Representation and Diversity Through Books

It’s Day 3 of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, and when not being occupied by schoolwork, I partake in it with my own contributions in social media, as well as checking out some of the others by other people (some of them coming from my favorite authors).  It was such brilliant timing when I heard about it, because it’s a subject that I’m really passionate about, and really involved in.

That’s right, you heard me.  Let’s talk about race.

People will look where we’re at now as a nation in 2014 and think we’ve made tremendous progress as far as making everyone equal goes.  While legally that may be the case, we still have a LONG way to go, and that has to start by people accepting the fact that we do not live in a post-racial society.

If we are living in a post-racial society, then why is a campaign such as #WeNeedDiverseBooks in existence?  Why don’t I see a lot of books and movies that feature Asian American protagonists without overly emphasizing on their heritage?  Why do racial stereotypes still exist?  Why is the diversity gap in the Academy Awards THIS BIG and no seems to bother to do anything about it?

For those who don’t though (in particular those who live outside the United States), May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and having friends who are Asian American along with being of Asian descent myself, you can imagine this month to be a big deal for a lot of us.  This month is to celebrate the people, culture, traditions and history of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.

Already I’m involved a lot in emphasizing on a better representation of Asian Americans in the media, but with my book  coming out in a few short months now, my attention is now turning to books as well.  Why do SO MANY books revolve around white people??  There are other races out there as well and by not making the effort to get more books out there involving characters like that, what does that say about us?  It’s one thing to reach out to the majority.  It’s an easy thing to reach out to the majority.  However, by having books out there of voices that are otherwise not heard enough is a step forward into a better future.  As a little girl, one of my favorite books was about the love between an Inuit mother and daughter.  Why aren’t there more books like that?

It’s not just about a better representation of Asian Americans in books that I’m focused on, but also on representing mixed race characters in books too; a conversation that I think is even less emphasized.  Speaking as a mixed race person myself (or Hapa), I honestly don’t know of too many books that have that; characters of more than one race.  Already it’s weird enough to grow up in the highly diverse San Francisco Bay Area and get questioned about that quality of myself a lot.  But with America becoming the melting pot is was always meant to be, why not emphasize on that more through characters in books?  That’s one of the things that I LOVED about “The Promise” trilogy; the first trilogy of Gene Luen Yang‘s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” comic books.  In those books, they deal a lot with how the nations have mixed together throughout the course of the 100-Year War.

It’s with these conscious details in mind that I’m happy to say that my book is very inclusive of.  While there are a few white characters scattered throughout, most of the characters are either going to be Asian American or mixed race.  This was actually another reason why I chose to go indie, for if I were to send this to a publishing house, chances are I’m going to be turned away because of the ethnic backgrounds of my characters.  I won’t have any of that!

Today may be the last day of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month may only be a month long, but don’t let that limit how long we should carry the dialogues.  Let’s keep them going to see some change happen.


3 Replies to “Representation and Diversity Through Books”

  1. You’re such a great writer, Lauren. I know I’ve told you that before since I read every one of your posts, but this post really knocks it out of the park. I’m going to tweet about this on Monday (yes, I know that’s post-official #WeNeedDiverseBooks), but I’m appalled by recently realizing that I knew of almost zero Asian characters in all the books I read as a kid. And I totally agree with you, it bugs me when Asian characters only show up in plots that overemphasize their Asianness. Ugh. (One terrible example: Pacific Rim. Ugh!)

    Separate note: I learned via multiethnic professors/leaders/speakers/authors of the analogy of the multi-course meal, instead of the melting pot. The problem with the melting pot model is that amalgamating everyone as ethnicity-less usually makes people’s experiences and identities invisible. The multi-course meal is more like, hey, how do we celebrate and give voice to the different backgrounds and neighborhoods of origin among people in our group/organization/campus?

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