Growing up as a ABC (American Born Chinese) for me, was like living in a shadow. You see yourself as one person at home, but then another at school or with your friends. Sometimes, you just don’t know who you are. This identity crisis occurs not just in ABCs but in everyone at one point in their life. It’s our job as future librarians to help aid in helping people find their identity.
In honor of his anointment by the Library of Congress as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature on Monday, I wanted to write this week about my reading experiences that included works by Gene Luen Yang, specifically American Born Chinese.
Over winter break, I read his latest book, The Shadow Hero
Reading it reminded me of my teenage inner demons and how important it is for books to have protagonists from all backgrounds. This is the background story of a 1940’s comic book hero called the Green Turtle created by artist Chu Hing. It goes through the story of the son of immigrants named Hank. He and his family run a grocery store in Chinatown. After his mother was saved by a superhero who could fly, she aspired for her son to be one too. One problem: her son doesn’t have superpowers but he becomes tangled with some bullying gangsters anyway. When a tragedy hits, a spirit is released who has some answers for Hank. The importance of the story is aligned with the importance of the author’s note in the back. It explains from an unbiased point of view of the faceless 1940s Green Turtle character and how it is rumored that the artist wanted the character to be Asian. Even though his publisher turned down the idea, the character’s face was always in the shadows; replaced with the shadow of a turtle head. The first issue of the 1940’s comic is attached at the end for the reader to determine the hero’s identity for themselves.
Gene Luen Yang is known for his graphic novels portraying themes of acceptance, adolescence, and identity. He talked about how many of us are like superheroes because we live with different identities. These identities could be from being in a multi-cultural family or just different personalities that we portray to different groups of people. Exploring those identities opens up new understandings of ourselves.
In starting a program called Reading without Walls, he says, “A huge part of being a kid is exploring the world … Books are a bridge between them and what might be unfamiliar.” I started exploring my own identity around the age of 8 through books. I read Lawrence Yep, Amy Tan, and later on as a teenager, Gene Luen Yang. Besides these few authors, there were few others that I could relate to. I must have not talked to a librarian at the time to help me find more books that helped me understand who I was. Instead, I became obsessed with learning about my culture. I was checking out huge books (20 at a time) about Chinese history and fictional stories about what it’s like to live in China. Then it hit me. I’m not really Chinese. I’m not really American… what am I?
Here are my identities as an 8 year old:
- Identity 1:
- I was born in the 1990’s in Arlington, Washington
- I love my mom’s food, reading, and having a little brother to tease
- I love doing origami and other things crafty
- Identity 2:
- I’m an American Born Chinese
- I grew up in a family-owned restaurant that I’m ashamed of
- I made origami items for my friends to make them like me
The first identity is who I really was, the second identity was molded by my experiences as the lone Chinese girl in a town with no one to relate to.
Gene Luen Yang summed up perfectly how I felt growing up: “Many of us use one name at home, another at school, … We move between two different sets of expectations the way many superheroes do.”
My Chinese name is Leung Tsz-way (Leung Zi Hui or 梁子慧). My parents named me with a character that’s the same for all my siblings and then a character for “intelligent”. At home, I was the responsible eldest child who had big dreams for my parents to be proud of me. My name is also Melody Leung. At school, I was a band geek, scene-kid wannabe, who felt too much pressure from parents and teachers.
Somehow, somewhere, I became a mutant (a weird one) of the two.
What are your identities? Are you a superhero? Is there a way to merge these identities together for ourselves or the youth that we will be working with in the future?
Note: I think all of us future librarians are superheros
This blog post was written by Melody Leung. She is a 1st year residential student interested in youth services. She loves public libraries and performing storytimes for children every chance she can get. Her studies include multicultural resources, entrepreneurial support, and outreach. On her spare time, she enjoys doing wushu (Chinese martial art), watching sit coms, and cooking.