Here’s another installment of my Who Tells Our Stories photo / interview series highlighting diverse readers and the diverse stories that represent their identities! Today I’m speaking with Roxanne about diverse literature and how she connected to the book she has chosen to be photographed with.
(A FULL EXPLANATION FOR THE PHOTO SERIES IS AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS INTERVIEW.)
Book title: When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
Roxanne’s Review of When I was Puerto Rican:
Can you describe your identity? (Ex: race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, mental illness, disability, body type, or religion, etc.)
I am a chubby queer Puerto Rican girl. No religious affiliation.
How did you connect with When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago? Are there elements of the story that accurately represents your identity?
As I was reading the book, it allowed me to see my mother’s life reflected in its pages. By extension, I was able to see myself. This book is the first time I remember reading about a young girl from Puerto Rico. It brought to life mine and my mother’s childhood and I was able to consistently feel as if I were back on the island. It perfectly encapsulated the difficult relationship I have with the US.
When did you first see your identity properly represented in media (books, movies, shows, etc.)?
I feel as if I must have seen some Puerto Rican identities or queer or chubby girls in media, but because I didn’t know how important it was, or the effect that it had in my life, these are representations I don’t even remember. Most likely they were extremely stereotypical, and I have done my best to forget all about them. To the point that the first time I can remember seeing myself in a meaningful work was but a few years ago when I read this. I had to become a fully grown adult and learn about social justice, representation, and the world around me to recognize the power found in seeing myself reflected in something that not only I, but the world can experience.
What are stereotypes that you’d want to erase from novels when seeing yourself represented in literature?
I would love to erase the idea that bisexual individuals are confused, greedy, or cheaters. I would hate to dismantle the stereotype that chubby or fat or plus size means ugly, undesirable or unkempt. I want Puerto Ricans to be seen as more than criminals, or loud, or crazy. These are dangerous and limiting ideas that will never do justice to me or anyone like me.
What message would you like to tell others, regarding the importance and need for diverse literature and authors?
There is a power and validation found in diverse literature and media. Beyond it allowing each of us to see ourselves reflected, in itself reason enough, it gives us a window into worlds outside our own. Diversity teaches us love, acceptance, knowledge. I think though, we must be careful not to expect education from diversity in the way that non-fiction or real-life interactions provide us with education on those around us, those different from us.
There is diversity within diversity. An #ownvoices book about a Dominican queer woman is the story that the author chose to tell. It may reflect with many or with some or with few Dominican queer women. That work should not have the burden of being a one-size-fits-all representation of a group of people. No diverse work should. That is why we need as much diversity as possible, no one is just one thing.
Thank you, Roxanne, for being apart of my photo / interview series! I’m so glad that I was able to meet you, finally, and have you be apart of this series highlighting diverse bloggers and the stories that they have connected with.
Your opinions and insight about diverse literature are important to me and others, and I hope others readers gain new insight thanks to your thoughts. You are an inspiration to all, and I appreciate all the work you do for this community. Thank you so much!
PHOTO LOCATION: The Jacob Javits Center, New York, New York
Who Tells Our Stories: A Photo Series Explanation
I was inspired to create a photo series on my Instagram that features diverse readers holding books that represent their identities (e.g. ethnicities, sexualities, race, gender, body types, MIs, disabilities, religions, etc.) in a positive light. I wanted to create this series in order to highlight the need for diversity in literature. I also wanted to show others how diverse novels can positively impact someone who finally feels represented in a way that doesn’t use harmful cliches or stereotypes.
Each photo, in this on-going series, will include an interview with the reader to discuss the need for diversity in literature and how the reader identifies with the piece of literature they have chosen (if they feel comfortable disclosing that piece of information).
I came up with the title Who Tells Our Stories for the photo series because it is a spin-off of the Hamilton lyric “Who tells your story”. Because the Hamilton is such a diverse form of art, I wanted my photo series to reference that striking lyric because we need diverse authors to tell diverse stories in a respectful way. Marginalized readers should be able to see themselves properly represented in literature, and I hope this photo series highlights that need to others.
Want to support the Who Tells Our Stories photo series? Click here to support Stories For Coffee with a Ko-Fi!