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
For some culturally diverse book recommendations, check out my video on Youtube or the #diverserecs hashtag on Twitter.
My favourite blogs that promote culturally diverse books are: Read Diverse Books, Read at Midnight, and Read Think Ponder.
Is my experience something that you can relate to? What are some of your favourite culturally diverse books?
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Oh my gosh, thank you for sharing your experiences. I never really realised it until now, but I felt the exact same way. Kids in school would make fun of me for eating seaweed, for eating with chopsticks, and definitely that derogatory phrase was thrown around a couple of times. Although I acted I was okay with it, deep down, I always felt a bit bad, and after all this time, I finally realised that was not okay. I really hope that more culturally diverse books do get published, that people become more aware of other cultures, and that we can all get along as equals. I know I'm supporting good diverse books whenever I can, and I'm so glad to see so many other people in the bookish community are as well! <3
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Yeah, as an Asian in an Anglo-Saxon society, I think most of us grew up with the same struggles unless you were brought up in a mainly Asian community. I did always feel bad especially when I think about my parents and the sacrifice that they made to get us here. I do hope so too lovely! Cultural diversity is so important.
[…] Jeann @ Happy Indulgences discusses why culturally diverse books are so important. […]
Interesting how it is that you are able to connect what is happening in USA with what happened to you as a person–and how it is that you can identify the culprit–bigotry and racism. Let's hope more people gets to share their views and open their minds to other people's worldviews, not just their own "race". I love your comment: "there is still a wide majority of people who are still racist and afraid of something which they don’t understand." You are right on when you say they don't understand–and it is only natural they fear it—only when we understand something we will be able to change it.
I am also quite impressed with your site, I can see you do love to read. I too love books and I am doing my best promoting reading amongst my college students. Thank you for sharing.
I definitely think sharing our own experiences and also reading others experiences can help to open our minds to things outside our own. It does make sense because of the fear of the unknown. Thank you for your lovely comment Oscar!
Thank you so much! It's so important to share different stories, especially real ones that people look towards for representation and understanding you know? I am kind of sick of seeing people talk over PoC which is why I wrote this post. ANYWAY ignorance seems to go hand in hand, I tend to take it as a joke when it happens but yeah, people just don't realise how it comes across to us. That sounds fascinating with the ted talk!
Jeann! What an amazing post! I totally agree on so many levels. Even though I'm not American either, it was definitely tough watching the election, and hearing about all the hate crimes after.
Pretty sure I was the same as a kid, It's amazing what a little growing up and some perspective can do (to help me embrace my culture). It's definitely tough when dealing with people who can't seem to accept multiculturalism but yes, sharing, reading and advocating for diversity is a great way to make changes!!
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Thanks Cyn, it\’s definitely something that I felt I should share to spread awareness you know? Sometimes I thought it was given but sometimes it needs to be said. I completely agree Cyn, I\’m glad I found friends outside of my school that I could relate to! Reading and sharing diverse reads is so important.
Diversity is part of life, and as such, I am always happy when it's part of the books I read as well! I have friends from many different countries, ethnicities and religions, and they all enrich my life in one way or another! It is so interesting to see things from a different point of view – and sometimes, it boggles the mind that some people can be so mean and afraid of all that is 'other'. Be it the color of our skin, our sex, our religion, our sexual orientation… And what I find the absolute worst is when people judge other people – we never know what someone else is living through.
Diverse books are a must! Sadly, though, I have read books that were supposed to be diverse, only to see the 'diverse' characters disappear – they were just included to give validation to the book, but they weren't a real part of the story, you know?
I'm sorry you were made to feel like you had to push your own culture, language and family away when you were little, Jeann.
Here in Geneva, we have all nationalities, ethnicities, religions and colors, too, and I think my children are very lucky to live in a melting pot like this! They are mixed nationals themselves, so even if they are white, they know things from two different cultures, and they have always spoken one language that is not the language spoken here. And I have had to deal with xenophobia too, which is so shocking! I can't even imagine how much worse it is for someone who looks different – I've had to deal with it because people know I'm not Swiss. When I first arrived, it was the myth that Scandinavian girls are all sluts, later, it was my future parents-in-law who told my now husband that I was only with him so I could become a Swiss national…
I hope we will all be able to show each other love and respect, and that our books will set the example for those who may not know people who are different from themselves!
