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Showing posts from February, 2006

Anchored By Parental Love

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Read Pulitzer-prize winning Jhumpa Lahiri's essay about the hyphenated life in Newsweek. Most poignant to me is her assertion that once her parents die, she'll be cut off from the Indian part of her self:While I am American by virtue of the fact that I was raised in this country, I am Indian thanks to the efforts of two individuals. I feel Indian not because of the time I've spent in India or because of my genetic composition but rather because of my parents' steadfast presence in my life ... Everything will change once they die. They will take certain things with them—conversations in another tongue, and perceptions about the difficulties of being foreign. Without them, the back-and-forth life my family leads, both literally and figuratively, will at last approach stillness. An anchor will drop, and a line of connection will be severed. I have always believed that I lack the authority my parents bring to being Indian. But as long as they live they protect me from feel…

Les Misérables

Saw Les Mis last night at the Boston Opera House. This is the fourth time I've seen the production, and each time, I'm struck by how the musical evokes compassion for thieves and prostitutes ... and even for Javert, the so-called "bad guy." I'm taking the novel with me on vacation to reflect on how Victor Hugo created such nuanced, memorable characters. I'll be back on the fire escape on Tuesday, February 28th.

Uncle Clive Staples and Me

I found something I wrote when I was fourteen where I described in detail an early-morning Unicorn-spotting adventure. My chosen companion? C.S. Lewis, of course. I reread the Chronicles every year and knew parts of them by heart. That earns me a berth on a roundtable of Narnia-lovers today, along with Walden Media's producer Micheal Flaherty (who's the main attraction.) If you're anywhere near Newton, Massachusetts this afternoon, stop by!

No Burkahs For Batman

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As the mother of two Batman-loving boys, I'm worried about a graphic novel in the works in which the Dark Knight will take on Osama Bin Laden. Any terrorist/murderer is clearly a bad guy, so that's not my issue. And I'm all for the freedom of the press when it comes to comics or cartoons. My problem is that comic books about superheroes are in the fairy tale genre. They give readers a place to work out a fear of evil in general without vilifying a specific race, tribe, or culture. Creator Frank Miller's justification is that it's been done in the past: "Superman punched out Hitler. So did Captain America. That's one of the things they're there for," he said. "These are our folk heroes. It just seems silly to chase around the Riddler when you've got Al-Qaeda out there." But graphic novels are meant to be seen and not heard, and Germans in America during WWII were usually identifiable only by their accents. They were white, too, so whe…

I Wanna Talk About ME

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I offered "An Immigrant Kid's Life" at Lincoln-Eliot Elementary School yesterday. When I finished sharing my story, I asked if anyone had questions. Several of the fourth-graders raised their hands, but they didn't have questions — they wanted to tell their own stories.

"We arrived from Iran when I was in second grade," one boy remembered. "My mom dressed me in really fancy clothes for my first day of school because she wanted me to feel special."

I was struck by his understanding of his mother's sweet motives. "Did it take a while to feel at home here?" I asked. "What helped you the most?"

"My friends," he said, without hesitating, and the two guys flanking him raised their hands in the air as if they'd won a prize. They have indeed, I thought, as other immigrant kids shared their experiences with their teachers and classmates.

Writing Workshop For NYC Teens

The Asian American Writers' Workshop presents an event for teens that sounds like it might be duplicated in other communities outside of New York:

Write Your Life — One Story at a Time
Facilitated by Alison Minami and Sandhya Nankani
Saturday, February 18, 1pm - 5pm, open to students grades 9-12
Saturday, March 4, 1pm - 5pm, open to students grades 6-8 Who says that just because you're young, you haven't fully lived a life worth writing about already? Everybody has a story to tell - it is time to discover yours and start writing it. This workshop explores the theme of community. What is community? What communities do you belong to, if any? How have they shaped your identity? Learn how to take your own life experiences (Sunday dinner at your grandmother's house, a childhood memory, or an important object in your life) and use them to create fresh prose or poetry. Includes writing prompts and models from Asian American authors to explore imagery, narration and character devel…

Lessons From Numinous Black Women

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As our nation mourns the deaths of Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks, I've been struck anew by the positive portrayal of older black women in pop culture. The Oracle in the Matrix. Gloria Dump in Winn-Dixie. Madame Zeroni in Holes. Even Oprah comes to mind. Basically, when an older black woman enters a story, we're cued to know that she will help the young hero achieve his or her quest.

