DiversifYA: Stacey Lee

StaceyToday, Stacey Lee joins us on DiversifYA! Stacey is hilarious and wonderful. I had the pleasure of betaing one of Stacey’s other mss, and she is such a talented writer! So you should really follow her on twitter and on her blog.

She is also the author of UNDER A PAINTED SKY (Penguin/Putnam, 2015). And in the spirit of diverse YA: “When a 15-year-old Chinese girl kills a Missouri landowner in self-defense, she and a runaway slave disguise themselves as young men and seek their freedom in the frontier with a band of cowboys.” Just how badly do you want to read that?! Doesn’t it sound fantastic? So don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads shelves here.

1. How do you identify yourself?

I identify with being an almost-fourth Asian American woman who still keeps a foot firmly planted in her cultural heritage, while the rest is pretty American. Being a writer is an important part of my identity, but it’s not the sole thing. There are other things in the kooky jar, daughter, sister, mother, wife, friend, and shoes.

2. What did it feel like growing up Asian American?

Honestly, growing up with an Asian face wasn’t always easy. My family was one of two Chinese families in a predominantly Mexican and white neighborhood. Though most people were very nice, it wasn’t conflict-free. There was a group of kids who would throw rocks at my sisters and I, and chant things like ‘Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees,’ etc. I remember washing my knees after school, as if that was the problem.

My parents always stressed family, education, and charity, so we focused on those things growing up and tried not to let negativity get us down. High school was a turning point. My parents sent us to a school that was much more diverse, and it was a different world. I finally found a place to be.

Now I live in a very diverse neighborhood. Knock on wood, my kids haven’t yet experienced the kind of overt racism I knew as a kid and hopefully never will.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

Biggest challenge is that even before I open my mouth, people have a predetermined opinion of me based on my Asian-ness. You are Asian, so you must own a Honda, be nerdy, and eat rice. (Only one of those is true in my case.) A friend just sent me a segment of Fox News where the anchor assumed a guest speaker grew up eating tacos because she looked Mexican (she was from Nicaragua). That kind of prejudice happens still happens, even among those who should know better. Sure, lots of times it’s ‘innocent’ – no harm intended, (the other day I caught myself assuming that Dr. Smith was male, for example), but it’s good to acknowledge that we’ve still got a ways to go before we’re a prejudice-free nation.

The quirks/perks: I’d say being Asian American gives me a deeper empathy with people who are marginalized for reasons they can’t help, whether that be through physical challenges, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status. I also love that Asians value a strong family. My parents love being involved with our lives still, and my kids have a great bond with their grandparents on both sides.

4. What do you wish people knew about being Asian American?

We don’t all have straight hair.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

When I was in law school, a fellow law student asked me, ‘Why do Asians not know how to drive?’ I won’t go off on this except to say, I am a damn good driver. (I was raised on the freeways of LA so I’d better be!).

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Dig deep, very deep. You can avoid stereotypes by giving your characters dimensionality and emotional depth. If you choose to write about, for example, a Latina girl, you must think about how her background influences her choices and informs her reactions. It’s not just a matter of slapping on a color and a name.

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