Hi, everyone! Today, I have fellow Atlanta book blogger Sarah here to talk about her frustration with the lack of Asian characters who also deal with mental illness in fiction. Give her a warm welcome, and let’s get into her thoughts!
(P. S. Be sure to check out the masterlist of Shattering Stigmas 4.0 posts so that you don’t miss any content from our five wonderful hosts!)
As an Asian-American reader, it really bums me out that just now, I have started seeing more and more books by non-Western authors with non-white leads, which is not a bad thing.
But it’s nowhere near where it could be either, and I don’t believe in applauding mediocrity; especially when the only thing stopping something is the lack of care towards diverse voices. And I am not just comfortable “taking what I can get,” because that’s sometimes what happens; we cling to bad representation of ourselves because it’s the only thing we have.
Not even with race or sexuality either, but I’m talking socio-economic statuses, family dynamics, and yes, neurodiversity.
While I am not saying that only Asians/Asian-Americans go through some things, but there are things that separate us from our white counterparts.
The problem with most “diverse” books that feature Asian-American characters is that they are often written through a white lens – which isn’t an intentionally problematic action, but it doesn’t accurately represent our struggle.
I myself have both depression and anxiety, and still continue to suffer from body image issues.
But especially with immigrant parents, there are a plethora of mental health issues we can suffer from stemming from the fact that the struggle of immigrating makes our parents much less sympathetic, and it is very much a form of emotional abuse/gaslighting when we as children try to explain our depressive thoughts, suicidal ideations, etc.
I haven’t really seen this in YA, and the only book that I thought even represented me slightly still didn’t hit on this quite right (which, no shame on The Astonishing Color of After, but I was hoping for something a little bit closer to my experiences, which is hard with a character with a white parent).
This being the fact that most mental health issues are related to our parents asking what we have to be depressed about, because where they come from is so much worse, and the LEAST we could do is be successful students and pillars of our communities to make up for their struggles (which are valid, of course, but hard lives should never be a contest). This can cause a person to not get the mental health help they need via counseling or drug therapy, or can lead them to believe they have to suffer in silence because their problems aren’t “real.”
Also something not often talked about is the body image struggles Asian-Americans face. Everyone has something they don’t like about their body, but in Asian cultures, skinny and pale are the ideals, while everything else just has your parents and everyone you know asking you point blank, “Why are you so dark/fat/dumb?” and comparing you to someone that you literally have no connection to.
I think there’s an issue with publishers only wanting diverse books as a trend. I think there is an issue with them only wanting diverse books to pander to white feminists, or to their own diverse audiences desperate for anything that could represent them.
I think there’s an issue with publishers wanting “diverse characters” while being scared of the issues and controversies and other ugly things that come with writing those characters.
I think there’s an issue of non own voices authors trying to pander to the diversity by adding in the diverse sidekick – and making them shallow or playing into stereotypes, or worse, just someone to act as a kind of foil to the MC. Or they become issue books, so now these books will only be known as an immigrant story, a depression story, and Asian story, when really it can be all those things and not be an issue book – or just the sum of all of its parts.
I don’t think however, that this is a lost battle, and I think it is getting better with new releases. But I think we have a long way to go before we ever really see these experiences in books.
As readers, we need to SHOW publishers what we want. This is supporting own voices books, authors of colors, different adaptations of diverse books, hell, tweet at them even. Whatever we have to do to get stories on the page, I’m willing. Are you?
Thanks so much, Sarah, for this post. I agree that marginalized people, especially POC, deserve better than what publishing offers right now. Mental health, in particular, is an issue that’s often shown only through a white lens or made out to be something that only impacts white communities, which is entirely false and damaging.
Have you ever read a book that represented all the parts of your identity?