On Being from More Than One Place
There will probably be a few posts with roots in Bay Area Book Festival, which is a fantastic event. This one grew from a session about, in my words, the effects of interconnectedness between cultures and continents and of being a child of more than one culture or country.
It was moderated by Marie Mutsuki Mockett (Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye) http://www.mariemockett.com/, who is Japanese and American, and created by Mutsuki Mockett with Sunil Yapa, who also participated in the discussion and is Sri Lankan and American (Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist) http://sunilyapa.com/.
The panel also included Yaa Gyasi (Homegoing) who was born in Ghana and grew up in the States. Interview: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2016/06/yaa_gyasi_on_her_debut_novel_homegoing_and_getting_blurbed_by_ta_nehisi.html and Ali Eteraz (Children of Dust, Native Believer), who grew up in Pakistan, the Caribbean, South Asia, and the American South. Author site: http://alieteraz.com/; his writing in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/profile/alieteraz.
One of many interesting points came from Mutsuki Mockett, who mentioned that people from different cultures literally see landscapes differently, some creating a hierarchy of perception that begins with the foreground and others having a more integrated view.
The rest of the conversation was so lively and involving I hardly took any notes. Each of these authors is someone to follow and read. Their work opens doorways to worlds you immediately want to know more about. They all had a solid sense of humor and thoughtful outlook—character traits that (I think) allow people to put themselves in any landscape without the need to dominate it, which in turn makes a person an excellent observer and synthesizer of information and experience.
Yapa spoke about the importance of successive drafts and revisions, of digging deeper and deeper into the story and point of view of each character. In something of a mirror-image observation, Gyasi spoke about the evolving process of learning her family’s history and genealogy, how things that were either curious or unquestioned became clearer and gained depth as she came to know their origins.
One of the authors, and I’m embarrassed to say I don’t recall who it was, made the point that it’s important to not promote myopia with our work, that it’s important to instead promote the opening up and deepening of our own and a reader’s point of view.
That triggered a thought about my own experience, being an American and also a child of two very different cultures in the context of my immediate family.
One of the results of this background is a discomfort and skepticism with any opinion based in the concept that there is only one point of view that has primacy and validity. I feel as though Americans fall into this because our country is so vast and populated and dominant in both good and bad ways on the world stage. It is, in a way, a myopia that prevents perceiving the validity of other points of view. I think it’s a flaw in our vision,and that it needs the correcting effect of exploring the view from other countries, people, and landscapes.