When I was in college, my Taiwanese immigrant parents – the last people I’d ever imagine doing the dance of passion – took up the tango on a cruise to South America. They began dancing five nights a week and staying out until 2am, later than I did. They practiced dance steps while waiting to be seated at restaurants and played tango music 24/7 in the house and car. When I caught my mom wearing dresses I used to sneak out of the house in high school, I knew something big was up.
I pitched the story to Studio 360 with the subject line: “How Tango Saved My Parents from a Mid-Life Crisis.” I thought, this will be easy – who has better access to a source than a daughter?
It turned out to be the most challenging story I’ve ever reported. First, I had to convince my incredibly private parents to go on national public radio. They eventually relented – only after I guilt-tripped them about supporting my career, and allowed them to use pseudonyms. In joint interviews, we’d have to stop early because they’d fight over who wasn’t practicing hard enough, or who was too critical and no longer fun to dance with. At one point, my dad threatened to stop dancing tango forever and I was terrified that my story would bring about the end of their shared passion.
Luckily, that didn’t happen. What the story did do was help me rediscover my parents as actual people who inspire me, and help them understand my love for radio – that I’ll never be a lawyer. And after the overwhelmingly positive response from listeners, it also made me realize the power of reporting delightful, emotionally complex stories about people of color – that to bring more diversity to public radio and the mainstream media, we can’t just tell the doom-and-gloom stories. We need a little bit of tango in there too.
Air date: 8/12/11
As heard on: WNYC's Studio 360