I completely agree, it just boggles the mind when people are so resistant to people that are different from them because that\’s where we can learn so many exciting differences and things outside of our own experience. With such a diverse world, it\’s glaringly obvious that books, movies and even TV shows fail to reflect the actual world that we live in. I know, I\’m really sick of seeing diversity used as a hook or a trend that isn\’t really given much justice in books. I crave for books that work it in naturally without making it ALL ABOUT IT too as well! I\’m so glad to hear that Geneva is incredibly diverse and it sounds glorious learning so many different differences and languages! Although we are multicultural, much of Australia still has a mainly white population. I would love to visit Geneva one day! Thanks for your lovely comment Lexxie.
Thank you for writing this very thoughtful and personal post, Jeann. I have similar experiences from my childhood and school years. It took me a long time before I stopped wanting to assimilate completely and actually wishing to be white. That's terrible to admit, but many people of color probably feel the same way when they're young. Hopefully it's less common now that TV and books are starting to become more inclusive and diverse. I will have to remain hopeful for the future even though being hopeful is difficult right now.
I appreciate the shout out. 🙂 <3
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No problems Naz! I definitely think it\’s an experience that a lot of us who are in Western cultures will have. I\’m lucky enough that I found friends outside of my school who were also Asian and dealt with the same experiences, so we could bond together. I remember this time though when I had a birthday and invited my two group of friends together and they wouldn\’t talk to each other!!! What a horrible wakeup call to the difference in the world. Anyway, I completely agree with you, we just have to stay hopeful and create a change I guess. I appreciate everything you do to spread the word on diverse reads!
Love this post, Jeann! I'm sorry you were a subject to teasing and even bullying as a child to immigrants. This is not something any child should have to experience. I lived in Australia when I was a child and, compared to my home country, I experienced it as open to diversity, whereas Switzerland struck me as more rigid and less welcoming of differences. However, being from a Western culture, discrimination may have simply not affected me and therefore went unnoticed. My mother being Italian, though, was bullied excessively as a child and has definitely been psychologically scarred by it. Even today, I still hear people make inappropriate comments about my mother being of a foreign origin, which is appalling.
I agree with you that literature – especially YA fiction, since the young ones are the foundation of future society – is such a powerful means to improving tolerance, acceptance, and even appreciation of our differences, be that in race, gender, religion, sexuality, or health. We should encourage authors to write diversely and readers to accordingly read diversely, too. If you haven't read it, I'd recommend you read GIRL IN TRANSLATION by Jean Kwok who wrote a semi-fictional YA book on the struggles of an immigrant girl from Hong Kong – the message is so powerful! 🙂
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Yeah, I would like to think that times have changed since my childhood. It\’s so sad to hear that children are bullied for something like being from another culture but I am hoping that these days things are different. It\’s so important, because I think people are scared of what they don\’t understand but literature is where people can learn about these differences and be comfortable with it you know? I love the sound of that book, thanks for the recommendation Nina!
I really agree. There's a lot of ignorance in the world. Though it was YouTube rather than books (there aren't many diverse books :/) that taught me about problems Asians deal with in school. I have experienced racism but not very much. We need more books to teach people about different cultures. I want to read more books about African families rather than just African Americans… not all of us are African Americans. Also, about many different races. It really sucks to see so many books with only white characters in it these days and yet a writer couldn't publish her story because it was apparently 'too narrow' (mainly Asian Americans in California).
I want people I can relate to. Not just people that perfectly suit cultural norms of the Western world.
I really like those sorts of videos on Youtube and even having people all over the world contribute to the platform, it really opens our eyes to embrace different cultures everywhere )Also the accents!). I love what you said about Africans vs African Americans, I would love to read more of that too. Since #weneeddiversebooks happened, I am seeing more cultural diversity happen but it still has a long way to go. I completely agree, not all people are white!
