Hi! Here’s another installment to my Who Tells Our Stories photo series highlighting diverse readers and diverse stories that represent their identities! Today I’m interviewing Alexandria, to ask her about diverse literature and how she feels represented in the book she has chosen to be photographed with.
(A FULL EXPLANATION FOR THE PHOTO SERIES IS AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS INTERVIEW.)
Book title: Want by Cindy Pon
Alexandria’s review of Want: http://www.thebooksbuzz.com/2017/06/want-by-cindy-pon-book-review.html
Can you describe your identity? (Ex: race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, mental illness, body type, or religion, etc.)
I am Asian-American, half Filipino and Chinese. Straight and cisgender.
How do you connect with Want by Cindy Pon?
It’s no coincidence that the main character, Jason Zhou, and I share the same birthday. I was familiar with Cindy Pon’s previous publications and have heard of the awesome rep. When I heard that she was coming out with a futuristic science fiction novel set in Taiwan, I knew that I needed it in my hands. You see, my mom is from Taiwan and it was nice to read about her birthplace, even though I’ve never visited before. Not many people caught this, but despite the fact that the entire book was written in English, the characters were actually speaking Mandarin (in the story). I thought that was a really interesting perspective and often times I found myself trying to translate the English into Mandarin, even though my fluency is subpar at best. The book brought so many relatable parts of my culture into the story, including the foods that I eat and the customs we have in my house. It was so great to read about someone so similar to me on the pages of a book. It’s a feeling I can never explain. The best part was also reading about one of the side characters, who was Filipino. This book normalized the idea of being Asian in a very real world setting.
When did you first see your identity properly represented in media (books, movies, shows, etc.)?
My first clue-in to Asian representation in the media was actually Avatar the Last Airbender! It was my favorite cartoon as kid, and it was based off of East Asian influences. Even though it doesn’t strictly follow one culture, there is a large amount of Chinese history, food, art and culture. At the time, though, it was rare to see Asian-Americans anywhere in the media, much less those of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. But even then, the characters were technically whitewashed in the live action film. In terms of books, Grace Lin’s books helped me embrace being Asian-American. You know, it’s sad that when I really think about my Chinese-American identity being represented in the media, nothing comes to the top of my head.
Are there any upcoming diverse novels that you’re excited to read because they might represent you in some way?
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee. Man, I’ve been trying to get my hands on this. It’s basically a fantasy-mythology young adult novel with Chinese folklore, and it follows a main character who isn’t so far off from me in age. I’m also super stoked for Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, an East Asian fantasy that is a retelling of The Evil Queen. I was lucky enough to receive and ARC of this one, so I will be reading it real soon!
What message would you like to tell others, regarding the importance and need for diverse literature and authors?
No one wants to be invisible, and no one should feel invisible. No one should feel alone in a world of 7.5 billion people. The way I felt while reading Want by Cindy Pon is a feeling I want to experience more often. It is a feeling that everyone in their lifetime should experience. You want to know how it felt for me? I can never tell you because this experience varies for every single person. We are 7.5 billion different people. We should be portrayed that way.
Thank you so much to Alexandria for being apart of my photo series. I had an amazing time meeting you and discussing books together. Your opinions and insight about diverse literature is so incredibly important, and I hope others realize that as well. Thank you!
PHOTO LOCATION: Union Square Park, NYC
Who Tells Our Stories: A Photo Series Explanation
Recently, I was inspired to create a photo series on my Instagram that will feature diverse readers holding books that represents their identities (e.g. ethnicities, sexualities, race, gender, body types, MIs, disabilities, religions, etc.) in a positive light. I wanted to create this series in order to highlight the need for diversity in literature. I also wanted to show others how one diverse novel can positively impact someone who finally feels represented, in a way that doesn’t use harmful cliches or stereotypes. Each photo, in this on-going series, will also include an interview with the reader on this blog to discuss the need for diversity in literature and how the reader identifies with the piece of literature they have chosen (if they feel comfortable disclosing that piece of information).
I came up with the title Who Tells Our Stories for the photo series because it is a spin off of the Hamilton lyric “Who tells your story”. Because the play Hamilton is such a diverse form of art, I wanted my photo series to reference that striking lyric because we need diverse authors to tell diverse stories in a respectful and positive way. Marginalized readers should be able to see themselves properly represented in literature, and I hope this photo series highlights that need to others.