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POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
2,354 backers pledged $51,734 to help bring this project to life.

Personal Essay: "Assimilation: The Borg Must Like It When You Don’t Fight Back" by S.L. Huang

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When we set out to destroy science fiction with this Kickstarter, we didn't want it to be your ordinary, run-of-the-mill campaign. We wanted it to be full of smashing, crashing POC voices, telling what it really means to be POC reading and writing science fiction. One of the ways we hope to do that is by sharing a series of personal essays about the experience of being POC in science fiction.

Personal Essay: "Assimilation: The Borg Must Like It When You Don’t Fight Back" by S.L. Huang

A while ago, an article crossed my Twitter feed about the proportion of American POC writers who choose to highlight their own ethnicities in their work. Asian-American writers were the only subgroup of POC surveyed who more frequently write stories outside their own ethnicities than in them (bit.ly/1KgDS9w).

This study considered authors of children’s books and YA, and I write adult science fiction and fantasy, but it still struck a chord—because I don’t contradict this. So far I only have two connected stories starring characters of Chinese descent. My novels have no leads who are ethnically Chinese, and not a single one of the other shorts I’ve written has a Chinese protagonist.

I write lots of other POC, even lots of other East Asians, but the vast majority of my fiction does not feature Chinese people.

Why?

Is it not wanting to be pigeonholed as a writer? Is the insecurity of being diaspora causing me to feel I lack authority? Do I worry about people labeling my characters Mary Sues?

Am I scared?

I don’t know why I don’t write more fiction centered on Chinese or Chinese-descent characters. But apparently I’m not the only Asian-American writer who does this.

• • • •

My father immigrated to America when he was nineteen. He married my mother, an American.

People stared at him and mocked his accent. He determined to keep his head down, work hard, and achieve the American dream. He also made the decision that when he had children, they would be raised as American as possible.

They would speak only English. They would see only the United States. They would grow up Real American Kids.

My father sawed off half my family history so I would fit in.

• • • •

What my father gave up—it opened an aching chasm inside me, one I’ve never been able to fill.

God knows I’ve tried. But no matter how I begged and cajoled as a child, no matter how I tried to fill myself with language and politics and culture in college and as an adult, I always feel like I’ve already lost.

To this day I am unable to pronounce my own name as written on my birth certificate. I barely met my grandparents and was never able to have a conversation with them. I celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival by buying mooncakes for white friends, and I feel like a sad parody.

• • • •

The Asian-American community has a long tradition of trading our own creativity and culture for “success.” A devil’s bargain: all the success you could ask for, and all it costs is your soul.

This isn’t true for all Asian-Americans, of course. But to some degree, at least, it’s true for me.

I wonder if I don’t write more Chinese characters because my father achieved his goal too well. Despite all my best efforts to reclaim my heritage, maybe all I have is an empty space I’ll always be chasing, like a gerbil spinning on a wheel.

Or maybe, despite all my anger, I myself am subconsciously following the very same path I’ve criticized my father for laying down: ducking my head and not being too Asian, because I want to be seen as a Real American Writer.

• • • •

In the end, I don’t know if it’s a problem that I don’t write more ethnically Chinese characters and stories, or that other Asian-American writers don’t. And I tend to reject the notion of dictating to people—including myself—what to write.

But on the other hand . . . if we don’t put ourselves in stories, who will?

______________

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

S.L. Huang justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction, starting with her debut novel, Zero Sum Game. In real life, you can usually find her hanging upside down from the ceiling or stabbing people with swords. Online, she’s unhealthily opinionated at slhuang.com or on Twitter as @sl_huang.

Cecilia Tan, Patti Short, and 13 more people like this update.

Comments

    1. Tasha Turner Lennhoff
      Superbacker
      on February 2, 2016

      The way assimilation in the USA is so difficult in how it affects generations mentally, emotionally, culturally.

      Such a good question you ask "But on the other hand . . . if we don’t put ourselves in stories, who will?"

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and struggle with us.

    2. Saodhar
      Superbacker
      on February 2, 2016

      Hm. So this is how "cultural assimilation" works mostly? Scary.

    3. Cecilia Tan on February 1, 2016

      THIS. THIS THIS THIS. My father came to the US after medical school, married my mother, a white American, and raised me and my brother in the New Jersey suburbs...basically as white. We saw it "as normal" but it wasn't until college I realized that "as normal" and "as white" mean the same thing in the United States. If anything when I first began writing fiction I felt I didn't have a right to write Chinese characters because THAT WOULD BE APPROPRIATING A CULTURE I DON'T HAVE, same as a white writer doing it. I later developed a more advanced take on that -- it took until I was in my late-20s to realize that as white as I felt, as "not Chinese" as I was, I actually was NOT the same as all my white friends and that I actually DID have a different experience from them when we went to Chinatown, saw a kung fu movie, etc. It literally took me until I was almost 30 to realize that or to feel it, appreciate it. Now I'm almost 50 and I'm still learning it. The emptiness I felt, the cultural void I felt was left, was I yearning for something that was an illusion to begin with? I don't know--there's no simple answer. But thank you for this essay. Thank you, thank you.