I’ve spent countless hours and written endless blog posts talking about identity and representation. About how I’ve found it keenly useful to learn about myself, at last, in my late twenties and as I traverse my early thirties.
Better late than never, eh?
Representation is rarely black and white. Except that until recent years, it had been. As a small child, I found myself absorbing countless Jacqueline Wilson novels to familiarise myself with a working-class British lifestyle, fascinated at how different the characters lived in Enid Blyton’s worlds and completely blown away by most of children’s literature, to be honest. Hidden within these satisfyingly weighty tomes were stories and the key to understanding how I could fit in.
It probably wasn’t until I read Cho Chang’s introduction in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)* that I thought: “heck, I think there might a Chinese character in my favourite book series – her name is strikingly similar to Mum’s, and she has jet black hair and ‘almond-shaped eyes’, whatever they are”. When Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published, I was already 9. Already accustomed to a white literary world.
This year – and over the past four years really – I’ve made a concerted effort to read more Asian literature. That includes books with East and South East Asian protagonists, and those by East and South East Asian authors. It has really been transformative to my own journey of understanding my heritage, identity and where I stand in the complex ESEA diaspora. Experiences, tiny moments really, and stories from my childhood suddenly make a bit more sense and help me feel seen, when I read them in another’s words. Gosh, between reading Jade City by Fonda Lee, Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan, and playing Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I desperately even want to dig out the jade jewellery my parents gave me as a child!
For the first time in quite a few months, or perhaps years, I feel a little hopeful and inspired that our stories are being recognised as important enough to share. It’s so special to see the ESEA community slowly disrupt representation and claim a slice for ourselves, and even more special to see the world appreciate the stories themselves. (Every time someone says they love Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan too, I secretly cry happy tears.) For me, it also helps me to feel a sense of belonging. Where before I wanted to understand my place in the diaspora, seeing East Asian representation makes me feel like I’m part of the wider world itself.
And isn’t that something beautiful?
N.B: * I no longer support J.K. Rowling and their work, but felt this was an important moment to share.