Diverse Characters, Universal Themes

Have you been tracking the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign? The hashtag and the Tumblr are lively places to find books withe diverse characters and authors as well as heart felt pleas for more. Back in the beginning of May, when the hashtag started, I had reactions similar to many of the people who use it:

  1. I don’t see many people like me in literature.
  2. I’d like more characters that represent a race/history/culture like mine because I want characters I can really relate to.

Statement 1 is certainly true. Asian Americans? Asian American women? Mixed-race Asian American women? Mixed-race Asian American women in their late-mid-twenties? What if we add in my geographic location, relationship status, or current proclivity towards home manicures?

This brings me to statement 2. I can relate to characters who aren’t like me. Who are of a different age/era/race/gender/planet than I am. Given the veracity of statement 1, I relate to characters unlike me on a regular basis.

This brings me to a different set of statements. I’m calling them the diverse-characters-universal-themes-statements:

  1. I like reading about diverse characters because it allows me to step into someone else’s world/view.
  2. I believe that reading about diverse characters encourages me to forge connections with real diverse people. And I believe that’s something that people could use more of.
  3. I believe that in the specificity of situations, we find universal themes.

Thank you to Sara Farizan, whose book “If You Could Be Mine” I was reading while thinking about this. Reading about a young girl living in Iran, her own relationships intersecting with different parts of the LGBTQ community there made me think about my own experiences between LGBTQ communities and conservative Christian communities in the US. It’s not about sticking to sameness, but finding common ground. I want so many diverse characters represented in literature that their stories become about how all the facets of their identity are important, not just their race or sexuality.

Summer Reading: Shanghai Girls

A year or two ago, I read the first few chapters of Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. The promise of a novel that talked about the World War II era from the Chinese perspective–glamorous, modern, Westernized Shanghai’s perspective, and a female one at that!– drew me back to it this summer.

Shanghai Girls Cover


What’s it about?  Sisters May and Pearl live like thoroughly modern women (or spoiled rich girls, depending on your perspective) in Shanghai during the 1930’s, until the Japanese invasion of China turns their lives upside down.

Why should you read this book? If you like stories about complex relationships between sisters. If you want to read about World War II or McCarthyism from a very different perspective. If you don’t know very much about Chinese immigration to the United States but would like to know more. If you liked the movie The Last Emperor.

Why shouldn’t you read the book? If you’ve read a ton of Asian American literature and you’re looking for a drastically different take on the narrative. If you want a romantic novel. If you want a historical war novel.

In Memoriam: Frances Hashimoto

Frances Hashimoto invented mochi ice  cream. Sweet, sweet ice scream wrapped in soft, chewy mochi. For her, combining the two foods was a way to help Americans become more familiar with Japanese culture. She was a prominent business leader in LA’s Little Tokyo, and a strong community advocate.

Hashimoto died last week, of lung cancer. For more information, see the Rafu Shimpo’s obituary (from which the picture comes).