This week has been a rough one for many. Although I’m not American, seeing the results of the election has hit home just how far away we are from true acceptance of one another. Instead of bringing people together as I had hoped, it’s wedged people further apart, which scares me. Hate does not beget hate, and no amount of attacking from either side is going to make the world a safer place. That’s why, more than ever, it’s so important to turn to literature and reading to share positive ideals and acceptance, one step at a time.
For this post in particular, I’m going to talk about cultural diversity as a subject that is close to my heart. Reading books that I could relate to, would have helped foster acceptance for my cultural identity during my childhood and teenage years because #weneeddiversebooks.
From when I was 6, I knew what it meant to be different because I wasn’t white. I thought we were all the same, but a kid walked past me at school and said to me “Ching chong china man!” I had no idea what that meant at the time, except that it was mean and said in a derogatory tone.
That experience has always stuck with me, because I would come home and speak a different language to my family. My parents would teach me traditional Chinese manners about respecting my elders, letting your elders eat first in front of the table and never speaking a bad word about the opportunities that have been afforded to you by others – whether it’s a job, education or kindness.
However, at school, because I was “different”, I was subject to a very different behaviour especially in the playground. Because I was from another culture, because people didn’t understand that my mum wanted to fuss over me and made me wear a pretty dress for free dress day and that I ate my lunch with chopsticks, I was often subject to teasing and bullying from other kids. At this point I wished I was white so I wouldn’t have to go through the torment. I tried my best to assimilate to everyone else, throwing my food in the bin and buying lunch from school. Dressing how they dressed. Not talking in Chinese when I saw my parents and not talking about my culture.
Looking back at my childhood now, it makes me so upset that I had to feel that way just because my parents were from a different country. How wrong is that that I didn’t want to be Chinese, just because of how I was being treated in school? That’s something that a kid has no control over. That’s why we need acceptance about multiculturalism but it saddens me that still today, over 20 years later, there is still a wide majority of people who are still racist and afraid of something which they don’t understand.
That’s why I am and forever will be an advocate of culturally diverse books. These books are written not just for the young Jeann, who wanted to understand why she was different and wanted to see herself as a hero of the story, but for people to further their understanding.
Even in Australia and New Zealand, which are first world countries made up of a large spectrum of races, we still have a long way to go when it comes to cultural acceptance. I don’t want to stand on the other side and point at people for being racist when they don’t know any better themselves, and are simply trying to assimilate on their side of the story. I simply want to share the books that mean a lot to me to me as they include diversity, particularly cultural diversity.
Literature is such a powerful way to send a message of understanding, awareness and acceptance. It’s a long way to go until we really get to accurate representation but in the meantime, there’s a lot we can do as readers and reviewers. Instead of pointing at others who don’t share the same views as you do, support authors who take the time to write and research diverse books. Read them, share them and review them – only then, the world will change.
Culturally Diverse Book Recommendations
Is my experience something that you can relate to? What are some of your favourite culturally diverse books?