Friday, December 21, 2018
A Question of Heritage
My father never pressed my younger sister or I to learn his mother tongue. He learned English as a second language and seemed self-conscious over his mastery. As a child, I learned some words in Cantonese, but now I can only count to ten, sing "Jesus Loves Me", say "thank you" in two different ways, and wish others a happy new year. Not exactly life skills. My rendition of "Jesus Loves Me" seems to please my Chinese-only speaking grandmother.
I have oriental decorations in my house, I have worn traditional clothing, and I love Chinese food. I can relate to the "only exceeding perfection is good enough" parental expectations. Indeed, I wonder if my father has ever been proud of me. He never says he loves me, although my mom assures me he used to when I was little. He demonstrates his love by offering me money—even though I don't need it—as financial security is very important to him. My mother is very vocal about her pride and love. I don't feel unloved. I'm actually quite confident my father loves me. I know he loves my children.
My father has taught my boys to count in Chinese. He would prefer they call him "Goan-Goan" which is the Chinese name for father of the mother. It's hard to change a lifetime of Anglicisation. They usually call him "Grandpa". My oldest son, although one-quarter Chinese, identifies quite strongly as Chinese. My youngest son doesn't consider himself Chinese at all. My husband and I encourage the kids to learn and appreciate all facets of their heritage.
What started me on this line of thinking? I sent out a digital Christmas card to my mailing list this week. One person unsubscribed with a lengthy comment about how my characters are white-washed and don't reflect my heritage. This is something I have never considered. Character selection is driven by my characters themselves. I don't give them red hair or dark features. I don't write them as happy or angry or high-strung. They assign their own appearance and personality. To force the issue would be akin to betrayal.
What does this say about me and my identification to my heritage? Should non-white authors write non-white characters?
Maya Tyler, wife and mother of two boys, writes paranormal romance with a twist. Being an author is her lifelong dream. Her debut novella Dream Hunter was released in December 2014. Her second novel A Vampire’s Tale was released in March 2017. She’s a romantic who believes in happily-ever-after. She enjoys reading, listening to music (alternative rock, especially from the 1990s), practicing yoga, and watching movies and TV. In her “free” time, she writes books and blogs at Maya’s Musings.