Kara Chang is a queer, trans, and Taiwanese American comedian. Born and raised in Sugar Land, Texas, Kara graduated from UCLA in 2016 with a degree in communication studies and double minors in Education and LGBT Studies. Kara has shared her story with audiences upwards of 8000 people and was most recently a finalist for the Uncle Clyde’s Comedy Contest for Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank.

More of Me, Please?

Rewind a few years back and you’ll find my 10-year-old-self snuggled over a Harry Potter book.

“Five more minutes please!” I’d tell my mom.

I was engulfed into the world of heroes from Hogwarts who swung their cloaks and shook their wands. As Harry, Hermione, and Ron were on their next adventure I was always by their side cheering them on but knew I could never be them – and not just because I lacked magical powers. 

Diversity has been pushed for in politics and entertainment by a new and inclusive generation, so why not in literature? Literature is knowledge. Literature is creation. Literature is the embodiment of culture that helps develop the brightest minds of every generation.

The lack of minority representation in literature is diminishing the reading experiences of so many children as they read stories of victorious youth that they can never seem to create connections with. If children fail to make connections with characters in a novel, then they lose the ability to feel the empowering emotions the character undergoes, preventing them from developing self-confidence. This can unconsciously make them feel inferior to the people around them who are more related to these characters.

In fact, a New York Times article presents scientific evidence suggesting how children tend to engage with characters when reading fiction that allows them to “identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies” that helps them tackle their own social life. When reading a story that doesn’t align with some of the characteristics in a child’s real life, it makes formulating these connections much harder because there are so little commonalities between the reader and character. In some cases, this takes the whole point of reading away, especially since some stories aim to reach some moral ground.

Don’t mistake me. I don’t have a grudge against white children. I simply want to see more of myself in literature.

At times writers may voluntarily choose to write from a western cultural perspective to reach a wider audience. This may be a great way to sell, but is it really having an impact on the audience? I don’t think so. These stories share the same plot structures with the utopian society, budding romances, and the idea that the protagonist is or has the panacea to all the world’s problems. Children consume the same literature over, and over, and over again. All the time.

Reading the same stories in different contexts doesn’t create a shift in the reader but instead reinforces the idea of white heroism. Looking back, I can’t recall reading any story about someone of color who was on their own conquest to find their identity. I can’t recall ever actually feeling part of a story

However, writing from a dominant cultural perspective isn’t always the writer’s fault. A New York Times article found the unequal opportunity Hispanic authors were met with when publishing their work. Editors often wanted writing to “conform to stereotypes about particular groups of immigrants” that simply denied a writer from their analytical voice and from expressing their cultural values. Authors with new perspectives who want their work to be published are shunned by publishing powerhouses if their stories do not follow the repetitive, deeply established pattern. In the fear of no longer being able to do what they love, and perhaps even pressure from family members depending on them to maintain financial stability, these promising writers have to rewrite their stories to fit comfortable stereotypes. Not only does this not allow a writer to express themselves, but it simply reinforces these stereotypes and makes children believe that what they read is a reflection of how the world works further creating a distinction between different races.

The stories of ethnically diverse diasporic communities around the world needs to be heard. Malavika Kannan is one writer stirring the representative literature revolution.  In her new novel, The Bookweaver’s Daughter, she explores Indian mythology from a non-Western lens allowing children to see a different perspective that doesn’t follow the story of white heroism. Her story follows the protagonist Reya Kandhari as she ventures on an adventure to save her father while exhibiting elements of Indian mythology and culture. This shift in cultural perspective allows children to see and understand that the stories of minority groups are as important and impactful as stories from dominant cultural groups.

Another story that caught my attention was Aru Shah and the End of Time, that also focuses on combining the present day and Hindu mythology. It follows the story of Aru who finds out that she is one of the Pandava brothers, who often represent the five senses in the Hindu epic, who is  reborn with magical powers. The familiarity I felt while she encountered spirits, noted Indian symbols, and mentioned epics made me develop a connection and appreciation to my Indian culture, something I felt I hadn’t done in a while. I was lost in Aru’s world and felt that it was my own. This is when I really understood how big of a problem it was to write from the dominant cultural perspective.

It is so important that we start encouraging representative literature. Children from minority groups are falling prey to stories that glorify white heroism and are not seeing value within themselves. By being more inclusive writers can instill more power and self-assurance in them. If we continue to write from a dominant cultural perspective, we misrepresent the colossal stories of countries from every corner around the globe.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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