Friday, September 28, 2012
Multicultural Characters in YA
My MC is Cuban-American. She is second generation American and doesn’t speak much Spanish. I thought hard about that when she came to me as this tall, awkward, olive-skinned, Cuban girl with a love of auto mechanics. I don’t speak Spanish, although I’m on my way to learning. I didn’t want her to be CINO: Cuban In Name Only. But I didn’t want my book to be full of my flawed Spanish either-lol.
I had two things going for me. 1. I was writing this book in English and therefore, I didn’t need that much Spanish and 2. I used to live in Miami. Anyone who’s lived in, visited, flown over southern Florida knows it’s almost like living in Cuba. I had a diverse group of friends, ate Cuban food, danced in Cuban clubs with Cuban men…hem-hem, getting off topic. My point is I decided I had enough knowledge to create a character with first generation, Spanish speaking parents and make it as authentic as my experiences would allow.
One of my MC’s best friends is Jewish. As he is a side character and we don’t meet any of his family, and I didn’t want to play on the stereotypes, there are only certain things that will point to his Jewish-ness. I did consult with a few of my Jewish friends with some of the things I had him saying and doing. One thing in particular was his Jew-fro. He has very bushy hair and while I couldn’t see that being offensive, I wanted to check and make sure.
My MC’s other best friend is black. I didn’t really have to consult with anyone as I have personal experience being a 16 yr old black girl-lol. Although, I was never the daughter of a mega-rich rapper who just crossed over to action film star. But even as I tried to stay clear of stereotypes, they are there for a reason. They are based in some truth.
Years ago I was speaking with a fellow writer who explained why she wasn’t comfortable having a main character of a different race. She said it was because she had no experience being a black, Asian, or Hispanic woman so she couldn’t write them authentically. Well, I’ve never had any experience being a man, a white woman, a vampire, or a werewolf but I write them. That’s what research is for. That’s what exposing yourself to other cultures is for. I think these are things we owe to our readers. Showing them other worlds means showing them worlds with other races outside of the one you currently inhabit.
With all that said, you have to be comfortable to write well. So maybe everything I just said won’t matter to you. But it is a huge market that’s being underrepresented.