I admit that I am not the epitome of what people would call a strong personality. I'm not tough as nails, able to deflect the arrows of life. Instead, I am more like a pin cushion. Each jab seems to stick deep and I am extraordinarily sensitive. Which is why the way my career has shaped is somewhat unusual. With every Asian character book that I do, every talk I give, the more I am standing on a platform, expounding my opinions and beliefs about “multicultural” books. With my character traits, it would probably be best for me to behind the curtain, not in front.
So recently, reading this blog entry Read Roger: "But she wanted a tutu" made me feel a tad squirmish. I’ve probably been quoted over a dozen times saying that I wrote “Year of the Dog” because I wanted someone that looked like me to relate to; and here was an entire discussion talking about how needing to see one’s own race on a character in order to relate to it was “repugnant.” And not only is the adult agenda patronizing (a word that sends horror into a children’s book author), it is completely unnecessary. These books don’t matter, kids are just going to want their non-multicultural books, anyway.
Yet, just as I was digesting this conversation, Rosie O’Donnell did her “ching chong” Chinese on national TV. I’m offended, yet read threads of “lighten up,” and “stop whining about being teased on the playground," which make me wonder is I am being my too sensitive self again. But then I begin reading more and more responses saying things like, “go back to ching chong and eat a fortune cookie.”
And I realize this is why I am in front of the curtain. I can’t believe that the books that I make don’t matter. I don't think I am making books with an "adult agenda," I am making the books that I, myself, would have wanted as a child. But even if my adult agenda is clouding my judgement, if kids are truly racially blind when is comes to books— then it’s all the more important for them to read these multicultural books. Because hopefully these books will plant the seeds of racial sensitivity and understanding before they start noticing. Because the step between poor taste and overt racism is a small one, sometimes less than 100 pixels.
So I stay on course, smarting and burning when people want to “stick it” to me. But I can take it. I've got a lot of room left.