Paul Miller

An apartment complex saved my life.

I grew up in an affluent suburb of Chicago —not unlike Bethlehem— where the high school’s student parking lot resembled a new car dealership and where the surrounding area served as the prototypical suburban setting for Hollywood films like “The Breakfast Club,” “Home Alone,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” (The writer of those films attended the “sister” high school to my own.)

My life, however, differed from many of the characters in those films; I don’t recall many biracial protagonists being raised, with his sister, by a divorced Vietnamese mother who worked three jobs to afford their small two-bedroom apartment in a suburb where her kids could attend “good” schools.

In that apartment complex, I did see people living lives like mine: hardworking, salt of the earth, dignified lives. They hailed from Mexico, the Philippines, Cambodia, Germany, Greece, India and farther. They were a glorious rainbow of races and religions, and it didn’t matter how many parents you had; we were all family.

I learned to play the Sikh tabla, how to cook albondigas rellenas, and how to appreciate the beauty of Tagalog. This diverse, little community helped me weather the hardships of high school and endure the death of my father. It taught me to see the world through many different eyes — something I do to this day.

Maybe that apartment complex did more than just save my life; maybe it gave me one.

Paul’s Film, Searching for Timbuktoo is screening on 11/12.