See also: Milk and Honey
To my fellow brown friends, let’s get together and get real for a second.
We need to stop with our basic ‘longing for a motherland we’ve never known’, two feet in two worlds, white people should be ashamed for laughing at our school lunches, typical desi diaspora writing. You all know very well what I’m talking about. As a brown kid living in the West, I know you’ve read something that fits this description somewhere– and I hope that you’ll come to agree with me that it needs to come to an end.
Venting about our problems is typical of our communities. Our ISA, PSA, BSA club meetings can often devolve into the same relatable conversations we always have about our parents expectations of us, our destined career paths, our future husbands and wives (and the hang-up that our parents might want to pick them or that they want to reject the relationships we have now); a general theme of how hard it can be to be brown in America.
And wanting to talk about these topics and completely valid! Truthfully, we don’t get enough representation of our experiences in the media/in books/in movies we consume, so it’s not a surprise that when we get together, of course we want to talk about the few experiences we can all relate to and feel validated in the frustration we feel.
But in that same thread, the tables are also turning for us. I’m starting to see a lot of creatives of color– specifically brown– popping up in the mainstream and it makes my heart swell to see that. Just the other day I was in the bookstore and came across a YA novel called When Dimple Met Rishi and it brought me such unexplainable happiness. I had never come across stories like that, placed prominently in the front of the Young Adult novel display, that explicitly featured brown characters. And being the voracious and inspired reader that I was back in the day, who knows how much that kind of book could’ve inspired me or empower me?
So, a little while earlier, I felt that same elation when I saw Rupi Kaur’s rise to fame in mainstream media with her book of poetry, Milk and Honey. It was so empowering and nice to see someone who looks like us rise and dominate a creative industry. And I was honestly so excited for her and proud of her success that I didn’t take the time to critically look at her work and really take in what it was doing for our community.
On one hand, I’m sure she has inspired a world of people– she even inspired me!– to get back in touch with our creative selves and talk about our lives and our burdens. But on the other hand, the work is also a little detrimental. There are many poems in her book that strive for that same validation that we all hope for when we talk about our experiences with other brown people. But at times, it’s so simplified and our identities are so essentialized that the work can reduce the brown experience to a single narrative. And Ms. Rupi Kaur is not the only one guilty of this– she’s just the only one who’s gained major fame doing it.
In my own creative writing classes, I’m guilty of resorting to the stereotypes of my culture and what it means to be the daughter of South Asian immigrants, and I write those stories because they just come so easy– but writing is not supposed to be easy. And it’s easy because I’m not writing truths, I’m writing relatabilities. I’m writing for the validation of my experience by another brown kids in hope that my words seem like something they could’ve written themselves and that then they become a fan.
But you know who that does a disservice to? All of us! If anyone else can write exactly what I’m writing, what’s the point of me doing it?! What’s the point of reading the same exact brown narrative from a million different voices as if those million different people don’t each have their own unique perspectives, ideas, and theories? How do we grow from that? There’s so much diversity in our communities, it does us the greatest disservice to only have such simplified caricatures of ourselves in print.
And I’m not saying halt the diaspora stories, or stop talking about your experiences– I don’t intend for that at all. I’m saying is that all of us brown creative people, myself included, need to reach in deep and pull out our inner truths. I want to read more unique stories and perspectives– the slight variations and intricacies of your lives and your nuanced train of thought that’s been shaped through your own personal background, interests, and experiences. I want more of those characters interacting with people of other ethnicities, and stories about what it means to live in a ‘melting pot’ like America– meaning not just the way people view our culture, but the way we view others’ as well. I want stories where culture and tradition are extra prevalent and important to the story, but also ones where race and religion aren’t at the forefront at all. I just want better– no more of the typical, relatable, and easy writing just doesn’t do enough to paint us as the significant, meaningful, and three-dimensional people that we are.
And you know what, don’t get stressed out. Don’t throw away that last draft you’ve been working on just yet. It’s fine if sometimes the things you write end up being incredibly relatable– sometimes our truths resonates loudly and it needs to be said. But you know what, I’m so proud of the strides that Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Riz Ahmed, Hasan Minaj, and so many more are making in mainstream media– from TV, to film, to music, to comedy. They’re all speaking their truths and doing what they love. Now, I’m just hoping that the next brown revolution will be through ink on pages. And when it happens, I’m going to be rooting for all of you.
Thanks for stopping by,
P.S: And while this is a call to all my future authors out there, I am writing this from a place of very little exposure to quality South Asian-American authors. So please enlighten me and leave some suggestions of good books that break the mold somewhere in the comments or on twitter! I would love to get a lot more of that on my reading list ASAP!