After the Oscar fiasco this year, Asian-Americans from all walks of life and ethnicities gathered to discuss their outrage and sadness that pop culture couldn't do better. The years since the success of Amy Tan's Joy-Luck Club--and the reception to that novel--have seen an increase in the usage of Asian-Americans in writing, art, and film. Even if Joy-Luck Club has flaws, it--like the visibility of Kristi Yamaguchi that Nicole Chung wrote about so wonderfully--offered the first 'real' media attention and acknowledgement that many Asian-Americans, even adopted ones like Chung and myself, craved.
Growing up, I had similar feelings to Chung's about whiteness and my lack thereof. I saw it as a physical flaw that I wasn't white. My home city and schools had almost no ethnic variance; there was one 'black girl' in my entire first grade cohort, and a few Hispanic children. When Pocahontas came out in my elementary school years, the children in my school found an obvious parallel: the woman whom I resembled the most. Unsurprisingly, when a local Native American shopkeeper came to present to my second-grade class, I fell into a love of crystals, leather pouches, and dream-catchers that expressed a longing more rooted in fantasy than fact.
Michelle Kwan was one of the first Asian girls that I encountered around which there was a positive feeling, and whom I could look at and acknowledge a heritage I barely understood. I still feel like an impostor in Asian and Asian-American circles, which is why it was hard for me to even go to the Asian-American panels at AWP.
But, I did go.
I went because inclusion isn't about the exclusion of people. Sure, there will always be some side-eye from people who don't think that you belong. But, it's good to see people from other backgrounds at these events, because the point is not only to create a safe space to discuss issues and trends, but also to try to communicate those with a larger audience. I came away from the panels with new groups to support, new markets to submit to, and new ideas for my own writing. Since I intend to keep writing and being more open about race, I feel inspired knowing that my experiences aren't mine alone, in a universal sense.