By Latoya Peterson
Angela, who seems like she is the core friend holding the group together, is mixed Thai-German. She’s also got an amazing (and tragic) connection to some major players in pop culture. In 2001, Angela was paralyzed in the same car wreck that killed Thuy Trang (who was famous for playing Trini, the original Yellow Ranger on the popular Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers series). At the time of the accident, she was married to 21 Jump Street star Dustin Nguyen. People Magazine did a write up on the couple in 2007, noting:
For Dustin and Angela, it was the beginning of a different kind of love story. All but abandoning his career, Dustin devoted himself to Angela’s care, bathing her, feeding her, tending to all her needs. The first time Angela cried was six months after the accident as Dustin inserted her catheter. “It hit me what our life was about,” she says. “I said, ‘You don’t have to live this life. You can just go.'”
Six years later, he’s still there. “The idea of leaving is ridiculous,” says Dustin, 45. “I’m not trying to be saintly or noble. But there is only one thing to do: take care of the wife I love. Things happen. You react and move on.”
Sitting in their cozy, wheelchair-friendly 1920s-era house in L.A., the couple laugh easily and trade affectionate gazes.
But as the story opens, it is revealed that Dustin and Angela separated in 2011, and there are many tense conversations about where each wants the relationship to go.
In the sneak peak, Angela notes “she’s got a mortgage to pay” and throws herself back into her work, but the producers hint at more personal drama to come.
Auti Rivera (stage name: Auti Angel) is the other woman of color heading up the series, who is married and about to have her first child with her husband Eric. Getting to this point, wasn’t easy though–in an interview with Disaboom, her past is revealed:
Auti has found the strength to rise above tough situations in her life. She grew up in a gang-infested neighborhood in Torrance, California.
“I’ve dealt with it all: child abuse, molestation, and rape. When I married at 18, I went through a living hell and then escaped him,” Auti details. “I’m lucky to be alive.”
With growing attention from the record industry, Auti Angel was headed on the fast track in the Hip Hop, R&B world.
“I was J.Lo before J.Lo,” Auti says with a laugh, “I danced with LL Cool J. I went on tour with Rap artists and I was about to sign a record deal as part of an all-Latin female Hip Hop group. Then, the tragic car accident happened, severing my spinal cord and leaving me wheelchair bound. That was May 3, 1992, a day I will never forget. The record company wasn’t willing to wait, but I told them, ‘I’m still me!’
Auti moved on and carved out a niche for herself, but then began battling with drugs and alcohol, culminating in a high-speed police chase and spent three months in jail before committing herself to God and service.
Still, she managed to recover yet again and move her life forward. In the June/July issue of Latina, Auti explains how she rebounded:
I started going to clubs and would get on the dance floor. People were mesmerized. It was exhilarating to see their faces light up. Your average person doesn’t think a person with disabilities can party, but we’re still normal people.
I started auditioning again. I went to an agency that looked at me with pity. They said, “We’re sorry, we don’t think we’ll ever have anything for you.” I went home and told God, “I want to get back in the game and do what I used to do.” Three days later that same agency called me and said they were looking for a Latina in a wheelchair who could do tricks. I was cast in a music video for Ludacris, and when I heard the name of the tack, “Stand Up,” I couldn’t help but laugh. God has a funny sense of humor.
I have been a paraplegic for 20 years. I currently teach a hip-hop dance workshop at an adaptive sports camp in San Diego. My students rage in age from 3 to 18 years old and have spinal cord injuries, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and other disabilities. In that kind of atmosphere we empower each other to push the limits, something I was born to do.
Here’s a quick mash up video of Auti’s life and performances: