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Parched – Mark Oshiro

Snoopy

Good morning, and welcome to the first in a series of guest blog posts about representation. My plan is to run a week of guest posts, take a break, and then do a second week. My thanks to everyone who offered to write something for this series.

Kicking things off is the Hugo-nominated Doer-of-Stuff Mark Oshiro. (I don’t know what the context was for Mark’s photo down below, but any class where you’re diagramming Harry Potter is a class I want to take!)

And make sure you come back for tomorrow’s essay by author Katharine Kerr.


The first time my brother and I saw a trailer for Aladdin in 1992, my brother became convinced that we were related to him.

We were eight years old, just about to leave our home in Boise, Idaho for a long trip down to Riverside, California, a relocation prompted by my dad’s job. We stopped at a Mexican diner off the 395 in Adelanto during a rain storm, and, sopping wet, my brother and I had our first taste of Mexican food in our entire lives. (Even at eight years old, we knew the Taco John’s in Boise wasn’t real Mexican food.) When one of the cooks came out of the kitchen to talk to our waitress, we stared at him, and my brother whispered to my mom, “Maybe that’s our father.”

She gave him a serious scowl and told him to keep eating, but she otherwise ignored what he said. We had been told early on that we were adopted; there was no hiding it, really, since our mother was pale and our father was a dark-skinned Hawaiian/Japanese man. When our mom dropped us off at school in her 1987 Ford Aerostar, always reminding us not to slam the door, it wouldn’t take long for the questions to start.

“Where are you from?”

“Why don’t you look like your mom?”

“If you’re Mexican, why don’t you speak Mexican?”

From other children, it mostly felt harmless. They were curious, and we were curious, too, since we didn’t exactly know much about where we’d come from. We just knew that our brown skin and jet black hair made us stand out. Everyone around us was white. It was just how it was.

My brother saw Aladdin and assumed that we were from Agrabah, that if we just traveled there we would find our real parents and we could fly anywhere we wanted on our carpets and we could go on adventures with our genies, and we would look like everyone else around us. My mom would try to shush my brother whenever he went through one of these “phases,” as she referred to it. His last phase?

Speedy Gonzales.

I admit that I, too, believed that the horrifically racist stereotype that was Speedy Gonzales was the quintessential representation for me when I was kid. It wasn’t hard for my brother and I to imitate his accent or to ask to dress up as him for Halloween. We never got to, despite that we tried to convince our mother that we looked just like him. We had the skin tone, the wavy black hair, the speed. No, she’d tell us, I don’t want my kids dressing up like Mexicans.

It took years for me to realize why those comments hurt so much.

Years later, as our family had comfortably set in to our obsession with The X-Files, my brother and I watched as, to our shock, actual Latin@ actors and actresses walked onto the screen. It was January 12, 1997, and and we were ecstatic over the fact that our favorite show in the world was finally addressing a cultural myth we were very familiar with: el chupacabra. And then, to our sheer disappointment, we were heartbroken to watch nearly every stereotype we’d ever heard about Mexicans play out on screen. They were lazy. They were overdramatic. They stole jobs away from good Americans. (But somehow were still lazy?) They were too sexual.

Our parents and our sister laughed at them. They called the men stupid, they made comments about how no one should care about these people because they were all just “illegals” anyway, and by the end, we just slunk off to our rooms, defeated.

I started my freshman year of high school the following year, and in English class, I was assigned to read a thin book called The House on Mango Street. “We didn’t always live on Mango Street,” it began, and Esperanza told me about moving. She told me about the hair in her family. She told me about Rosa Vargas and her “so many children.” She told me about feeling sad eating lunch, about waiting for someone to come change your life, and I realized that I had a desert within me. I realized I had never read a book full of people with the same color skin as me, who knew what it was like to be poor, who knew what it was like to feel jealous when you went to school and envied everything that the others had, and I let The House on Mango Street pour over me and drown me in its prose and heartbreak.

The truth is, science fiction and fantasy never made me feel better about myself growing up. I loved Star Wars, but when I told a classmate in third grade that I wanted to be Han Solo, he replied, “But you can’t. You have to be a jawa.” I believed him. When I was assigned to read 1984, I quietly fumed at the idea that an all-white, all-straight future is what terrified people. Meanwhile, I had been threatened with deportation, followed by the police, and was silently suffering in the conservative, homophobic environment I lived in every day. That dystopic world? I was already living in it.

I spent most of my twenties reading fiction that reflected the real world because I was desperate for some sort of connection to other people. I’m sure being adopted and being queer played a large part in that, but when you’ve spent your whole life in the desert, it’s hard not to be used to being thirsty. For me, the science fiction and fantasy that I’ve grown to love doesn’t necessarily allow me to perfectly project myself in the narrative. No, it instead offers me a chance to believe that in the futures that we imagine, in the worlds that we create, there’s still room for a brown queer kid who is lost and parched.


Mark Oshiro runs the Hugo-nominated websites Mark Reads and Mark Watches. When he’s not crying on camera for other people’s amusement, he’s working on his first novel and trying to complete his quest to pet every dog in the world.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
la_marquise_de_
Feb. 10th, 2014 03:36 pm (UTC)
That is a terrific article. Thank you both.
threeoutside
Feb. 10th, 2014 04:29 pm (UTC)
I'm a HUGE Mark Does Stuff fan, I read/watch his work all the time. I've rejoiced in his successes and his delightful reporting of his first big Con experience (in Austin? I think?) Anyway- I also love this photo of him! Prof. Oshiro!
reedrover
Feb. 10th, 2014 10:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this essay. I appreciate the perspective and the reminder that not everything is how I experience(d) it.

(I was going to be a cowgirl/firefighter/robot when I grew up. And I did get to be a robot for Halloween one year.)
snapes_angel
Feb. 11th, 2014 12:45 am (UTC)
I thought that, for sure, this would have more comments if I came back this evening. These are excellent points. I always hated the trope about women screaming at the drop of the proverbial hat, too.if history has shown us anything, homosexuals were an accepted part of at least some peoples, and there were women who would wage war, explore, disguise themselves as men to sail the seven seas and eventually make ship's commander or greater (I do not remember her name right now, but they only found one out after she died, and she married a widow, and....).

I like reading about characters that are not necessarily caucasian and/or female. I like reading characters who are like real people. Sometimes they are on a voyage of discovery.

We need diversity. We need fewer racial stereotypes.i think we may still need a few for background characters, though.
jimhines
Feb. 11th, 2014 02:12 am (UTC)
There are a few more comments over at http://www.jimchines.com/2014/02/parched-mark-oshiro/ too.
snapes_angel
Feb. 11th, 2014 02:45 am (UTC)
Seven, when I checked. Overall, it is the fewest comments I have seen on any one of your blogs in a while! Maybe because we were told that a "healthy" suspension of disbelief was required,in order to read and enjoy the genre? I am a Caucasian female who must sus p end my disbelief, for example, to identify with a Caucasian male protagonist. After hearing variations of the SoD excuse, maybe people are afraid to touch the subject, for fear of sounding ignorant.

For one of the planned novels in The Behemoth(one trilogy, though that m ay change as I write it), I actually plan to write in a little romance, though my daughter would probably call it a bromance, between two characters. Since it is not common on my fantasy world, there wil be something of a struggle with it, first because of the age difference between the characters involved, and then we have the pros, the cons, a n d even a bit later, the innocen and the ignorant reactions. I have friends who are male homosexual writers who are wiling to look it over for me, when it is ready. Kissing can go onscreen, and anything offscreen will not happen until the minor is at the age of majority. That's the way these characters roll, and the romance bit is only a small part of the larger story.

I am not writing them just for the sake of writing them. Over the years, they have sort of insisted on it.
ritaxis
Feb. 11th, 2014 01:02 am (UTC)
Thank you Mark for a lovely essay, and thanks, Jim, for hosting it.

I was startled the first time I knew a Mexican kid who identified as Speedy Gonzalez. It freaked me out, actually: I wanted my students to be identifying with characters who were free of stereotypes, who were competent and empathic, who had ambitions and were successful. And Speedy Gonzalez is such a bundle of stereotypes --

But when I looked at the cartoons from the point of view of that first grader, I understood. Even though the accent is overplayed, and for laughs, it was the only accent available. Even though the landscape of the cartoons is fully of every stereotype from sleepy burritos to layabouts sleeping on cactuses, it also is studded with recognizable cultural symbols (however degraded by the racist pov of the cartoons). And Speedy is heroic, comptetent, and selfless: he's strong and his people depend on him. It's easy to see why little kids identify with him.

It still bothers me. I don't know whether the poison in the cartoons is mitigated by those other things, or if it's even worse because it's tied so intimately to things that children crave and need so badly in their stories.
rantinan
Feb. 11th, 2014 01:29 am (UTC)
Aww shucks. Brought a tear to the eye

sunnyskywalker
Feb. 11th, 2014 05:28 am (UTC)
No, she’d tell us, I don’t want my kids dressing up like Mexicans.
...
I loved Star Wars, but when I told a classmate in third grade that I wanted to be Han Solo, he replied, “But you can’t. You have to be a jawa.”


These are such heartbreaking incidents! I think the classmate even more so, because wow, that really shows how many stereotypes kids have internalized by such a young age. And then people insist that those kids will grow up to have no prejudices whatsoever somehow and it's just people being "too sensitive." Thank you for writing.
lissibith
Feb. 11th, 2014 03:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this wonderful essay, Mark (and to Jim for hosting)

when Mark Reads Harry Potter was an ongoing thing, I remember it getting to the part about House Elves and hats and Hermione. And when I read it in the book I knew Hermione's actions made me a bit uncomfortable, shrugged and moved on. But when Mark broke it down, discussing how it worked as a person in a position of power trying to make decisions for a marginalized group, and it's stuck with me ever since, and changed the way I read about certain types of characters, and how I view some real-life incidents as well. And I suspect this essay will do the same thing.
pandoradeloeste
Feb. 11th, 2014 06:29 pm (UTC)
Ha, I got the "speaking Mexican" thing, too. From a teacher, no less. Such lolsob. Very ignorance. Wow.
blpurdom
Feb. 11th, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC)
My daughter and I enjoyed meeting Mark at the HPEF event in Florida in 2012, at Universal. He's a genuinely nice and sweet guy, but also hysterically funny. (You have to hear him reading bad HP fanfic! Priceless.) He's also made a difference in the way I speak and write about mental health issues. I often never thought twice about calling the traffic crazy or characterizing my day as schizoid, but Mark's consistent displeasure with folks on his site (I lurked but didn't sign up) carelessly using language this way, which can have the side-effect of marginalizing the mentally ill, opened my eyes. You can think you're enlightened because you don't use racist, sexist or heterosexist language--and then you can find out that you're still marginalizing people because of lazy speech. I'm grateful for Mark's graceful insights on this and other matters and always found his very personal asides about his life to be incredibly brave and open. I look forward to reading his first novel!
starcat_jewel
Feb. 11th, 2014 07:56 pm (UTC)
His PARENTS said those things? About their own children? Where those children could hear? Man, that is fucked up beyond my ability to express.
jealousofstars
Feb. 12th, 2014 12:37 am (UTC)
Such a great essay, and one that I really relate, too. I am often times considered "too white" to be Latin@ (both of my parents are Puerto Rican, we are just light skinned).

It's always this fine line -- I'm too white to be a real Latina, but I'm too Latina to be white. Never mind that I am not white to begin with. And I can't understand why I can't just be Puerto Rican because that's what I am.

I think it's easy for people to forget that representation in literature (and elsewhere), no matter the genre, really does make a difference.
anglerfish07
Feb. 13th, 2014 10:43 am (UTC)
What a beautiful article. Thank you, Mark for your courage and honesty in sharing this! :) I hear you, jealousofstars. It's frustrating, isn't it? Who are those people to say you aren't a real Latina? You're a real Latina, regardless of what they think. I relate to this too. People sometimes tell me I look "too Australian", or "too Vietnamese/Chinese". Which is ridiculous, really. People shouldn't say such things.

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