I write my ethnic story not to tell my story or show where my people are from, or how far we’ve come, or what we’ve accomplished, or any of those things immigrants sometimes want to lay claim to. I write my E-story because I wish somebody had written one for me. I write it for those immigrant children like myself, caught in the liminal spaces of being who they are because of being raised in two cultures, and attempting to be who their people want them to be. I write so they can know they are not alone, and they too can perhaps find ways to express their liminality.
When I walked through my professors’ reading lists every semester I wondered where the other writers were. Back then no one could answer why I had to take “African Lit” to read Achebe or Ba. I could not know that there was a system in place that excluded them from the cannons I grew up with. Back then, I had no language. POC was a foreign term, just as I was a foreigner in this country. It was rare that my reading lists contained the Maya Angelous and Toni Morrisons. They were in Africana Studies, Black, Ethnic Studies, or other such variations of “otherness Studies, accessible only to white students intrigued by “the other” and other POC who chose to marginalize themselves further by studying in those departments. As a daughter of an immigrant single mother raising three girls, I did not have this luxury. I needed to be who my people wanted me to be. I needed to fit into the mainstream in order to make this happen. I needed to be their dreams come true in the new world. I didn’t know anything about staying true to myself. I thought staying true to my people meant becoming who they wanted me to be and selling out if that was what it took.
Poe, Dickenson, Shakespeare, O’Connor, Yeats. They rolled off my tongue back then. Did I learn to carefully imitate the “classics”? Why? To what end? For whom, and for what purpose? Could I ever have fully passed imitating them? They were classical for a reason, for a ruling people. Not my people. I need to define that term for myself and my people. This newly defined term, classical, will include me, my ancestors, and my people, all POC. When I found Jamaica and Santiago, they were hidden in the Ethnic library and they were difficult to roll off my tongue. What kind of writer would I have been if Danticat and Abouzeid rolled off my tongue from birth? Would I have learned to imitate them and not sell out?
Now I’m here. I claim my space as a POC and a WOC. I write to add my voice to the majority, and the growing minority. I write to make sure people have more options when making reading lists. I write so someone puts me on their reading list, because I wish someone had done the same for me back when I was impressionable. I often wonder what I could have done if I had chosen further marginalization. What kind of writer would I be now? Would I be further along in consciousness? I write so that people who read can get the memo to stay true, and to marginalize themselves further if that is indeed what they feel called to do.
Does all literature have an intrinsic value that comes with it no matter the specificity of it? The ethnicity? Does it matter?