I can’t help but sometimes think about my first kiss. I must have been like 16 at the time, a nerd trying or pretending (I can’t tell, to be honest) to be tough enough to survive a kind of rough life growing up in Southeast Los Angeles.
When it got really hard, I would ditch school in order to avoid getting beat up or made fun of and I would hang out with my much cooler friend Jay. His mom worked all day. So on ditch days, I’d escape into his mom’s rom-coms in the living room. While Jay hooked up with girls in his bedroom, I’d watch films like When Harry Met Sally, French Kiss, Maid in Manhattan and 10 Things I Hate About You.
One day — I think I was watching She’s All That — when Jay walked into the living room smiling. He had a glow about him that he would often get after having sex with his girlfriend. But this time, Jay was glowing because he was “going to change your world.”
Well, my world.
A few moments later, Jay and I were walking outside to this house on his block where the gangsters lived. Even though I thought I was tough, I didn’t really mess with those guys. I was nervous, which quickly turned to embarrassment when Jay told these cholos that I’d never been kissed before.
They laughed at me, but then one of the gangsters said, “Wassup, Big Red. I’m going to take care of you right now.” Then he whistled over to a girl I'll call Bernice. Bernice came right over grinning through these big braces that made her look younger than she was. And the guy said something in her ear and I saw the smile fade for a quick second. But Bernice rallied. Turned up her smile again and marched over to me, grabbed the back of my head and started making out with me.
It’s a rom-com like no other and a movie for your ears that we hope will help others see that there are many different kinds of love stories — even and especially for people from my Southeast L.A. community.
And that’s how I had my first ever kiss at 16 years old, with an “around the way girl” bullied by gangsters on the streets of Southeast L.A.
It colored my view of love. It made me feel like if I was going to have any semblance of romantic intimacy, this reality was my only option.
The moment plays like a movie in my mind, so it’s fitting that this first kiss is where we start Season 2 of our hit LAist Studios podcast WILD. It’s a rom-com like no other and a movie for your ears that we hope will help others see that there are many different kinds of love stories — even and especially for people from my Southeast L.A. community. We are calling this season I Think I’m Falling In Love. And this season is even wilder than the first season.
It is hosted by me and Megan Tan and stars Melinna Bobadilla (Orange is the New Black, Gentefied), Gabrielle Ruiz (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and comedian Atsuko Okatsuka (The Intruder).
Why LAist is doing fiction
Like that memorable kiss, this project is a first for me and a first for LAist Studios. I Think I’m Falling In Love is a serialized scripted podcast. That means it’s a story with scenes and characters inspired by life, but it’s a made-up story. And I want to tell you why we did it this way.
I’ve been in too many bad relationships to count with numbers. So instead, I like to use words. Words like: toxic, settling, self-fulfilling prophecies, etc.
The point is, I don’t think I ever really understood love outside of the context of rom-coms. Those fantasies were a kind of coping mechanism for me — a way to disassociate from how bad reality gets sometimes.
But I never saw myself in rom-coms. There aren’t a lot of romance stories for people from Southeast L.A. about people who grew up in Southeast L.A. It contributes to a vicious cycle of erasure from pop culture and mainstream media.
Nah, you know what? Forget that academic stuff.
There are cousins of mine, friends too, who grew up in the same hoods that I got out of, who never got out. And even when they did get out, like my cousin Pato, they got smoked hundreds of miles away from SELA over messing around with unhealthy romantic entanglements. And maybe I’m just a sucker or something, but I think if Pato saw himself more in rom-coms, he’d still be here.
So that’s why I decided to tell this story about something that happened to me that put me on a course to finding the love of my life, not as a true story, even though it really did happen to me.
Why? Fictional stories are powerful. I wish I had seen stories about kids like me when I was just a 16-year-old kid afraid to go to school and afraid to tell gangsters that I didn’t want that to be my first kiss.
I Think I’m Falling In Love is a fable that we hope helps people see that healthy, cute love stories are for everyone and that in order to find that love, sometimes you have to take a huge leap of faith.
About the show
As obsessed as I was with rom-coms as a kid, I never came close to feeling like I was in one until a decade later when I met … let’s call her, Luna.
Luna was ambitious, smart, and grew up like me: raised by a mixture of hood life, immigrant parents, and pop culture. To my ears, she spoke like she was in a rom-com if it were written by a young person of color. For a hood kid obsessed with rom-coms, I was blown away.
Even though I was hardened by a tough life, I secretly, desperately wanted a rom-com type of love. And Luna, low key, made me believe love could be mine for the first time ever. And that relationship became everything to me. So much so that when Luna said she was moving to Milwaukee, I decided to leave the first love of my life, Los Angeles, and move with Luna to Milwaukee.
I was scared but I was excited. We planned a weeks-long road trip going from L.A. to Portland to Seattle to Mount Rushmore to Milwaukee. And everything in between. I was especially excited about Mount Rushmore. I mean, man, that’s been in so many movies. I was like man, I’m finally in a rom-com.
So imagine my surprise when Luna decided to dump me on our first day of the trip while I was standing outside a Voodoo Donuts in Portland.
And you know what’s wild? We finished the road trip anyway!
That’s the story we are telling this season on WILD. It’s a story about what it means to be in love for a generation raised by the pop culture that erased them from it. It’s about the wildest thing I ever did for love. But more than that. It’s a story about figuring out things that seem obvious but are harder than they look like, “Am I in a toxic relationship or is this a rom-com?”
We want to hear your love story
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