DiversifYA: Diana Sousa

DianaToday on the DiversifYA blog, Diana Sousa joins us! I initially connected with Diana on the WriteOnCon forums, where she was *everywhere* commenting on *everything* and pitching an amazing-sounding historical YA to boot. (Turn-of-the-century? Detectives? MYSTERIES? I’m so in.)

Diana is absolutely awesome, and trust me when I say you’ll want to follow her on Twitter and via her personal website!

1. How do you identify yourself?

I think I identify myself first as a nerd girl wandering through the college world. The nerd side has always been there one way or the other, and university is now a great part of my life, for good and for bad. But there’s another part of me, always present, which used to be easier to overlook. I’m Portuguese, born and bred in this tiny kingdom by the seashore!

2. What did it feel like growing up in Portugal?

For a while I didn’t have anything to compare it to, so it was what it was. But I’m a child of the technological generation, after all, and it didn’t take me long to find out about the wonders of the computer and the internet. But it was all written in this strange language called English, so I had to do something about it.

Interesting fact: I don’t actually remember how I learnt English. I know that when I started English classes at school I already knew how to speak the language. It was probably the amount of movies, books, and games I had access to thanks to my parents predisposition to that sort of thing. But I always wanted more, so self teaching came naturally.

Portugal is a friendly and quiet country, but I’m afraid it still has a long way to go in terms of culture. As I grew up and discovered new and exciting things, I found a great lack of resources in general. Most books are in Portuguese, which was alright for a while, but when translated paperbacks start to cost you more than 20$ your pocket complains. I could blame the economy, but that’s not the main problem here. The book industry is rather small compared to the US and UK, mainly because there aren’t enough people interested in reading. Not everyone is like that, of course, but publishers have to survive, and if the only way to do so is to raise the prices… you can see how it becomes an endless cycle.

This doesn’t happen only with books. Art in general is underappreciated, although I believe I’ve been seeing some change. There are more diverse types of events, whether it’s conferences, exhibitions, film and music festivals, that sort of thing. We’re starting small, but we’re getting there.

There’s still only two comic book shops in the second biggest city of the country, though. The force is still not strong enough with these ones.

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

Besides that lack of offer that I spoke about, right now the most obvious answer is the financial crisis. I’m lucky enough not to be too affected by it, but it’s there, and there’s constant reminders everyday that it might be waiting around the corner. Many of you have probably heard about how things are going over here, with strikes and demonstrations every other day. Still, things could be worse.

The problem with spending so much time online (problem? Tsk, what am I talking about?) is knowing what’s out there, the “what ifs”, and what can be different. Which might also be a good thing, because I have access to things I wouldn’t have otherwise, but it makes me more aware of the limits I have right now. I can find ways of surpassing them, this is a global world we live in after all. But sometimes I wonder how different it would be if I could leave this little shell and just go out there.

The night isn’t that dark and full of terrors, though. I’m well aware these aren’t life threatening “limitations”, and I’m doing very well for myself. I complain, yes, but who doesn’t? As long as I’m healthy and happy, I can find ways of getting my hands in books, movies, TV shows, and all those complimentary comforts.

Portugal is still a very calm country, and I’m thankful for that. We don’t get into a lot of trouble (probably because we are naturally lazy) and in general we are a welcoming people. There’s a lot of different influences throughout the country, ending up with a very diverse mix of cultures. In the end we are generally warm and open to new things. Sometimes the Portuguese are a bit reluctant to change, but we get there. Give us some good wine and we’ll see what we can do.

4. What do you wish people knew about being Portuguese?

We are not Spanish. We might be close to them, speak a similar language, but we’ve had our own disagreements in the past and we’d rather keep our own identity. It’s funny to see some of the reactions to the eternal question “but isn’t that a part of Spain?”. We are very proud of what’s ours.

We are a warm kind of people, eager to help and please. Sometimes that might be mistaken for being too loud and overbearing, but that’s just how we are.

I’m also not saying we are perfect. Far, far from it. I have my share of problems with Portuguese people, as I’m sure everyone does with their own culture and country. I’m just trying to show you that there’s a good and a bad side to everyone, and it sort of balances itself out.

Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese are also two different things, whether in terms of culture or language. There are more differences between the two of them than from American/English orthography, but we understand each other perfectly.

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

Oh, I’ve seen a fair number of these. And although some might have roots in facts and truth, the media doesn’t do a very good job of portraying Portuguese people.

We are not all obsessed with football/soccer. It’s a huge part of our culture, yes, but when the first thing people tell me is “Cristiano Ronaldo”, all I do is glare at them. I might be an extreme case since I don’t like the sport, but most people are fairly normal about it.

Also, we don’t spend the entire day drinking beer and Oporto wine. That would be disastrous. This stereotype is usually associated with us being loud and obnoxious all the time, red faced and screaming at the top of our lungs for more meat in our plates (this is probably seen more in men).

Although we do have some strong religious roots, most young people now have a more open perspective towards religion. We don’t spend our weekends in church, nor do we have a cross in every wall of our home. That doesn’t mean religion isn’t there (mainly Christianity), but it’s more subtle than it used to be.

To every rule there are exceptions, of course. There are Portuguese people who like their wine more than they should, and they shout at the television while watching sports and praying to God for a good game result. But we are more than that, as is every culture more than some crude stereotypes.

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

Being afraid of getting something wrong should not be an excuse not to try it. I know I’ve used it enough times, always wary that I might offend someone or fall into a hurtful cliché that results in a bland character.

But what we must remember is that people are, above all, human*. And you know how to write that, don’t you? Our characters aren’t just a mask or a word that defines them. They are more than labels, they are a mixture of traits, flaws, quirks, emotional and rational behaviours, and just everything that makes us people.

Everyone is different, and our books can only be better if we show this diversity. Staying in the comfort zone and just writing small variations of ourselves would not be a fair representation of the world. And we have a responsibility to try and show this diverse representation, don’t you think? Different characters can only mean different chances and opportunities, and fiction is all about exploring every corner of the world.

And when in doubt: ask. Do some research. It doesn’t hurt to get the facts right, and I’m sure there are a lot of people out there willing to help. What matters is that you stay true to your characters and environment, and that you make them as complete a person as you can. Not a stereotype, not a personification of a certain trait. But a human being, with all their flaws and good things.

*Well, assuming this isn’t fantasy, or science-fiction, or some genre of the sort. But you know what I mean.

Comments are closed.