Children of the Immigrant Experience: Why I Avoid “Ethnic Writing”

A few days ago I wrote about how we’ve moved from the “immigrant experience” to “the children of the immigrant experience.” This is Part 1 of the series Children of the Immigrant Experience.

Canada sees immigration as a mosaic of peoples. The problem with this way of thinking is that it segregates us and makes people think of differences more than commonalities. I think we ought to realize more of our commonalities.

Canada sees immigration as a mosaic of peoples. The problem with this way of thinking is that it segregates us and makes people think of differences more than commonalities. I think we ought to realize more of our commonalities.

We live in a North America where if any character is any ethnicity other than white, this is treated as not the norm and thus the writing is considered “ethnic writing” and has to be about some social issue pertaining to that race.  If the protagonist of a book is Asian-Canadian, for example, the book has to be about the “immigrant experience” or, even worse, how the Chinese built the damn trans-Canadian railroad (all due respect to those immigrants, but I’m getting quite sick of these types of books…as you can probably tell from my tone).

North America is a land of immigrants. There is no “default” or “original” race except First Nations people (who get the ethnic writing treatment as much, if not more, than every non-white body else!). I’m quite sick of the fact that any book that has a non-white protagonist or a non-white author’s last name on the cover has to be about a non-white ethnic issue, while any book that has a white protagonist and a white author’s last name can be a book about everyday human things. I’m sick of this because, despite living in 2014, we are obviously living in a eurocentric world where being white is “the norm”. I’m also sick of the fact that if you have a non-European surname (like mine) you’re automatically expected to write about immigrant people, and only immigrant people with the same surname. As if that’s all I know about.

I'm not necessarily arguing for the melting pot model of immigration in the USA. I'm merely asking to remove certain "expectations" that X immigrations do X.

I’m not necessarily arguing for the melting pot model of immigration in the USA. I’m merely asking to remove certain “expectations” that X immigrations do X.

I hope to one day read a book with a non-white protagonist and see it as a story about the common human experience. I know that it is through identifying with groups that makes us a unique civilization, but I feel that, more than ever in our current age, we should bond with each other as common members of the human experience. I fondly remember my dad saying once, after watching an American movie, “It’s interesting that movies really all talk about the same things, the same things about being human. Sure this is an American movie, but it affects us too.”

I’ll admit that I’ve fallen through the holes into ethnic writing more than once. I’m currently working on a submission to Ricepaper Magazine, an Asian-Canadian literary/art magazine centred on, well, ethnic writing. The second-generation Asian-Canadian experience also featured prominently in the first few drafts of my novel-in-progress, but I have since forced myself to eradicate that element.

For once I’d like to see non-white protagonists doing mundane everyday book-worthy human things, whether that be staking out the hottie at the bar or going on a quest to find the One And Only Sacred Cow Statue. How do you feel about ethnic writing?

All images used are public domain.

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One thought on “Children of the Immigrant Experience: Why I Avoid “Ethnic Writing”

  1. This is a very interesting post! I certainly do see the merit in there being a shift in expectations around what a non-white, immigrant author should write about. However allow me to add another dimension to this. There are those who write about the “immigrant experience” not necessarily by framing their writing on non-white, ethnic issues as you say, but by recounting everyday, normal, “human” experiences in the context of an immigrant perspective. This sort of writing in my opinion is needed because there are many who can relate to the experiences that come with acclimating to the western world, or North America more specifically; and although they may relate to the “immigrant experience,” they relate to it in the sense that they are going through the mundane, everyday, North American experiences and encounters that one would find in a book written by a white author, but as immigrants. Therefore they would appreciate writing that resonates with what they go through on a day to day basis. What are your thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

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