You could argue that this "Mammy" stereotype hearkens back to the days of slavery. But going beyond a simple "Hollywood is racist" explanation, I have two theories about why pop culture is open to the voices of older African-American women. First, it's easy to listen to their insights because they have suffered and survived many trials in their own journeys. As David Pilgrim, curator of the Jim Crow Museum, puts it: The horrors of Jim Crow are not so easily ignored. The children of Jim Crow walk among us, and they have stories to tell. They remember Emmitt Till, murder…

Mismatch by Lensey Namioka

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Lensey Namioka's newest title from Delacorte, Mismatch, explores a relationship between two Asian American teens whose ancestors hated each other:Sue Hua just moved from racially diverse Seattle to a suburban white-bread town where she feels like the only Asian American for miles. Then she meets Andy, a handsome and passionate violin player who happens to be Asian American. Sue feels an instant attraction to Andy, and her white friends think they’re “made for each other”–after all, they both use chopsticks and eat a lot of rice, right? But there’s just one problem. Andy’s last name is Suzuki.Lensey was born in China, moved to the States when she was nine, and married a Japanese man. (I'll post a review of the book on the Fire Escape once I've read it.)

Immigrant Gains: Strength and Experience

I'm back from a school visit to Bowen Elementary School in Newton. After discussing some of the losses associated with a displaced life, I asked sixty fourth-graders, "Can you imagine any gains that come with living between cultures?"

"You gain strength from overcoming a challenge," one girl answered quickly.

"You have the experience of knowing what it's like to be new," another boy said right after that.

"You get to know two cultures really well." Another fast, brilliant answer.

Ten-year-olds get it. If only we could retain the power of imagining ourselves in another's skin.

Korean Adoptees: Homeward Bound?

Hyphen Magazinediscusses the growing number of Korean adoptees who are returning to their birth country for extended periods of time, mostly to serve, learn, re-connect with their birth families: ...The adoptee social scene isn't all nightclubs and cocktails. As more adoptees make the move to Korea, the burgeoning community has expanded to include volunteer work at orphanages, lectures at an adoptee guesthouse called KoRoot and government-sponsored field trips. In the process, they're making their presence felt, forging a diverse subculture and asserting divergent political views on adoption. The result is a new diaspora that is fast becoming the heart of a growing global network of Korean organizations that is changing and challenging the institution of international adoption.

Books That Don't Make You Blush

Check out the American Library Association's list of "Books That Don't Make You Blush: No Dirty Laundry Here." From one of the members on the committee: We decided to include books for people who don't want swearing, sex, more offensive topics — not "too raunchy and rude" but that still would qualify as POPULAR, which after all is supposed to be our most important criterion. To tell the truth, I wasn't crazy about being on this sub-committee because I was afraid of a bunch of tepid stuff. But as it turned out, we ended up with a terrific list of fun reads that will appeal to the whole age range of 12-18, and with a variety of genres and formats. Here's the complete list:
Abbott, Hailey. The Bridesmaid. 2005. Delacorte, paper, $7.95. (0-385-73220-1).Bauer, Joan. Backwater. 2000. Putnam, paper, $6.99. (0-698-11865-0).Bruchac, Joseph. The Warriors. 2003. Darby Creek, paper, $4.99. (1-58196-022-0.)Cabot, Meg. All-American Girl. 2003. HarperTrophy, pa…

She Likes It! She Likes It!

How's this for a fast turnaround: I sent the revision of Sparrowblog to Dutton as an email attachment on Tuesday, and last night, I heard back from my editor, Margaret Woollatt. Since the news was good, I treated myself with a long, luxurious browse at the library, something I haven't been able to do in weeks. It's raining, I'm home by the fire, and I have a stack of treasures to read. What could be better than this?

Freedom Versus Respect

On the border between cultures, the value of freedom can clash fiercely with the value of respect. Freedom of expression allows zealots and racists to say what they think, no matter whom they offend or what violence they might incite. For example, France Noir, a French newspaper, recently published cartoons of Muhammad that are extremely offensive to Muslims. Jefferson Morley of the Washington Post reports:
"The cartoons include an image of the Prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse, and another portraying him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle," according to Agence France-Press. "A third pictured a middle-aged prophet standing in the desert with a walking stick, in front of a donkey and a sunset."

France Soir also printed images that have shocked Christians in the past, including the poster of the 2002 film "Amen," which depicts a hybrid of a Christian cross and a swastika, and parodies of Christ on the cross.

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Writing May Be Hazardous To Your Health

It's the ides of February, and I worked out today for the first time in 2006. January was consumed by an intense revision of the first book in the Sparrowblog Series, which I sent to Dutton yesterday. Thankfully, my husband scheduled his two-week pastoral study leave in January, as I don't think being married to a disembodied imagination ranks high on his list of romantic fantasies. One of my professional goals is to prevent my body from falling apart when my brain, soul, and heart are sucked into the writing flow. Any ideas or inspiration to share?