When I started thinking about what I wanted to write for Shealea’s new series, talking about Singapore’s approach to Indian characters in media was one of the first things I thought about.
Growing up in Singapore — a multi-racial country that proudly proclaims racial harmony, that says racial tensions do not exist — one thing that has struck me over the years is that, despite all these proclamations, whenever there were Indian characters on TV — and there were not many of these, and they were almost always side characters — they were largely caricatures and stereotypes. As a child, this was something I didn’t notice. But as I grew older, and now as I look back on it, I feel sad that I never got to see myself represented on TV. Not on the local media, and not on the Western media that slowly started being shown as well.
Another month, another opportunity to share a bit (or a lot of) love for books written by Asian authors. In other words, a new month means the start of another monthly link-up for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge 2019. Yay! (Although our huge, international midyear giveaway is still ongoing, so make sure you submit your link-ups there, too!)
If you’re currently participating in this fun reading challenge, then use this post to share all the Asian books you read for the month of September. I’m sure everyone, including me, is interested in which titles you picked up! Plus, read on to find fun challenge prompts and book recommendations (that just might help you with those prompts).
On the other hand, if this is your first time to hear about YARC 2019, then read on anyway and learn how you can join in on all the fun!
What do we mean when we talk about representation? It’s a word and concept that looks like something different for every single one of us.
For me, the first time I felt represented by a book was two years ago – in 2017 – when I read The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi. In fact, the reason I was drawn to this book in the first place was because I had never read a book with a Bangladeshi protagonist before. At 21 years old, having the opportunity to read this middle grade fantasy novel meant everything to me. It’s funny how we often talk about diverse books and the impact they will have on the generations of children who will read them today, but we never seem to address how those same books will similarly affect the generations of readers who grew up without them.
Growing up Asian, there are a lot of stereotypes surrounding us. People tend to relate Asia with just a few countries and disregard the rest of them. A lot of people doubt that India is a part of Asia, and this is one thing that really baffles me. There are 48 countries in Asia, and all of us are an equal part of it. Every culture has their own history, mythology and heritage and by disregarding those cultures, people tend to erase the reality.
In India itself, there are more than 500+ dialects and languages spoken. Everyone has their own perspective and beliefs and that makes for such a wonderfully diverse nation. Similarly, there are 47 other countries in Asia and they all have their own history and culture. Now imagine not paying attention to that and thinking that Asia just consists of China and Japan. Imagine thinking that all Asians look alike.
When I was in middle school, we had to attend a back-to-school assembly about inclusion and compassion and other touchy-feely topics that made our pre-teen selves shudder in disgust. One issue they covered was “nice” stereotypes, which were still stereotypes so we shouldn’t believe them — not all tall people are good at basketball, you know? (I personally wouldn’t know; I’ve always been the shortest in my class, so everyone else on my basketball team was both taller and a better player than me.)
It took me years to realize the underlying hypocrisy in the system.
I grew up ashamed of the fact that I lived in the Philippines because I had grown up with sisters, family members, teachers, peers, and basically everyone around me mentioning the miserable state of our country. They talked about the Philippines’ inferior standard of living to other countries. First World countries didn’t have as much corruption in their governments, and they had cleaner and better environments to live in, so why be proud of living in the Philippines?
Consequently, I disliked the fact that I was Chinese because maybe if I weren’t Chinese, I could’ve gotten to live in a first-world country.
All of that intensified when I first discovered the book community. Most of the readers I encountered years ago on the internet were white and residents of the US. Although I recall there were Asian readers on the internet at the time, they weren’t very vocal about it because diversity wasn’t much of a hot topic back then. None of them were international-based readers as well.
Growing up as Chinese-American adoptee has been a process I have never fully been at peace with, nor do I think I ever will be.
Stuck between, feeling as if I can never comfortably wear my experiences as American or Chinese. A whole closet of hats I can never seem to wear in public. How I always knew that I had to tick the box off for Asian, but also knew that if walked into a Chinese restaurant, I would be lumped in with Americans as soon as the waiter came over. That while I frequently face people asking the dreaded, “where are you really from” question, I’m just as equally met with unspoken questions about my family photos.