Knowledge is powerful. How you choose to share that knowledge and apply it is even more powerful. Writing is powerful. Words on paper, scribbled by pens, pencils and other writing utensils, is a method to hold emotions, stories and shared history. Stories, novels and poetry.
The words used to construct sentences, paragraphs to construct windows and doors to worlds they might not travel to otherwise. What happens when every single door and window to a world that is familiar to you does not exist or is locked up in chains and padlocks, and no one has the key? If novels, poetry and writing are windows, mirrors and doors, why is it that some of us have never seen ourselves reflected, represented or honored properly?
I remember the first time I read a novel in which I could see myself. I was 17. For the first 17 years of my life, I read stories about heroines and villains that didn’t look like me. I saw movies and shows about characters dealing with real-life situations that didn’t look like me.
All of the characters with intellectual depth, value beauty, and the characters that were empowered in all of these stories, no matter the medium in which they were presented, were white characters.
As I have traveled all over the world, I have observed that the stories that are allowed to exist are those that are written within binary spaces, the stories that empower those that already benefit from the power structures and dynamics at play.
I was 17 the first time I had read about a girl who looked, sounded and experienced the world as I did. I remember finally hearing the power of my own voice. Thank you Esmeralda Santiago and Julia de Burgos for building a bridge that would allow me to travel home. Thank you Lucile Clifton for a beautiful homage to my hips. Thank you Celia Cruz and Hector Lavoe for singing my people’s beauty and history in song.
I have always known my history and people are beautiful. I have also always known that I was beautiful, but sometimes, you still need to see yourself in a good book, you know? Have something and someone to relate to.
There are a variety of novels, shows and movies that have been created recently (I mean less than a decade ago) in which an increasing amount of Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, queer, multiracial and multicultural characters are being represented.
However, in spite of a growing interest in diversifying narratives in literature, films and shows, Black, Brown, Indigenous and other Peoples of Color are still slighted — robbed of due credit, and often only used as tokens or as features in the back of student-run newspapers.
Writing is powerful because it allows us to open a window, door or look in a mirror and see ourselves or someone else. In the last issue of The Lawrentian, the one article written by Indigenous voices about Indigenous People’s Day should have been on the front page, front and center; instead the article was on the Features page.
What was the article on the front page you might ask? An article about the student demonstrations that occurred last week, half of which was dedicated to an administrator’s response about the inaction of Lawrence administrators in denouncing white supremacy and racism.
The Lawrentian had the opportunity to uplift Indigenous voices with the article written by LUNA, and, instead, a different route was taken. Novels written by and for BIPOC voices often face the same treatment, reduced to features and shiny tokens of entertainment.
I am slowly entering into adulthood, and I can still count the times in which I have seen women of color in administrative positions, on front pages and as Pulitzer Prize winners. Essentially, writing is powerful but so are the spaces in which these pieces of art are allowed to exist in.
Editors and authors are the curators in the literary world. They methodically create worlds, form opinions or help shape the world with their stories and literary pieces. As you look into diversifying your collections of pieces of writing, actively look for perspectives outside of your own.
Take the time to educate yourself on the historical context, themes and messages the authors focus on. Honestly, I am so tired of reading the same stories about the same types of people, as if we were all the same. We are not all the same; so, none of us should be forced to fit into spaces that we are too grand to fit into.
The first time I realized that it was ok to not fit into these small spaces that are suffocating and the first time I really listened to my parents about the importance of being my most authentic self and walking in my presence, I was 17.
Granted, high school made me feel like I had to dress, speak and behave in certain ways to at least survive (even though most of the time I thought, f*ck that), I still felt out of place because when I saw the world, it was painted in colors that didn’t represent me. I ran to books as a safe place away from that dull reality, only to find that while the stories were great, I couldn’t relate.
Thanks to Esmeralda Santiago and my parents, I was able to find my beauty reflected in a novel. But some children, and some of us, didn’t have parents that raised free spirits or radically liberated individuals. It is for them that we must place beautiful, different people on the damn front page.
With love as always.
Carmen San Diego