The young adult novel is a perfect place to find relatable, accessible mixed race stories. In fact, more YA books are featuring mixed kids that ever before. Recently, I picked up a copy of The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson. I loved the spunkiness and drive of the main characters. The story follows high school students Asha and Carey as they create and anonymously sell T-Shirts to raise money for a post-graduation trip. The shirts promote “The Latte Rebellion;” a club they form to promote mixed race awareness. The idea catches on, and as the girls try to juggle finishing high school and teenage social dilemmas, they find themselves with a mini-revolution on their hands!
- “We’re mixed up. We’re not really one or the other, ethnically. We’re like human lattes” (13).
- “The Latte Rebeliion wouldn’t have gotten as big as it did if it hadn’t been needed. Sir, do you realize there are people out there who still think that to be proud of being mixed-ethnicity is somehow un-American?” (115).
Can you tell me a little about your background? Do you identify as mixed? Are there any characters in the novel you relate to most?
I definitely identify as mixed. My dad was born in India and grew up in Pakistan before moving to London as a young man, and my mom was born and raised in California and is of mixed European descent, primarily Czechoslovakian and English/Irish/French Canadian. As a kid, I never knew what exactly to tell people if they asked me what my background was. I’d ask them if they wanted the long answer or the short answer!As far as my novel is concerned, I can’t say there’s any one character I identify with the most, but there are parts of me in Asha, Carey and Miranda. Asha has a lot of my uncertainties and insecurities, but in other ways she’s much more ambitious and driven than I was in high school. Like Carey, I was pretty school-focused and college-obsessed. And, like Miranda, I was one of very few people in my group of friends who specifically wanted to go into the arts. Unlike any of them, I was never involved in a disciplinary hearing!
I think that the advantages and challenges overlap a bit. The question of ethnic identity is complex–there are innumerable subtleties to anyone’s background and experiences–yet, as Asha points out, ethnicity can never really be the entirety of someone’s identity. Here in Northern CA (and most places in CA), it’s a wonderful bonus to be able to interact with so many people of varying ethnic backgrounds, of mixed race, of different cultures and religions. At the same time, that diversity is a challenge because it’s easy for an individual voice to get lost, for an individual person to FEEL lost, especially if you don’t feel like you fit perfectly into one single category. That sense of individual difference can be a challenge. It can also be a strength, of course.
These are some of the reasons I did choose to set the book in Northern CA–it makes for a very dynamic setting. On a more practical level, most of my stories are set in California because I was born and grew up here. So I know the setting much more intimately than anywhere else and feel like I can do it more justice.
One of the primary reasons, in my opinion, is that young adulthood is a time of questioning, of exploring, of beginning the long ongoing process of figuring out who you are as an individual human being and where you belong in this world. Coming to terms with your ethnic identity, your family and where you come from is often an important part of that. I’ve noticed that even books written for adults that involve mixed race have a huge coming of age component–Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, just to name a couple.
I really did love White Teeth–it was an eye-opener for me in terms of the possibilities of writing about mixed ethnicity, and the story also really resonated with me personally. In YA books, Justina Chen’s Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) was also inspiring and thought-provoking for me, and came along at a critical time when I was working on The Latte Rebellion.
Aquafortis is my personal blog. I started it as a way to stay in touch with friends who had moved out of the area, but it’s evolved into more of a space to share my thoughts, ideas, artwork and writings–at least from time to time. I wish I had more time to devote to it, but most of my blogging energy is spent on the team blog I contribute to with author Tanita Davis–Finding Wonderland (http://writingya.blogspot.com). We post about YA literature and writing, including book reviews of YA novels, and we’re particular fans of multicultural fiction, fantasy and sci-fi, and graphic novels. We’ve been blogging there since 2005.