Defying Borders | BookCon 2018

Sara Farizan

Erika L. Sánchez

Thi Bui

Tommy Orange

          What does it mean to live in a world where borders exist, whether real or imaginary? How do themes of family, resilience, and identity impact your work? These were the first questions asked by moderator Sara Farizan, author of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, at the panel, Defying Borders, on Saturday, June 2 at BookCon. Panelists included Thi Bui, author of The Best We Could Do (Abrams); poet and novelist Erika L. Sánchez, author of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter; and Tommy Orange, whose recently published debut novel There There, is already receiving much-deserved acclaim. Starting off with the question of reading influences, Orange explained that he wasn't a reader until his 20s. When he began working on his novel, he felt as it he was writing into a void, which he found both helpful and not; helpful because he had more freedom to explore without influence, yet challenging because it could be lonely at times. Sánchez stated the most influential book in her life has been The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, drawing applause from the audience. Bui, meanwhile, mentioned reading Jane Eyre and Anne of Green Gables as a child. "I really know how to read books about people who are not like me." Both Farizan and Sánchez mentioned the responsibility and burden of knowing that their works may be the only ones that people read about their communities. Echoing that sentiment, Farizan added that there is often a lack of empathy for people of color, along with misconceptions about their communities; she wondered if we should write with the intention of dispelling some of these myths? Sánchez stated there is pressure to be one of the few people representing a community. She emphasized that her experience is but one of many Mexican experiences, though people assume you're speaking for everyone. Bui agreed, adding that the myth of the model minority is still harmful; "we're not allowed to be awful." She resents the fact that we have to be humanized, and that we're not considered human already. We should also move away from the idea of a refugee on a pedestal; instead, we should get to know people as people. Misconceptions are frequent when considering Native communities as well. Orange mentioned seeing his novel on a list of historical fiction, and the misconception that Natives only existed in the past; he reminded that audience that Natives still exist and are not a monolith. That message is also one he hopes readers will take away from his writing. Other topics of conversation included the pressures of being second generation—not feeling as much cultural pride as one's parents, while also not feeling 100% American. Farizan noted that she doesn't always feel as culturally Persian as either of her parents. In writing her memoir, Bui, who left Vietnam as a child, relied on her dad's memories along with historical films about Vietnam to fill in the gaps. Sánchez, however, talked about overprotective parents and how they can be common among immigrant families. At the end of the panel, each shared their advice on writing. Orange suggested finding a community, or a group of friends, during the writing process to help hold you accountable. He also recommended not sending your work out for review too soon, especially since writing is a vulnerable process. Following that sentiment, Sánchez stated, "It's emotionally taxing to write. Take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself."
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