Friday, June 12, 2015

Diversity in books

I grew up in a small town where diversity was nonexistent. My mother was Caucasian, my father was Thai. Being Asian American in a town where no one understands you is still considered to be one of my greatest childhood struggles. I don't suppose my parents had any control over the type of people that lived in our southern town, but I grew to resent them for forcing me to socialize with people who looked down at me. My mom made us go to church every Sunday, which I hated because everyone at that church was stereotypical Caucasian. There wasn't a single person of color. My mom put me in girl scouts which I hated even more because everyone had normal families. I couldn't even take my father out in public because I was so embarrassed to be seen with him. He didn't understand American culture and I would never understand his.
I am not blaming my parents, but am explaining my upbringing. There wasn't a single diverse part of my life I could embrace. Not at home, not at school, not even in social gathering. This was PRE internet so I couldn't Google a friend online like teens can today. I remember one year when I was little my mom kept buying me Barbie dolls. All I wanted was a blonde Barbie, but my mom only bought me dolls with brown hair. I remember hating it because blonde was what I saw every day and it was what felt normal to me. She tried her hardest to give me dolls that "looked like me" and I tried my hardest to get dolls that were Barbie, not her best friend Kiera.

 I began to dread the day to day things in life. First days at school because I would have to explain the pronunciation of my name to every adult I came across. The scrutiny of being singled out while well-educated adults butchered my last name became so unbearable I began to loath people. Kids teased me because of my last name and Asian eyes, and no one ever stopped it. Keep in mind, this was back in the time where bullying was tolerated. Bullies made you stronger. These days, teachers don't look the other way.
Then one desperate day, I wrote in my diary that I would marry a man who was mixed like me because we would be the only two people that could understand each other (I'll come back to this later)

This past year, I have learned that I was not the only one who felt uneasy being a first generation Asian- American in my family. Sue to so much family secrecy, my other cousins never fully embraced their roots as well.

 As we grew up and had children of our own we realized that this pattern had to stop. You can't move to another country and suddenly forget who you are. My children are 1/4 Asian 1/4 Mexican and 1/2 Caucasian. My children are beautiful and diverse in ways only others can imagine. We celebrate Cinco de Mayo. We celebrate Laotian New Years. I make one Asian and one Mexican dish a week. We watch movies, watch TV, and I encourage my kids to make friends with kids who are different. This past year, I volunteered at my son's school and found out he is friends with an Asian boy at school. I jumped for joy because I want my son to have diverse friends.
Over the years, my town has changed dramatically. We now how a huge population of Hispanic children so my children won't be going through the same issues I did. Diversity needs to be everywhere. It isn't present in literature enough. As I went through my kid's books this week and put them into moving boxes, one thing caught my eye. Very few of the books star diverse children. I packed a bunch of them away and made a vow to get them more books about racially mixed kids. I never want my kids to feel as outcast as I did growing up.

Now you may be thinking that I am over exaggerating about my town and my upbringing. That is where my husband comes in. Like me, he was made fun of by peers and felt alone in our town. Because his father was never around, he didn't learn much about his Mexican heritage, and it always upset him a bit. Our struggles have made us stronger and more capable to raise children who we can relate to.
Back when I wrote my first book, I vowed to put one diverse character in them. I mainly write mixed characters, but would like to expand to other themes of diversity. The first diverse book I ever read was The Joy Luck Club. I devoured it. I found it myself and kept wondering my no one had recommended it before.

If you have a diverse book you'd like to recommend. Please don't hesitate to let me know.

Just for fun, the only Laotian character in mainstream media. Kahn from King of the Hill

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