My heritage has always been very important to me.
Despite being born in the United States, I had always felt an affinity to my ethnic background, especially living in a city known for it’s Cuban influence. I have never been simply American or simply Cuban; I enjoyed being a mix of both.
And so, like most minorities, I felt that representation in the media for my background was nearly nonexistent. I had been taught since I was young that I had to be content with what I could get; the background characters, the Jane Does on crime shows, the “trashy” Hispanic girl that every high school series seemed to have.
I was taught that I had to be content with it because I was lucky to get anything at all.
In the spring of my freshman year of high school, I read a novel called Romiette and Julio. It’s a genderbent Chicago-based Romeo and Juliet wherein the main characters are people of color. Imagine my excitement! I was getting a story where someone like me, even if it was the boy, had shared some of my experiences.
What did I get instead?
A mash of stereotypes filled with carefully placed Spanish words and a reminder in every chapter that he is not white.
I felt cheated. It felt like my entire being had been compressed into a collection of ‘holas’ and ‘chica’.
I was angry that my culture was shoved into the limelight for all the wrong reasons; I couldn’t fathom how people could read this and not start laughing! And then, in a moment of horror, I wondered if people honestly thought I sounded like that. If people outside of my own bubble looked at this and nodded, sure that Julio’s Spanglish and rife gang life was part of my day-to-day life.
What some people can’t seem to understand is that I don’t want to have to be a message, a reminder to the people out there that LOOK! This character is Hispanic! Look how progressive this is!
I’m a person, same as everyone else. I don’t want it to be a big deal. I don’t want you to cram my heritage into a box and stuff it down my throat just so I can be happy with what I’ve been given.
I want to have a heroine who is Hispanic and it’s not even mentioned until the last page. I want a heroine with olive skin and dark hair who isn’t described as “exotic”, but just a person who happens to have a culture different from yours. I want characters are not defined by their heritage and characters who are in love with their heritage. I want characters from all different backgrounds instead of the singular stock character I seem to be going over and over again.
I’m tired of forcing myself to be content with the poorly executed representation I’ve been given.
I know that you might feel uncomfortable writing about a culture you don’t know about. Fantasy is all made up but writing about a heritage, about a world that is so ingrained in the lives of so many, it’s daunting! I understand.
I understand but I won’t excuse laziness in exchange for a sea of white-washed faces.