Wednesday, May 7, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Because People are People Everywhere #amreading

I have never liked labeling people. In fact I dislike labels, whether it's brand names, neighborhoods, or countries. So I write what I write and my characters reflect my reality.

I'm glad that there's a movement (#WeNeedDiverseBooks) to recognize diversity in literature. I think it's a good thing. Of course, race, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation can make some people uncomfortable. And some writers are hesitant to include characters outside of their perceived mainstream. However I want to encourage everyone to read and write characters that are different from themselves.

Why do I write stories with Asian-American, Latino, Black, White, disabled and mixed raced characters? Because they are real to me. It's not just because I'm Asian-American married to a Latino, and dated Black and White men in the past, and lived in the International Living Center during college. And I'm not trying to claim "creds" saying I can write about them because I associate with and make friends with everyone no matter what their backgrounds are. I write what comes naturally to me, and the truth is? I give hardly a thought pattern when creating my characters what their ethnicity would be, or their name for that matter.

For example, the main character in Whole Latte Love was originally an Indian-American marketing intern named Pavani who is forced to work with a customer-service engineer whose last name is Jewell. The story shifted and changed. Pavani's voice did not work and she became Carina. Carina turned into a Chinese-American when the last name Chen popped into my head. The customer-service engineer became a barista and the setting went from Silicon Valley to Berkeley.

Vera Custodio, my favorite character who appears in Broken Build, Hidden Under Her Heart, and stars in Knowing Vera was a minor character. She was originally Latina, but when she invited Jen to her house, Filipino dishes started flying into my mind. Maybe I had just salivated for pancit malabon, so I was busily researching recipes, or it could be that my seventh grade locker-buddy's last name is Custodio, but in any case, Vera felt right as a Filipina.

In Hidden Under Her Heart, Maryanne's love interest, Lucas Knight, is a biracial man. I suppose I could have made him anything. But he just felt right as Lucas, a guy whose father was an Australian Olympic swimmer and mother was an American track star. Zach, his buddy, suffers an amputation while rescuing Maryanne, so when he became the hero in Knowing Vera, he was already disabled.

The thing is. I'm writing stories with multi-cultural characters, but my characters are not doing stereotyped things centered around their ethnicity. They are doing what regular people do: investigating murders, falling in love, getting kidnapped, working a job, making friends, enemies, and solving problems. They don't wrap themselves around a shroud of ethnicity, nor do they go around imparting Ancient Chinese wisdom, paint tea eggs all day and throw mahjong tiles at each other. They simply live, love, work, and play. Yes, they might do things a little differently because of culture, and the food could be different, maybe not. They might listen to rock, rap, country or techno, or maybe not. And like all of us, they adopt practices from the people around them. So, Dylan Jewell, a white American, makes Mexican hot-chocolate but adds a pinch of turmeric to it, and Evie Sanchez, a Filipina, likes hard rock and not hip-hop. That's okay, because everyone is an individual, and people are people everywhere.

So writers! Write diverse. Don't be afraid to write characters outside of your "background." If you can write vampires, space aliens, talking animals, Hobbits, and Elves, you can certainly write people without stereotyping. Readers enjoy it and it makes your stories more colorful and real.

Recently, I got this review on Taming Romeo from a reader who wonders why she had never read a Filipino romance. I quote her here:
Taming Romeo is different... in a good way.  I've read white romance, black romance, interracial romance, and, dare I say, even interspecies romance.  What I've never read is a Filipino romance, until now.  Do others exist?  Where have they been hiding?  I've never specifically looked for them, but I have looked for romance novels with a Japanese or even an Asian flair to them.  They are not easy to find. At. All. - See more at: Lost In a Book
The more books (diverse, if you want to call it that) we have, the more we'll discover that people are different in the same way, or same but different. And that's all right by me.

You're not too late. The hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks is still active and kicking. Add your voice to the mix. See TED Talks: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story

The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. -- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

By the way, here is my list of Filipino romances on Scribd, and Amazon Listmania.

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