At 13 years old, Filipino-American Chris Soriano was hazed into a gang in his neighborhood in San Diego, California.
It was also his first encounter with drugs, being offered crystal meth at the backseat of a car.
"I never wanted to join a gang. I was just at the park one night, and a group of guys picked me up and they said, 'Yo, if you wanna hang with us, you gotta fight this guy.' I didn't wanna fight him, they jumped me, they beat me up. And in the end they said, 'Welcome to the family,'" Soriano said.
But after a year of getting into fights and witnessing shootings, his Filipino mother decided to move him away and homeschool him.
It was that environment of violence and racial tension that Soriano, now 31 and an aspiring filmmaker, wants to capture in a movie that he began shooting amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Entitled "Dynasty Boys," the movie centers on a group of Asian Americans who band together and push back against hate crimes from gangs in their community.
Soriano drew from his experience writing the screenplay.
Aside from directing, he plays the main character Allan Mendoza, whose character is also Filipino American.
Prior to making the movie, he worked as a journalist where he again encountered crime and violence in the stories he covered.
"These stories are never shared, they're never told and I'm pretty much sharing a light of why someone may even join a gang, perhaps if they're with the wrong crowd, or why a 13-year-old tries this crystal meth or smokes it, or do whatever you want with it, and how it can lead you to all sorts of negative choices," he said.
Soriano said the film gives a voice to the experiences today of Fil-Ams and Asian Americans in general.
It's a perspective, he said, that needs to be amplified in the United States as it faces both an unending surge in coronavirus cases and the continuing struggle of the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
The movie's trailer includes moments where the characters are called derogatory names, such as "COVID-looking ass" -- and not by white Americans but by fellow minorities.
Soriano said he and people he knows have all experienced racism egged on by the pandemic.
For instance, people put on face masks when passing by them. Though not Chinese, they've experienced being told to return to China, where COVID-19 first emerged.
"Whether you're Asian, whether you're Black, everyone is experiencing racism to a certain degree," he said.
"I want to promote peace and I want to raise awareness of what's happening here and there seems to be a problem that's snowballing into something bigger. If we don't raise these issues and awareness now, pretty soon we'll see more people being set on fire like we had with the old lady in New York. I mean, what's next, you know?"
"Dynasty Boys" also tackles Asian Americans' struggle for an identity of their own in a cultural melting pot.
It mirrors Soriano's own dilemma growing up, knowing he was Filipino because of his parentage but also being told later on by others that he was either American or Asian.
"There's a lost identity there that I think a lot of my fellow Filipino-Americans lose," he said.
"Our main character... learns a little more about his identity and his culture. Is he Pacific islander? is he Asian? Where does he belong when people start calling him 'Go back to China,' and he's like, okay, where's my heritage here?"
For Soriano, putting a Fil-Am character like Allan Mendoza as the lead of a movie is a statement of ethnic identity as well.
"We never see that in Hollywood films. I'm doing this for the first time for us. Same way Manny Pacquiao fights for us, I feel like I'm fighting for us in this way," he said.
Soriano is crowdfunding financial support through his website DynastyBoys.com, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
He hopes to raise at least P50,000 to finish the movie by the end of 2020.
Beyond the representation, the filmmaker said the movie hopes to resonate everyone, whether they are Asian American or not.
"The message is, people can continue to bully you, people can put you down and you may grow up at a really tough area, but you gotta understand that you have choices. And these choices will define you.
"So no matter what happens in your life, no matter how hard it is, always try to figure out and discern and make a positive choice in your life so you can have a better outcome.
"And if you could see what I went through and what these characters went through, hopefully it could inspire you to change your life and empower yourself."