[Geek Pride welcomes guest blogger Tara L. Masih]
As an editor and a writer, my tastes and creative output are eclectic, something that is not always beneficial when one is in the publishing business--the variety of publications makes it difficult to market my work.
However, as Joni Mitchell said, "They'll crucify me if I change and they'll crucify me if I stay the same, so I'm going to change because it's more fun." I love the different worlds that my interests have taken me into, including the world of flash (very short) fiction and the world of sociocultural writing.
But I never anticipated (who could have?) that these two unrelated worlds would actually converge, as they did on November 7, 2012, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A friend, knowing my interests, sent me a link to an online Boston Globe article. It highlighted the winning entry of a 6-word contest that the creative writing department ran for their students. The winner was Sarah Hassan. On the 7th, she received her award and read her 6-word story: "American? But What Are You, Really?"
Here, in 6 words, was what some of the authors in a book I recently edited -- The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays -- had taken pages to explore.
Chalk Circle's essays are compiled from an annual contest I judge. I began the Intercultural Essay category under the umbrella of the Soul-Making Keats Literary Contest. The organizer, Eileen Malone, gave me her blessing when I approached her with the idea. I borrowed the term "intercultural" from the communications field, and I believe we were one of the first, if not the first, to start using it in the literary field.
As a writer of bicultural heritage, something about multicultural had always made me a bit wary. I would envision a long fence of multicolored wooden posts, strung together by thin wire, stretching out in a straight line. But with the word "intercultural," I saw that fence circling, coming together at a common point, each post sharing what was within its boundaries and without.
Discussing and confronting race and ethnic issues is always tricky. But everyone needs a voice. That was my intention when I started this contest, to give voice to Americans like Hassan, or to anyone who feels like an "Other."
After I read the Globe article, I contacted Hassan immediately via email to find out more about her background and her reasons for writing this little story. Hassan, who was born in Boston and calls herself American Palestinian, accentuating the American first, says that her story relates not just to her experiences, but to "many other Americans who face misconceptions of the image of being an American." She feels she gets the follow-up question because, in her case, she wears a hijab. "I find it annoying that some people may not believe someone else is American because of their appearance. It doesn't make sense because the beauty of America lies in our differences and diversity."
In her provocative essay, "Assailing Otherness," published in The Chalk Circle, Katrina Grigg-Saito proves that the prejudice is not just in the outward clothing: "The feeling of otherness is the one thing I can count on. Since I am a mix of Japanese and white with whispers of black and Cherokee, nobody ever knows where I'm from, but they know I'm not from here, and here is always where I am."
And in her popular essay, "Fragments," also in Chalk Circle, Sarah J. Stoner proves that this issue goes beyond the question of exoticism or race. Though Stoner is white, she grew up outside of her first culture, within a second culture, having to forge a third. Hence, she was relieved to finally have a short version of the long story of who she is and where she is from with the newly coined term "Third Culture Kid." And after a time of working to fit back into the American culture, she affirms that there is "power in not having to explain myself. It dulls that sharp edge of angst, of feeling like an Other."
Many of the contest entries I receive deal with this subject of being judged on one's appearance. Given the predictions by the US Census Bureau that multiracial Americans will be in the majority by midcentury, given the outcome of this latest presidential election that perhaps proves there is a shifting demography, more attention must be given to issues of interculturalism in our classrooms and in our social environments.
For now, because of the beauty of our political system, which allows for freedom of expression, writers such as Hassan, Grigg-Saito, and Stoner can resort to creative outlets in their attempts to close the circle of Otherness and dull that "sharp edge of angst," and educate all of us who come across their writings on better ways to connect.
Tara L. Masih received a BA in English and a minor in sociology from C. W. Post College, along with an MA in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College. She is editor of The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays (a Skipping Stones Honor Book), The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (a ForeWord Book of the Year), and her debut story collection, Where the Dog Star Never Glows, was a National Best Books Award finalist. Tara was a regular contributor to The Indian-American and Masala magazines, where her essays on race and culture were often featured, and her essays have been read on NPR and anthologized in numerous textbooks. She works as a freelance book editor in Andover, Massachusetts. www.taramasih.com