Feb 12, 2016

Embracing the things that make you different || Aila @ One Way or an Author

Hi guys!

One of the most common dilemmas we see in diverse contemporaries is the main character's struggle to fit in a society where he or she is an outsider, either because of their skin colour, facial structure, language or simply because they don't share the same heritage as those around them. While it's always a beautiful self discovery to read, it can be a bitter sweet journey in real life.

I myself, being born and bred in a South Asian country, have never had this struggle. So today, as part of our Diverse Reads 2016, I invite the lovely Aila @ One Way or an Author, who's here to share her personal journey of being "different" and how diversity in books played a part in it.

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When I was in preschool, I used to cry to the point of throwing up because I didn’t know how to speak English and I couldn’t communicate with the kids and teachers. My parents had to pick me up all the time until I started to slowly learn the language. But as my English progressed, my Chinese started deteriorating until all that was left was a confused, Chinese-Born American who didn’t know which culture, if any, were hers.

First up I just want to thank Mishma for hosting me. This post will focus on how finding campaigns such as Mishma’s Diverse Reads Challenge means to me. As someone constantly caught between two worlds and two cultures, diversity means so much to me. But it wasn’t always like that when I was younger.

After assimilating into American culture, I began leaving my Chinese one into the dust. I constantly sought out books with non-Asian characters - I didn’t LIKE seeing my culture represented. It was weird for me, because I was so used to seeing caucasians around me. They were my best friends, the people I told secrets to in the dark, the ones that I would talk to on a daily basis. Reading about Asians - especially Chinese ones - kind of left a hole in my chest, one that I was uncomfortable with because of the amount of introspection it always led to. I would imagine myself as those characters, see myself in them, or want to be them. And as someone who was discovering her own sense of identity, I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted myself to be 110% all Aila, all independence. All white.

Pretty soon, I realized that the thing I didn’t want to happen, happened. I found myself pursuing the things my friends wanted rather than the ones I did, and disappointing my family and friends in the Chinese community. Late nights were spent making my skin whiter and getting rid of that dreadful accent to “fit in.” My unwillingness to stand by my own culture seems shameful now, but at that time they were the ones that I was embarrassed about.

But as I grew, I started opening my eyes. I found my voice. I learned. And I realized that I shouldn’t be ashamed of my background and heritage. I should embrace it, proudly, because in the end, it’s part of the things that makes me, well, me. And you shouldn’t push that part of you away either. In the end, what does the term “white” even mean? I have Chinese friends who are as pale, or more, than my American ones. My caucasian friends boast of different percentages of German or Irish or Polish or French blood. We all started somewhere, and sometimes it’s hard to forget about that when we’re all in one place. But rather than forgetting about those beginnings, we should trace back to them and welcome those things that make us stand out.

Thank you Aila, for that beautiful contribution! < 33

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