1/28/2010

On Literary Diversity

Barbara Jane asks: Why is diversity important, and to whom, and how? Who can answer these questions in ways that are not abstract and large beyond practicality? What does “diversity” mean?

Maybe this is something of a left turn, but her post reminded me of a post Rick Steves wrote recently in which he talks about the necessity of travel for the sake of the survival of humanity, noting "The people who need to travel the most are the ones whose worldview is shaped not by actually going places, but by 24/7 news coverage."

And I'm thinking this sort of logic applies to diversity too - non-majority writers provide a view of the world different from the Fox spin. The people who need to understand diversity the most, who need to experience the writing she writes about are the ones whose worldview is shaped not by reading across a diverse field, but by... what? what's easily snatched from shelves at the checkout stand, the stuff as substantive as a pack of Bubblicious?

As always, Barbara Jane asks a lot of good questions, but they're ones I can only answer by what I do. I look for books by Filipinos, Moms, Spiritual Seekers, and Bisexuals. I read picture books, middle grade/YA, SFF, and contemporary lit. I try to write from all my different spaces in whatever form the piece lends itself to. I try to get to events and support folks of like-mind and maybe that's too narrow, not really diverse at all.

Once a month, sometimes more, I tell stories shaped around Filipino folktales I've researched. I do this because I want to know the stories, and because Robert of EthNohTec said he hadn't met anyone telling just Filipino stories out there. I tell stories to folks who drop by the library instead of the movies, who drink organic coffee and know that macrobiotics has very little to do with antibiotics, and who create unique art/performing spaces in order to keep historic buildings alive with people. My audiences get what diversity is all about, even if we've all been known to slip into one sense of privilege or another.

Does it matter to the guy at the bank that just got sold that I write? Does it matter to the president of the nearby university that I tell stories with a bunch of Native Americans, a Scottish woman, and white guy who's great grandfather was a slave from Africa? Probably not. Does to me, though, seems to matter to the folks that matter to me.

I told a story based on a Manobo tale a couple of weeks ago at a Solstice event. The story was about the moon having no light and because of this, was jealous of the sun because it shone all the time. Afterward an elder Lummi came up to me an introduced three teenaged girls to me, ranging in age from about 13-19. She told me they were part Filipino and had never heard a Filipino folktale before. I was astonished, not because it was their first time hearing a Filipino story, but because I suddenly found myself on the other side of the fence - for years I was the one always searching, searching for the stories, the old stories that were not tinged by a sense of second-class citizenship, stories that didn't apologize for being dark or exotic, stories as rooted in the earth as any other indigenous story I had heard. Stories that were stories, rich and full, not stripped down, over-analyzed, politically-spun, fetishized artifacts. Good yarns worth telling again and again.

And there, in those teens, I saw myself in triplicate, eyes shy but eager, curious but uncertain of the questions, and then I saw myself as the Teller who'd just been given a gift of seeing the past and future all at the same time. Last night I met an Indo-Pinoy family, another group of people who had the same sort of DNA arrangement, same sort of post-immigration experience I did, but with a little bit extra, another layer of experience I could only imagine. And they got to hear the story of the little fly who became a firefly because of her wit and skilled observation, a story they never knew existed before I stepped on stage.

I hope to bring some of that same sense of connection to the page, but it's a longer process, so I won't likely know for awhile if it comes together. I donated a copy of Growing Up Filipino II to our local library and I'm hoping someone of Filipino heritage stumbles across it, rubs their hands over it in amazement of its existence, and reads it cover to cover. I try to connect where I can when I can, but sometimes it does feel like it's just a drop of water into a forgotten lake. But it's what I am and what I do, so I'll just keep on doing and being all that.

That's why diversity matters to me, how I go about it, and to whom it matters. I guess I had something of an answer after all.

1 comment:

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing.