rhcrayon: The Blog! - SCBWI-LA: Confession #2
Aug. 27th, 2007
11:31 am - SCBWI-LA: Confession #2
So this is my second SCBWI Summer Conference-related post. I've been meaning to post this one for a while.
Lisa Yee's Monday afternoon keynote: "Ethnic Diversity in Literature: Should Who You Are Determine What You Write?"
As usual, Lisa Yee kept her audience in stitches.
I was especially looking forward to Lisa Yee's talk all weekend because, about a year ago, I had left a comment on Lisa Yee's blog that touched on the fact her characters were Asian American. Then I'd freaked out an hour later and deleted it instantly. I was hoping this talk would enlighten me as to whether I could have left that comment up or not.
This is highly unorthodox, seeing as how Lisa Yee and I are LJ neighbors (as is Linda Sue Park from my last post, for that matter), but I can tell you exactly what that comment said. I'm going to post it again now, in this blog.
Hi, Lisa Yee,
Last night I was reading Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time when my husband asked what the book was about. I said, "Oh! This is Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, by Lisa Yee! It's the sequel to Millicent Min, Girl Genius, which won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award at the SCBWI conference a couple years ago. It's a really interesting way to do a sequel, too, because it takes place during the same time as the first book but follows the point of view of one of the other main characters, so you can really see all the places where the stories connect."
My husband looked at me blankly.
So then I said, "It's about an Asian boy who's really good at basketball and gets the cute, white girl."
Suddenly he reached for the book. "Really??" he said.
You really know your audience. ;)
Thanks for this,
I wrote this comment, and it seemed pretty funny to me. Then I went into my kitchen and made tea. Suddenly I found myself racing back to my computer and deleting the comment posthaste. What was I doing?? What was I thinking?? I didn't know where Lisa Yee stood when it came to Asian American identity! Who was I to be all, wink, wink, nudge, nudge?? If there's one thing working on Cooleyville had taught me, it's that no two Asian Americans are at the same place when it comes to what can be joked about and what can't. I didn't know if Lisa Yee shared any of the same cultural assumptions as me. I didn't know what cultural assumptions her readers were bringing to her blog.
Had I just revealed too much about myself??
Could I have left that comment up or not?
Well, now I've listened to Lisa Yee's talk, and in terms of the comment, I still don't know. I related to everything she said—delivered in her endlessly hilarious, truest-truth way—and most especially the way she introduced herself as having "only become Chinese recently." Everyone cracked up over that—except, perhaps, me. I didn't laugh out loud, because in that moment I was struck by knowing exactly what that meant. At one point I'd definitely felt more Chinese in a hurry, and that's exactly how I'd expressed it, too.
Once upon a time a friend tried to relate to me on the level that we were both minorities, and I had to confess that growing up Asian American in Orange County meant I had never felt marginalized. Which is not to say I felt marginalized later; but after a certain life-changing summer program in Taiwan and all the new friends I'd made and the Chinese pop music and my sudden willingness to speak Chinese (which I can do, if you trick me), I grew a lot more aware of how I thought about The Issues. I remembered thinking at the time (and it was definitely funny to think this way) that I'd become a lot more Chinese than I'd been, say, six months earlier. And once the process began, it never stopped.
I love that.
I'm not going to say this is "just like" how Lisa Yee's awareness heightened during reaction to her first book. (She started out thinking she had written a mainstream book with Millicent Min, and the reviewers seemed to agree, but her thinking was challenged when it was proposed they change the ethnicity of the character for a TV show.)
Her talk got me flashing back all over the place, so that half of me was taking in everything she said, and half of me was remembering and thinking exactly how it must be.
Afterward, I still didn't know whether I should have posted the comment. Actually, now that I look at it, I'm sure I shouldn't have. There are too many ways it could have been misinterpreted. But I spent so much time thinking about it, I decided to go ahead and post the whole thing here.
For anyone interested, here is what I meant.
All the Asian American guys I know are obsessed with basketball. They love to play, they love to watch, and, most especially, they love to play. They play all the time, as much as they can, which is multiple times a week even now, when we're near our mid-thirties. They're very much like their junior high and high school selves that way. In fact, when we were out of college I used to make fun of my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and his friends for thinking it was okay to wear basketball shorts all the time, even to the grocery store, which is not how I'd ever thought my "dream guy" would dress.
(They don't do this anymore, but they still deny there's anything wrong with it.)
So I didn't for one second question the truth of Lisa Yee's depiction of Stanford Wong that way. I didn't even realize how refreshing it was to see that in print until I'd made the comment aloud to Damon. Once I had, however, I was like, Huh! You know...??
So the first misinterpretation I'd want to avoid would be if someone thought I'd meant making an Asian guy a jock was an "original," "creative" idea, i.e. going against type. No, that's not what I meant. The type is so natural to me—with basketball in particular—I didn't even realize it was missing from children's books until Lisa Yee wrote Stanford Wong. claps hands "Of course!"
The second half was acknowledging that most Asian American guys I know have a common, grudging awareness that Asian males, in media, are never depicted as getting the girl—most especially if the girl is a white, romantic lead. Asian males can be good or bad guys, usually cast in minor roles (if they can get those); and my friends are fairly evenly divided over whether they like seeing themselves depicted as scientists or doctors. (Of course, you can think up isolated, sort-of exceptions to this "never" rule, which we can spend all day debating.)
In my comment, I wasn't saying Lisa Yee was acknowledging or bucking or doing anything deliberate regarding this issue. In the book, it's not an issue. Stanford and Emily like each other. My comment was meant as gentle ribbing over how an Asian American guy might take an interest in knowing this "miraculous" event had been depicted in a book. In a successful, popular one!
But that's a lot to expect people to get from my comment. The worst interpretation would be if people thought I meant my husband had an undue interest in white women. Good grief.
I saw Lisa Yee at the conference, and we've met a few times, so I meant to ask her about this in person (after I heard her talk). But she was so besieged with fans right up to the very end of the autograph party, I didn't have the heart to take up her time with such a long, potentially vague question.
I guess I wanted to know if she would have known what I meant—and whether she ever thinks of Stanford Wong's story as giving Asian American boy readers what they've been missing. I know she said she didn't become aware of herself as "an ethnic writer" until reception of her first book—and that she had become aware by the time she wrote Stanford Wong. That's when she brought out the theme of Stanford's resentment of Millicent for playing to smart Asian type, for example (which I greatly enjoyed). But these other points of Stanford's character—the basketball, the struggling in school, the getting the girl; and even the resentment of Millicent—were already set in place by the end of the first book. So does she think of these other elements that way now?
Or is it all so natural, she still doesn't?
I'm just curious.
(No, it doesn't actually matter.)
If you had seen my comment on Lisa Yee's blog, and had not read any of what I just wrote, would you have known what I meant?
Would you have made one of the misinterpretations I suggested above?
I should probably mention—
When I say "Asian," in this post, I mean Asian American. I don't usually say the whole thing. In the context of my life, American's just implied.