The fear and thrill of writing #ownvoices
I want to write an honest post about something that has always worried me and probably will always worry me as I keep writing about my heritage. It’s a special kind of imposter syndrome, the fear that I am appropriating my own culture for my art.
There are so many conversations about #ownvoices and #ownyourown. There are so many people saying meaningful and important things. Sometimes I try to chime in, but I always feel like others say it better, so signal boosting has been my main activity.
The way I see the world is a bit of a hybrid. I’ve spoken to many POC Americans who admit to feeling like they live in-between. Between the world of their parents/ancestors and the world they were born into. We are American but we have a qualifier in front. We are Something(-)American.
But, I chose to write a book about my culture as a Korean girl. And I also chose to write a book ONLY about being Korean (aka, not about being Korean American). So, I had to accept a few things about myself and my book.
1) I am Korean but I was not raised there, so I still see my heritage through a version of an American POV.
2) My parents picked what Korean ideals to raise us with so I lived their version of Korean culture.
3) I learned new things about my roots as an adult, but those aren’t as deeply ingrained in me as what I was raised with.
How I try to keep learning in my writing and in my identity
I am Korean 100% by genetics and blood, but I am a Korean American by upbringing. That means that I need to own what I know and fill in what I don’t with diligent research (just like any other writer).
The book I wrote is my heritage and my culture. But I knew being a Korean girl and being a person of color does not give me carte blanche to write whatever I want. I went to a semester abroad in Korea and visited many times as a child, but that doesn’t mean I instinctively know what I’m talking about when I write a contemporary Korean story. So, I went to Korea (multiple times) and I asked Korean people to clarify things as I wrote it. I asked Korean beta readers to read it. I asked my grandmother questions, my aunts, my cousin, my Korean language teacher. I wanted to ensure that I wasn’t just coasting on my bloodline to assume that I was getting it right.
I believe that we need to own our heritage in our writing. I also think we need to know our limitations and be sure that when we present our stories we are always doing due diligence.
I am proud and excited about this book I’ve created. But I am always learning and that excites me. I never want to stop learning. When we stop learning life can get pretty boring. And I refuse to live a boring life. That’s why I’m a writer.
As a final note, someone recently shared THIS ARTICLE called “The Year in Hyphenates.” It’s a very honest and insightful article about what it’s like to be raised Asian American/Canadian and the in-between identity that is often created. I gotta be honest, I actually teared up reading it because it resonated so deeply with my own struggles as an Asian American. Often times I felt not Korean enough and not American enough at the same time. And I know that these struggles have bled over into my creative identity. I want to say this to any POC/Native/marginalized creators of #ownvoices reading this post. You are NOT responsible for representing your whole community. You can only tell YOUR story fully and honestly. As long as you love your story and feel like you’re representing YOUR experience well in your #ownvoices, then I’m sure you’re doing a wonderful job.
Keep dreaming! Keep creating!