Thanks for sharing your experiences, Jeann. I know it's not always easy to do. *hugs* I struggled in elementary school for being "other" as well, although for different reasons than you. My parents raised me as a vegetarian and an atheist, and I wasn't allowed to watch TV. I know these sound like small things, especially in comparison to what you and many others faced, but as a kid, these differences really made me stand out. Racially, my school was extremely diverse, but on a cultural level I really was different from everyone else. I was often teased, bombarded with questions about why I didn't do the same things that everyone else did, and treated differently. It was hard when I was young, but now I'm happy that my parents stuck to their values and that we didn't give in to the bullying.
I completely agree that diverse books are important, especially for kids, and now more than ever. Some of my favorite culturally diverse books are The Lost & Found, Saga, When the Moon Was Ours, Every Heart a Doorway, and the book I'm currently reading, Lucky Few.
It's kind of sad how kids will pick on anything that makes you different isn't it? My friend (who I'm still friends with today) also didn't have TV and it was something people picked on as well. It's really hard to deal with that as a kid, and it kind of shapes who you are in a way. But I'm glad that your parents did what was best for them and for you. I love so many of those books that you've listed, and keen to check out Lucky Few and Lost & Found! Thanks for sharing Maraia.
I'd like to think it made us stronger! And definitely more empathetic as adults.
Ooh, you definitely need to read The Lost & Found! (The one by Katrina Leno. It doesn't always show up right away on Goodreads.)
This is such a gret post Jeann, and I have to agree with all the points you've made, we definitely need more culturally diverse books, they can definitely give us a better understanding of other people's lives. Thank you for sharing such a personal post with us! *hugs*
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*hugs* thank you so much for your lovely comment Jasprit! I\’m glad that we\’re finally seeing more and more diversity, but it\’s still a low percentage.
Yes, it is so, so important to share and accept and try to understand – I belong to the majority in my country, but since I have no control over being born, and certainly not into which race/ethnic group/culture, I want to be respectful of the cultures others were born into, just the same.
Hope that makes sense!
Even though I look and seem like a lot of the other people around me (in my town/nation), because I have autism, I've always been treated differently. The message I received was the same as a racist or otherwise prejudiced message – that who I am is not good. So I completely relate to the feelings you experienced of wanting to fit in because you felt like the real you wasn't right.
It really breaks my heart that we have the technology to go into space, but can't see the value of the myriad of cultures and people right here on Earth.
I think increasing the type of fiction people read, and accept, and share, is a great way to further this cause.
That definitely makes sense Daley! I wish more people would have that love and acceptance for people, because although it's not something you realise, it might come out in the intrinsic way they act towards you etc. I can see that we are trying to change, and I have hopes that it will happen. At least if it's not the majority then there are people who don't judge others for their differences. Thanks for sharing your story with us Daley!
I'm so sorry you had to go through that Jeann, kids can be so brutally honest as they are cruel. At such a young age, I dare say they're taking on the beliefs of their parents as well as their bigotry and prejudice. When I was at school, casual racism was rife but I think we're slowly becoming more inclusive and more accepting in some areas, and in others (such as towards Islam) we've regressed. My grandparents migrated to Australia as well though from the UK, much for the same reason your parents did too. For prosperity, a better life for their children and to simply live. But it saddens me that the colour of our skin or country of origin is the benchmark of who is judged worthy of the opportunities we're all afforded. Children today are so much more attuned to diversity and celebrating our differences, it's just a shame the rest of the community is yet to catch up.
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Yeah, I mean that kid who said that when I was 6, where else would he have picked that up from? I actually thought Aussies were very multiculturally accepting, but there are some grey areas where you still hear of racism happening and it makes me sad. But I agree, now that it's brought so many things to light, people are more aware of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. I do find it is the older generation though who might not want things to change (aka Pauline supporters). But all we can do is be better.
Thanks for sharing this Jeann ^_^ I've mostly grew up in more of a diverse area but unsurprisingly, can also relate to aspects you've described here. I used to honestly think, maybe not 'idealistically', but genuinely believed we were on a forward trajectory with multiculturalism and that we were and would be making progress. This year has been frightening in that regard.
