By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
He was forced into making drugs. He was forced into selling drugs. He was forced into sexual slavery as a small child. He grew up through horrors many people couldn’t conceive of.
Maikaru Douangluxay-Cloud, sometimes known as Michael, allows all the above. It’s all part of his story.
But he’d much rather be known, by any name, as someone who turned his life around, worked hard, and wants to spread peace, love, and diversity. Sometimes through card games. (More on that later.)
“Well, I was born into an unfortunate series of events,” he states simply. He’s half Japanese and half Native American, but his upbringing didn’t allow him to celebrate either of his cultures. Forced into prostitution, he grew up without any semblence of normal life.
“I was forced to be a sex slave, as pedophiles obviously like boys and not men.” He also manufactured crack, mixing baking powder and ammonia. This created a huge stench, like someone sweating weeks without a shower.
But even given his youth, and his trauma, he was smart, and looking for angles to work.
“I was about 8 or 9 when I approached them to be the manager of dealing crack, not making it,” Maikaru explained. “My mother was doing a horrible job, always giving credit. But most of the time, [her customers] never paid her back. So I implemented a better system, and ended up making more in revenue than my mother did.”
He felt bad for everyone around him, but he had to concentrate on his own survival. He knew that his youthful looks had an expiration date, and he feared for what came next when that happened. Fate lent a kind hand: He was very small, and did not pass 5 feet tall until an unexpected growth spurt at 17.
He got out of that life at age 10. He doesn’t feel comfortable saying exactly how he did that, or who held him in the first place.
“All I can say is they were an affluent type of people, who had strong ties to certain types of people, who could look the other way, while this was happening.”
He studied in an accelerated program to compensate for his lack of formal schooling.
“I really enjoyed math in grade school, then eventually found my passion for storytelling.”
Fate lent a hand again when he found a mentor, who directed him to the University of Washington. He majored in Visual Arts, and appreciated the multicultural aspect of the campus, complete with a fair number of people looking a fair amount like him. Campus life represented a safe space, where he could work out the darkness in his life.
“I had to prove I was more than my history, and I was determined to not become a statistic. It is very typical for a former trafficking survivor to return to a life of dealing, [prostitution], stealing.”
Shortly before receiving his Bachelor of Arts, he found work at Seattle’s Art Wolfe Gallery. Here he met another important figure, a young filmmaker named Amanda Harryman.
It took time, but he eventually confided in Harryman about how he’d grown up. Later, after he’d left the job and started studying for his Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), she called him and asked if she could film his story.
The film runs seven minutes. Harryman had only five days to complete it. Maikaru narrated into the camera, but he also acted out scenes in his life, from behind a screen, a kind of sinister shadowplay.
He studied in between takes and ended up passing his GMAT. He’s since earned two advanced degrees from Seattle Pacific University.
The seven-minute film, meanwhile, took on a life of its own.
“I was originally under the impression this film was to only be screened in Toronto and viewed by about 30 judges, then forgotten,” Maikaru recalled. Then he learned the short film won acceptance to the Seattle International Film Festival.
“I remember being nervous in Toronto, knowing [the audience] was about to know some of my deepest, darkest secrets.”
So he’d already been through the wringer once, when the film showed at SIFF, in the same downtown theater, AMC Pacific Place, where he’d enjoyed the Harry Potter movies.
The phone rang a few nights later, and he answered it to Harryman, jumping for joy. They’d won SIFF’s prize for Best Documentary Short.
Maikaru kept moving forward, though. He’d designed and filmed a pilot TV show about virtual reality gaming, but that project sputtered to a halt when the virus hit. So he decided to design the game first, and try to sell that.
“Vicious Cats” involves House Cats prowling through their territory to find and eliminate the Vicious Cats, using a special deck of cards. But, it seems, either side can win, which adds to the fun.
The card game has a Kickstarter going for it. As of the week this article went to press, he’s raised roughly $3,000 of the $16,700 he needs to launch the game. He has roughly 20 days to get the rest of the money in pledges.
Maikaru acknowledges that his past will always be his past, but he refuses to be defined or limited by that.
He lives with his husband in the Seattle area. His future plans include masterminding web series, dramatic shows, and podcasts.
As he concluded, “It is my mission to increase diverse and inclusive narratives, across media.”
To support Maikaru’s “Vicious Cats” card game, visit kickstarter.com/projects/mainasty/vicious-cats-card-games.
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.