Just labels? Multicultural, Exotic, Other

27 October, 2010

Anjali Joseph, the author of Saraswati Park has an interesting article in The Independant about being what many would label a multicultural/exotic writer. In an age where there is increasing migration of skills and nationalities, globalisation, cross border living, the idea of the exotic is becoming diluted and eroded. This is a topic that is of great interest to me because it directly impacts my life everyday. There is a term called Third Culture Kids that was originally used in the US for kids from a military background whose families have been posted globally, who are originally from one country, grow up in another and finally settle in a third.

But Anjali Joseph has a bone to pick with being so labelled. Read her article, it’s good. Maybe it’s a marketing thing for publishers and journalists as they like labels, makes it easier to identify their target group and sell. Hanif Kureishi is probably the first to write about growing up mixed in the UK, not as an Asian, but as a Londoner in Buddha of Suburbia. There’s a difference there. Gurinder Chadha brought this to the screen first with Bhaji on the Beach and then Bend it Like Beckham. And let’s not forget the bittersweet comedy of East is East directed by Damien O’Donnell. There’s a new wave of British Asians that is creating a new literature. And what I like is that it echoes what all my British Asian friends have been telling me as we were growing up together and all the Asian rudeboys and girls I met at uni. So I’m certainly looking forward to reading what Joseph and her peers will be writing about. Not about the exotic but about the ordinary. Maybe it will give our lives more sense.

Some other books I’m looking forward to reading: Nikesh Shukla’s Coconut Unlimited (you can read a Metro article here), Gautam Malkani’s Londonstani, Niven Govinden’s Graffiti My Soul. An obvious choice for the American desi experience is Jhumpa Lahiri. Although I try to read as much South Asian and diaspora literature as I can, there are still many titles of which I’m unaware. So, any other recommendations?

Also, the DSC South Asian Literature Prize shortlist has been announced. I haven’t read any of the titles, have you?

I grew up mixed: in Sri Lanka, Japan, Thailand and the UK. My views are mixed, my history’s mixed and I belong to no one country. But it’s only as I grow older that I’ve become more comfortable in my skin. I pick and choose what I like, and I like it that way. There’s a wonderful initiative happening in Japan as mixed marriages have increased and there are a lot of mixed folk out there. Check out Hafu. Hooray!

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13 Responses to “Just labels? Multicultural, Exotic, Other”

  1. Mystica Says:

    Minal Hajratwala does not get much mention anywhere. She falls into this category as well as Roopa Farookhi. Half Life was particularly good. I can well believe what you are saying – Asians of second and third generation whether mixed or not find it tough at times – they may look different but they belong to the country where they were born and they think like that too! Everyone unfortunately does not feel comfortable in their skin – it takes some thinking and maturity for that.

  2. Charlie Says:

    It is very hard to label people one way or another nowadays but although the emphasis is on equality often it ends up splitting people up instead of making them equal.

    I’ve heard Rani Manicka’s The Rice Mother is good.

  3. winstonsdad Says:

    you should read cocnut unlimited asap ,I loved it ,all the best stu

  4. farmlanebooks Says:

    I have only read one of the books on the short list: A Life Apart. I wasn’t a big fan, but you might enjoy it a bit more than I did. I’m a bit bored about stories about immigration. It doesn’t matter where the people are coming from/going to they all have similar issues and once you’ve read enough of them they often ending being identical stories. I much prefer to read about people once they have moved and are settled. Books like The Buddha of Suburbia and all the films you mention were much better than the stories of immigration. I love it when people have mixed backgrounds – they tend to be a lot more tolerant of different opinions and much more interesting people.

    I was very interested to see the number of mixed race marriages in Japan. One of my school friends married a Japanese women and we went out to the wedding. It was one of the best experiences of my life!

  5. S. Krishna Says:

    That was definitely an interesting article, thanks for pointing it out! As far as South Asian literature, I have a few suggestions. I won’t overwhelm this comment with titles, but I did read Atlas of Unknowns (which is on the DSC shortlist) and enjoyed it. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda is excellent, and I recommend anything by Thrity Umrigar.

  6. amymckie Says:

    What a really great article! I kind of talked about that in my review of an American of Nigerian descent’s novel on Monday. It was classified as Nigerian literature, though he had never been there. How exactly do we make these boxes and stick people in them. Shouldn’t it just all be literature?

    Of course, that being said, I still like to search out literature from authors from other countries, but that is mainly because the books are less readily available here.

  7. nymeth Says:

    Thank you for sharing that – it really was a good article. I guess the thing that makes labels so handy is also what makes them dangerous. They’re reductive by nature, and by seemingly making everything easy to put into neat little boxes they also make life appear much less complex than it actually is.

  8. mee Says:

    I feel the same with you, that I belong in no one country. I’d never heard of the term Third Culture Kids. That is so me! 🙂 Feel like I’m forming a Forth Culture actually, as I have my heritage culture, birth country culture, and culture of the country which I call home now. Glad to know that we’re not alone in searching for identity, for some place to belong. I hate being boxed in certain category as well. It’s hard to explain to people how mixed your history is, and it’s impossible to just pick one label. It took me a while to get comfortable in my skin, I’m probably still trying, but it gets better all the time. Lovely article. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Violet Says:

    I’ve read Londonstani and really enjoyed it. I did my Honours thesis on the construction of identities within a multicultural (Australian) context, with reference to film and literature, so I have an interest in all those highly contested signifiers, such as “ethnic” and “multicultural”. I haven’t read the article yet, but I shall.

  10. itoeri Says:

    aaahh..so many books i want to read. i feel like i need to dive into a sea of books.
    i am currently reading haruki murakami’s interviews titled “i wake up every morning in order to dream.”, although i havent read very many works of his,
    it attracts me a lot to get to know how he sees life and ppl’s psyche.

  11. itoeri Says:

    yap, its new. he normally does not like to come out to public, so its a really good compilation i think.

    he says we all hav layers and pockets in ourselves, but not everyone reaches out to the bottom or to the dark. some ppl are just too busy to be by themselves. thus, his protagonists and core readers have remained young cos thats when u feel loneliness or contemplate on how to relate to the world.

    do u want me to send u a copy?

    • chasing bawa Says:

      Yes! And can I be cheeky and ask you to send me vols 45 & 46 of Garasu no Kamen as well? I think they were both published this year. My mum and I have been waiting forever to read them. Arigato!


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