Chinese American Davina Wan’s teenage life was anything but scholarly. From age 12 to 17, she was part of an all-girl gang in the Lower East Side in New York, entrenched in a lifestyle foreign to most of us: danger instead of academic stress, intense loyalty instead of high school bickering, and most notably, while we were attending proms, she went to 35 funerals before the age of 18.
Wan suffered hardship early — she was a child immigrant and her parents divorced when she was young — but both the beginning and end of her gang life were heralded by one incident: the death of a friend. When Wan lost a close friend at age 12 she abandoned her old life and turned to the strongest support network she could find: a gang. But five years later, when her best friend died and the gang fell apart, Wan decided that she wanted out of the life she had chosen.
This transition is documented in the new 15-minute short “Excuse My Gangsta Ways,” which explores her transformation and journey from the literal gangs of New York to where she is now: a woman who does community outreach in the hopes of helping other lost girls.
With the myth of the “model minority,” sometimes we fall into the trap of believing these generalizations even when we know they’re not true. Wan’s story reminds us of the vast diversity of experiences that exist beyond the boundaries of our own lives. Though her story is one of alienation and fear, it’s also one of reinvention, as she’s someone who found herself in a bad place but had the strength to become a better person.
A screening of “Excuse My Gangsta Ways” will be shown at the San Diego Asian Film Festival, which runs from Oct. 15-29.
Photo of Davina Wan via Jezebel