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That's good to hear Wendy, I actually moved to the Asian suburbs hahaha and it's a world of difference, if not for the awesome food that I get to eat. It definitely has been confronting, but all we can do is to be better and share diverse stories.
Thank you so much for sharing. Optimistically hoping human kindness prevails.
Me too, me too.
What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your story and so sorry you had to deal with that. I agree diverse books are so important. It is such an easy way to open up someone's world to different views/people/cultures/etc when they might not find it easy to otherwise.
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Thanks Grace, it actually felt quite therapeutic to get that out there after so many years lol. I love how books can help us become more aware of people's experiences.
I went to a really diverse inner city primary school in New Zealand, before we moved to rural India and were homeschooled, and I totally relate to your experience. I wasn't bullied for looking different, but I did want to look like Barbie when I grew up, because I thought you couldn't be beautiful without long blonde hair. It's just so important to understand other people's experience, and books don't represent that far too often. Some of my favourite culturally diverse books are Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox- set in an alternate 1920's ish New Zealand with a brown protagonist, The Wrath and the Dawn, Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson (post apocalyptic Toronto and Caribbean mythology) and Book of a Thousand Days.
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That's exactly what happened when I grew up and went to primary school in New Zealand! Even though it was quite diverse I still experienced that racism. Ohhh, I love the sound of your recommendations! Thank you for sharing!
Such a brilliant post, Jeann. Thanks for sharing your own experience, I'm so sorry you had to go through that. Culturally diverse books are so, so important. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented and it gives everyone the chance to learn and understand cultures different to their own. It's absolutely shattering that people are living in fear just because they're a different race or religion to the majority.
That's okay Lauren, I kind of feel like every kid had their insecurities when they were young, it's all a part of growing up. Diverse books will definitely further our understanding and acceptance.
Aw Jeann, thank you SO MUCH for sharing your story! I think you are so right about how much books can open our eyes to other people's lives, and are SO important. I am also really sorry that kids at school treated you that way. It isn't okay, and I agree that we really do have a LONG way to go. Love you ♥♥♥
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I'm happy to, it felt really therapeutic hehe. Lots of love for you Shannon! xx
Oh this post is so wonderful and I love it, Jeann!! I absolutely agree that we need diverse books and it always breaks my heart when I hear of people who don't want to be who they are just to avoid being hassled. (I mean, I was one a bit as a teen, because I had a lot darker hair/skin tone than my blonde/blue-eyed friends…but that's not so much culture. Idek what it was. I did feel self-conscious about looking so different…but that experience is very smol.) I just wish the world would hurry up and get to this space where diversity and differences are celebrated and accepted. Because it's awesome to be different?!??
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It's so important to share these types of stories because no doubt a lot of people would've gone through the same thing. I do think everyone to a degree felt self conscious in a way you know? I completely agree, why would we want everyone to be the same? That's boring.
I loved loved loved this post so much! <3 I'm so sad to see people being treated like that, especially in school where it's supposed to be one of the safest place for kids 🙁 I'm Asian and Muslim but I'm a majority where I live, so never really know how it feels to be marginalized. But it really broke my heart to see a lot of POC and Muslims feeling threatened in US right now! It saddens me to see muslim women afraid of wearing their hijab in public 🙁 I really hope people could me more tolerant and nicer! And I agree that diverse books are now ever more important than ever! My favorite so far would probably Juliet Takes A Breath and Homegoing, both deal with tough subjects that I don't normally read. I actually haven't read much, but I have lots and lots of diverse books on my TBR. Great post Jeann! <3
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Thank you so much Puput! After reading everyone's comments, it's kind of obvious that we experience it more as immigrants where we're not the majority. I know, I cried the first few days after that happened because I can't imagine how they must be feeling. I hope there are more people out there spreading love and acceptance in contrast. I haven't heard of those books, so thanks for the recs!
I LOVED THIS POST JEANN! I think everything you have said could not be more accurate! Also, I really want to read Ink And Bone!
Thanks Anisha, Ink and Bone is so good! It definitely helps to share people's experiences.