I had an interesting conversation with my dad the other night, and brought it up to another friend a couple nights later I think is worth sharing on this blog. It both informs who I am as well as my writing and storytelling goals.
I was born in Trinidad, and my family moved to NY when I was two. I went to public schools until sixth grade, then private schools (and boarding school) through high school, and a private liberal arts college after. I’ve had an interesting mix of the immigrant experience in America, coupled with exposure to some of the most privileged upbringing some have in America thanks to the scholarships I earned from middle school onward.
My dad brought up, casually, that after I finish Five Talents I should write “my story.” I told him Five Talents and Beneath the Wood were my stories, and whatever my next project ends up being would also be my story.
He clarified that he meant writing about my unique immigrant experience growing up in America and now being an adult person of color- especially given how personally outspoken I am about diversity in America and how much time and energy I devote to reading and learning more about it.
I told him that I would write that story sometime when I had seen more of America’s evolution and once I’d written all the other goofy, sad, suspenseful stories I had on deck. In my opinion, there’s something of a token expectation for immigrants (and people of color/non-white people in general) to write stories about their immigrant/non-white experience
That’s all well and good if that’s the story that matters to you which you feel an imperative to share, or if your story in that realm might help or inspire others, but I don’t feel obligated to write such a story just because I’m not white or American born.
As a person of color I must have something to say about my experience and the bildungsroman as a member of a marginalized culture in white America. It’s an odd manifestation of white privilege, but I’m less interested in telling that personal account than joining in writing the adventures, tragedies, and comedies that come to me, just like my idols Fitzgerald, Moore, Hemingway, and Palahniuk.
My personal biography is an atypical arc, and a blessed one at that. I’m not undermining my perspective or insight, but I think there are more important and impactful stories for me to tell than my autobiography.
I won’t let myself be tokenized into leaving other fiction alone because there’s a certain story I’m expected to write as an immigrant son. My story as an immigrant is growing up to be an American who, like any American, can write whatever story he’s moved and inspired to write.
So, I’ll be sticking with my fiction for the time being, and injecting those stories with my insights on diversity and culture, but my personal history is not something I feel obligated to write about just because I wasn’t born here.