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.