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Why Representation in Literature Matters

January 13, 2018

I grew up as the daughter of immigrants in a small white town in northern Utah that, according to Wikipedia, was 94% White in 1990. Though most of my childhood memories are happy ones that include luscious green grass, Aggie ice-cream (Aggie Blue Mint is the best!), Gossner’s cheese factory, and Pepperidge farm house cookies, I do remember feeling different from my peers. We lived in an apartment. We did not speak English at home. I looked, well, non-white. As different as I felt from them, I’m sure my neighbors and peers felt uneasy as well and did not know how to interact with my family. Although I didn’t blame them, it didn’t help me feel any less out of place.

I have always been an avid reader. I read everything including the Sweet Valley High series like any other girl of the 1980s and 1990s. The Wakefield twins were my idols, but there was never a time I could relate to them. White, rich, beautiful, and popular with other white friends. I soon grew out of my obsession with the Wakefield twins because they seemed too perfect to the point of being unrealistic. They were everything I was NOT. I wanted to read books and see myself more often, and I desperately wanted my peers to learn about ME so they could relate to my somewhat complicated life.

One Saturday morning, my mom took me to the library. I remember browsing around and picked up The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea. I threw that book into my bookbag along with a few others from that series, not thinking much of it. But, The Baby-Sitters Club series changed my life and is still one of my favorite series to this day. For what felt like the first time, I noticed there were other girls out there just like me! I remember my twelve-year-old self wishing my peers would read books about immigrants or different ethnic groups so they would learn how to interact with me and respect me and my culture. Not only did The Baby-Sitters Club have an Asian-American character, Claudia, the series later introduced an African-American character named Jessie and diversified the series even more. But, there was another character in this series that made it special to me.

Countless times I’ve been told I’m a walking miracle because I was born with multiple heart problems. Out of the several, I was born with, I have something called Single Ventricular Disease, which affects me the most. Since my heart must work overtime to pump blood, my oxygen levels are low which turns me blue, and I have difficulty breathing from time to time. Since my health condition isn’t visible, people often underestimate the toll it takes on me, and these limitations have made me feel out of place, and then I met Stacy from The Baby-Sitters Club. Stacy had Type I Diabetes, and in one story she wet the bed at a sleepover due to her health condition, and this occurrence makes her the laughing stock of her school. This one thing about Stacy impacted so many other parts of her life making forming friendships that much harder. Stacy’s story resonated with me so much because, like me, things beyond her control dictated so much about her quality of life. It’s hard to understand someone from the outside looking in, but I think books are a gateway to learning about others, gaining new perspectives, and learning how our differences should not make us withhold respect.

I currently reside in Texas, and moving here from Utah has pushed me to expand my reading habits even more. I want to read books as diverse and colorful as the people who represent the community I now live in as well as those who are underrepresented. This means the inclusion of members of the LGBTQ community, all gender identities, people of color, and those who suffer from both physical and mental illnesses. It means to read their stories to learn of the everyday challenges they face and gain perspective of their lives and understand that though we are all different, we are all equal and deserving of all that is good.

Diana Eng is a blogger and lover of reading, teaching, writing, learning, and chocolate! She has spent most of her life in Utah and South Korea but currently resides in Dallas, TX with her best friend and husband of 5 1/2 years. You can find more of Diana on her book blog, Owl’s Little Library, as well as on Instagram.

  • Reply
    Sanura
    January 20, 2018 at 11:47 am

    Thank you for sharing this part of your personal story with us, Diana! It’s a much needed reminder that the representation we seek isn’t limited to race, faith, and gender identity.

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