“I Love Chachi: On the 20th Anniversary of ‘Rolling the R’s'” by Joseph O. Legaspi

I’m foggy as to when I first read R. Zamora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s. It’s a book that’s been a part of me, like a good friend. You don’t recall when or where or in what circumstance you met because you seem to have known each other all your lives. Every time I flip through its pages, as I do now, on Rolling’s 20th anniversary, it blows open the proverbial floodgates. Torrent of fantastical narratives, pidgin, Tagalog, 70s pop culture, Donna Summer, Farrah Fawcett, Catholicism, attitude, poetry. The book remains defiant, distorting the status quo of Western literature, populating a world with mostly Asians and Asian-Americans with more sass than a drag queen. To some it may be an alternate universe but for me, sufficeth to say, this book encapsulates my adolescence, my upbringing as a Filipino-American, born in the Philippines, raised in Southern California. An immigrant learning the ways and pitfalls of assimilation. Never have I read characters closer to my own life. Do not underestimate this power. To be confronted by persons, albeit fictive, mirroring what I was then struggling to grasp and confront: sexuality, identity, class and race. I was the self-loathing Nelson. Clueless Mai-Lan. I sold World’s Finest chocolate bars to fundraise in high school. Like Edgar, I fantasized about Chachi, or a telegenic equivalent. I may not remember when I first read Rolling, but I recall the feelings when I was reading those passages of gay desires. I shivered. Vexed yet relieved by a deep sense of recognition. I felt warm all over, then cold. I was thrilled by what seemed illicit. I felt wrong. I felt right. I wouldn’t come out for another few years. My world was topsy-turvy then, a whirlwind. Rolling, this coming of age novel, a tornado unto itself, served as a catalyst and an anchor. I felt less alone and braver. Brave enough to march forward and eventually live in the open, a life that is ultimately affirming.

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