Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Some Thoughts On Ethnic Characters in "The Horn Book Magazine"

I read a great article today in the March/April The Horn Book by Sayantani DasGupta. My Characters Don't Wear Shoes in the House deals with whether authors from immigrant backgrounds need to write stories about their communities that "perform a certain kind of pain for others' voyeuristic pleasure, or...center and 'teach' mainstream readers about my background and experience." Or can they write about positive experiences they've known? Or just any experience they've known? Does everything need to be about oppression, even if the writers haven't experienced that?

This essay hit me at a great moment, because before getting out of bed this morning, I finished reading The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang. This is an adult book, but I think it illustrates what DasGupta is writing about. It's not a stereotypical suffering immigrant story, by any means. Charles Wang comes to this country and becomes successful beyond most of our dreams. Then he loses it all in 2008, not because of his ethnicity or some kind of immigrant oppression but because it's 2008. The Wang children go out into the world of fashion blogs, private secondary schools, stand-up comedy, and art but still maintain a connection to their culture, able to speak Chinese, particularly within the family, and eat Chinese food beyond what's offered at Panda Express.

These Chinese-American family members exist in a truly Chinese-American world of their own making, not a cliched one imposed upon them. Theirs is the kind of immigrant story I think Sayantani DasGupta was writing about.

By the way, an excerpt from Ebony Elizabeth Thomas's The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games appears in this issue of The Horn Book. It's very good, too.

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