Monday, June 18, 2012

The word Exotic and Race in YA and in General

**BEFORE YOU READ THIS POST, PLEASE KNOW THAT THESE ARE MY OPINIONS. I mean no disrespect to anyone what so ever!**

I was looking at a post on a fellow blogger’s blog and I came across the word “exotic” to describe an actress who was Asian…and it bugged me. It bugged me a lot actually and I began thinking why that was so. After some thinking, I realized that it had a lot to do with how people describe others who clearly look different from them in terms of race. No, I’m not calling anyone a racist or anything. I’m just pointing out a fact.

For one, let’s begin with the fact that I myself am short. I have long, brown hair and tan skin. Most people who don’t know me personally, automatically (and I mean, automatically) assume that I am either Mexican or Hispanic. I'm not just saying this for no reason. This has happened very, very often and sometimes, people have assumed I'm Mexican and started speaking Spanish to me. In other instances, people who I have told in the past that I am Indian continue to think that I am Mexican.

I am Indian.
Many instances, people will be taken aback when I tell them this and will comment on how they were sure I was Mexican. This is something that has been happening to me for a very long time and it’s come to the point where I get so agitated about being called Mexican that I tell people I’m not Mexican right away. But why? Why is that they were sure I was Mexican? What is it about me that says I am Mexican?

Lets just be clear before I continue: there is nothing wrong with being Mexican but it’s the fact that I am not Mexican that gets me. I politely say I am not Mexican and I move on. Heck, I’ve been pointing out to people I meet that I’m not a Mexican because I don’t want them to ask me.

One of my friends asked me why this was. Why did I get bugged when someone assumed I was Mexican or Hispanic. She said something along the line of “I mean, they don’t know you so how can they know you’re not Mexican or Hispanic?”

And that is where the reason lies: they don’t know me. If I’ve just met you, neither of us know each other. You won’t know that I’m Indian. But they assume I am a certain race BECAUSE I have tan skin and dark hair. I look non-American and therefore, I have to be a certain race. If you don’t know me and you wonder about my race, ASK ME about it. I'll be more than happy to tell you about my nationality and race. Just DON’T assume that I’m a certain race.

The answer to that question is simple: I get bugged about being called a certain race because people aren’t open minded enough. Why do you assume someone is a certain race by the way they look? I just want to know why no one guesses that I am Indian or some other race? Sure, some people have guessed it but still. WHY is having tanned skin and dark hair automatically make (in my experience Hispanic or Mexican? Now, I only use this because quiet honestly, it’s what I have ALWAYS been assumed to be. If we live in a “true” melting pot nation, should people not have an open mind to maybe realize that I’m from another country, other than what they’re so accustomed to?

But I am asked people why think assume that I am Mexican. This is one of the responses I’ve gotten (and it’s actually a very common reasoning): “Well, most Indians I’ve seen have darker skin and black hair (I have brown hair) and most Mexicans have your skin tone and hair color.”

I find this reasoning to be very sad. Though it's true (my sister and I are both have lighter skin tones than our family and she's got reddish brown hair which isn't very common among Indians...that's I'm aware of), I just wish it didn't make it a contributing factor to our race. It's kinda of like saying if you're Caucasian, you can't have tan skin. We all know that this is false. I let them know that I am Indian and *cue the surprise.* AND then, going off on that same subject, I’ve heard many of my friends and adults describe other Indians (and Asians) as “exotic” and I am baffled! The word “exotic” used to describe someone in American in the 21st century? Which is why being called “exotic” gets me. If we really are a “melting pot” nation, why do we still describe people as “exotic”? Exotic is defined as: of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad, but not fully naturalized or acclimatized.

What I want to know is what makes a person “exotic”! I sure don’t call the next Japanese person I meet “exotic.” I actually haven’t called anything that in a LONG time. Are there not Japanese Americans here? There are plenty of Indian Americans and Chinese Americans and many more people form other parts of the world. They are American and have been living here for YEARS. Why are people not accustomed to seeing people of different races in America?

As I thought about these things, I realized that this ties into books (in my opinion). I have NO PROBLEM what so ever if a white author writes about a character that is not white. I’m all for it, really. The one thing I want is for them to try their hardest to get the culture and life style right. I know, it sounds like I want perfection but that’s not true. I’ve written about Indian characters and I’ve messed some things up but I try to get the closest to reality that I can. But again, more POC protagonist are needed! People should learn about other countries and cultures! Looking back on America itself, you know that people came from other countries.

I don’t want to read a book where a character of a different race is defined as “exotic.” Because in my opinion, nothing is really “exotic” anymore in terms of people (there are so very weird animals out there though!). I can tell you that when Indians in India think of Americans, “exotic” is NOT a word many use to define you all; obviously, I only speak for my family and friends. I want to read a book where the characters are real and the plot is good and the writing is well developed. I want the race to play a part of the characters life and not define them completely.

Since so many people being reading when they’re young, maybe if authors incorporate more races form all over the world, people might be more educated. And they might not assume that a person who clearly looks different is of a certain race. I mean, there are plenty of Americans who have tan skin and dark hair like me but no one seems to think they’re of another race or even from a different country.

Maybe if there was more diversity in YA, many teens (and adults too) wouldn’t make assumptions like that. More diversity would lead to being more educated and awareness of other cultures. Maybe then people wouldn't make assumptions about a persons race based on what they see. They might think it over and just ask out loud if they're so curious.

I am proud to be an Indian American. I'm proud of my country and my culture and I have no problem in telling you that. I just don't want you to assume something like this about me. Human nature or not, I wish people were more open minded.

What do you all think? Have you ever been called a certain race based on what people see?

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2 comments:

  1. I think it just boils down to ignorance.  By that I don't necessarily mean a lack of intelligence but a lack of experience.  Most home-born Americans don't travel outside of the US.  The only experience with people of color are those they come in contact with or those they see on TV.  As a result a lot of people end up generalized, ie anyone with a darker complexion must be some kind of Mexican or Hispanic.  I honestly don't think it's malicious but done  out of ignorance, intended or not.  That doesn't make it right but I think it explains a lot.

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  2. Yeah, it is true and maybe they don't mean to do it, but they should at least try to think. Even if they don't travel as much, there are plenty of people of all races in their work places or in the grocery store. People know that there are other countries out there with tan skinned people and all. But again, I do agree with you. I just wish we could change this ignorance, intended or not. 

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