Guess what? I’m 1/4 Filipina. Bet you didn’t know that. Bet you assume most YA authors are white. Don’t feel bad–you’re probably right. People don’t talk about it much, but YA is pretty darn white. I don’t have any real statistics for you, but I bet if you did a survey of a random sampling of YA novels, the vast majority (like in the 90th percentile) would have white main characters and white authors. And even though I’m technically not 100% white, yes, I’m guilty–I write white characters too.
It just happens to be the world I know. Even though I’ve looked in the mirror my whole life and seen someone who didn’t quite look like everyone around me, I’ve always pretty much identified as white. Until 7th grade, I grew up on an island that was almost completely white, with only a handful of Asian families and one, count ’em ONE, black family. My grandfather married a white woman and raised his daughters to reject their ethnic heritage. He even instructed them to marry white men. He managed a grape farm in Delano California, right in the middle of the birth of the farm workers movement, but he was on the wrong side. While the Filipino and Mexican farmers organized around him, as they protested and marched and demanded their rights, my grandfather was firing men who looked like him for trying to take a sick day. He was hiring security guards to protect him from Cesar Chavez. He was punishing his daughters for speaking Tagalog. He was hating himself for being brown.
And a couple generations later came me, a mutt with a no knowledge of my ethnic heritage, with a mother who didn’t look like any of my friends’ mothers. As I grew up, I wanted to learn more, but my mom’s memories were suspect. She remembered pig roasts, volleyball games, the men she called “tio”. But transcripts from a case the United Farm Workers brought against my grandfather’s farm tell a different story. They tell the story of a man who always sided with the white farm owners. They tell the story of a man who treated the men who worked for him like animals.
This is the only story I know–the idyllic memories of a devoted daughter mixed with a history of social justice that does not paint a nice picture. This is my schizophrenic heritage. This is all I have. That, and I tan nicely.