Side B represents a dark, mysterious night. And as the guidance of Side A gets passed down generation after generation, Side B becomes nothing more than a fairy tale.

Asian Americans are raised to fear Side B. You see, Side A is a journey that offers relatively instant tangible gratification and math and science fields sure seem to work in that kind of system. If you study hard, you’re almost guaranteed good grades. If you have good grades, you’re almost guaranteed a spot at a prestigious college or university. If you attend a college or university, you’re almost guaranteed a well-paying job. Almost. Close enough.

On the other hand, Side B is a journey filled with uncertainty. Nothing is guaranteed. Not even “almost guaranteed.” Side B is like growing a bamboo tree: you lay the ground work, you plant the seed, and you water the spot every day for five years without seeing any stalks. You’re also unable to overturn the seeds to see if they’re rooting since you’d kill the plant. And only after five years will the stalks finally begin to grow above ground…granted that you’ve watered the correct spot with the right amount of water for five years.

But unlike Side B, there are plenty of people partaking the growing bamboo. Because there are thousands of bamboo stalks well over 50 feet tall. They are no fairy tale.

However, to most Asian American adolescents, Side B is a fairy tale. Side B is not something that gets brought up at your dinner table conversations with your parents. In fact, Side B is often regarded as hopeless, and so we grow up forever curious, but extremely fearful, about embarking on the Side B journey.

Little did we know that the roads of Side B have already been paved.

There are a lot of Asian Americans who have already embarked on the Side B journey long ago and have found success. In my field alone, I can name a handful of rappers who have pioneered the art for our communities: Chops from the Mountain Bros (the first Asian American rappers to ever get signed to a major record label), MC Jin, Magnetic North and Bambu. There are also a large number of current Asian American rappers that are finding success: Dumbfoundead, Awkwafina, D-Pryde, and Timothy Delaghetto just to name a few.

And thus, it becomes ever more important to not let the story of these individuals’ journeys become fairy tales. Because the fear of Side B stems from being unaware that these roads are in existence.

#FML is my Side B narrative; the first part of my journal throughout this quest. I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever reach the caliber of the artists I previously mentioned…but that matters not. What’s really important is that #FML shall exist and can serve as a reference to my underclassmen and future generations so that they may at least entertain the possibility of Side B without fear.

A line from one of Lupe Fiasco’s songs: “The mind fears what the blinds hide, but I’m here on the blindside.” I’m here in Side B. Come along, take a journey with me into the dark side of the moon.

And if we shed a little light, then our community just might be able to see that it’s every bit just as beautiful as the side we’re all used to.

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