|My skin is blue. No really.|
I was talking to my younger sister, as I'm wont to do. We were discussing possible plots for future books I may write (I want to do a magical super hero sort of thing one day, a la Sailor moon) (don't laugh at me!) (it's a viable story plot!). Somehow, talk turned to witches and having a Muslim girl as the main character and how would the two fit together? 'I don't like tackling identity issues because I've never experienced it,' I said. 'And I feel like I would have to do that with a Muslim character.'
And my sister said something that will probably impact my writing forever:
If you're not white [in books] you're always trying to come into your identity. But if you're white, you just are.Growing up, my sisters and I didn't have any of the problems that a number (not all, but certainly some) of the 'multicultural' characters in YA fiction had. We didn't struggle with our identities; there was no struggle of finding if we were Arab or Muslim (and they are different) or American or African American. We were all of those things together at the same time. There was never a point in my life where I felt like I had to choose between being one thing or the other - these different things coexisted peacefully inside of me.
The things that my sisters and I struggled with growing up were universal. Our relationships with our parents, if we were wearing nice clothes, who we were friends with, who we weren't friends with. I never identified with the character struggling to straddle two worlds or cultures. I couldn't, because it wasn't part of my experience. And I don't think the experience of peaceful coexistence in a child of many cultures is unique to my family.
I strive to put characters of differing backgrounds and cultures in what I write because that's what I know and I think it's a truthful representation of the world we live in. But not every child of Chinese descent living in America wages an internal battle with their identity. Not every Muslim struggles to balance religion and the culture that is America (in fact, I haven't met any that do - but that may simply be my experience).
Books that depict young adults from different backgrounds struggling to balance America and their origins are relevant and valid and so important for the young adults that are going through that experience. But they're not the only kind that young adults need. I want to read more about Hispanic characters that are Hispanic and secure in that; who experience other struggles that are universal to the American teenage experience. I want to read about Muslim girls who, like me, knew they were Muslim when they sixteen and loved that they were Muslim; whose biggest problem was does that guy like me? Is my best friend still my best friend? Why won't my mom loosen her leash?
The human experience is universal and I think sometimes writers want so much to make sure that they're inclusive of the 'other' that they forget: those of us that are of different cultures are not 'other'. We're people who share the same experiences that the majority do. And most of the time, being born of another culture isn't the thing weighing on our minds. Sometimes its can we save the world? Will I get a car? And OMG I hate my physics teacher would she please just die!?