By Libertad Araceli Thomas
There’s always this anxiety I get when I attend book and writing conferences. While in my everyday non-bookish life I’m pretty extroverted, when I step foot in these places, where most likely, if not for my sister, I’d be one of the few people of color (POC) as well as the only Latina, I shut down and go into hermit mode. I’ll admit the first day was a little tough for me. I did remember a ton of folks from last year, but Kid Lit Con moves around every year, so there’s always tons of new people that you’re not going to know. As I predicted, I closed off. I felt lonely. I thought here are all these people who like books just as much as I do, but I always have this fear that people aren’t going to like me because here I am, this inner city negrita with these big hoop name plate earrings (that I personally cannot live without) and this big hair and very awkward in my own way.
There’s this feeling deep down inside me that I feel awful for admitting being a POC. I have this immense distrust for white people. I’ve never trusted white people to make me feel comfortable. I’ve never trusted them to understand my experiences and worst of all, many opportunities I’ve had to challenge a white person’s way of thinking, I’m almost always shot down, left feeling lesser than and invalidated to the point where sometimes it’s just easier to not say anything at all.
Last year’s theme was a subject very dear to me: Diversity. Sometimes as book bloggers, my sister and I feel very disadvantaged because we’re not blogging about the latest Stephenie Meyer books or the ones that are deemed the next big thing; the books that speak the most to me are books that feature non “default” characters. So I prayed we’d get a chance to bring up diversity before our panel the next day. It unfortunately didn’t happen, so I was feeling a little down on my luck.
My sister and I kept score on how many things had gone wrong with this trip and then the day of our panel, the worst thing in the world happened. Our moderator, Dr. Zetta Elliott, who created this amazing thought provoking presentation, was unable to make it and we’d found out just moments before our scheduled slot.
The show went on with our other lovely panelist/author Mary Fan (who was totally awesome and poised to perfection) reading in Zetta’s place. Our pressing topic?
Sharing personal stories is hard on paper, but it’s especially hard vocalizing them to a room full of people when you’re on display. A key point I felt passionate about was how perception leads people to believe there’s one way to be something.–one way to be black, one way to be queer, one way to be a person. Being Afro-Latina, Queer and Buddhist, I suffer from a severe case of unicorn syndrome. No one really expects me to be all these things, but I am and there was a librarian named Maureen (who was also Latina, yay!) whose words really stuck out to me: To be Latina is to be intersectional because there is no one identity.
*Guinevere and I with our fellow panelist, Mary Fan*
After our intersectionality panel all the apprehension washed away. One minute, I was feeling like no one saw me and then the next I had an overwhelming amount of people thanking me for challenging their thoughts.
*Me, Marissa, and Guinevere*
And turns out, we weren’t actually alone. The Latinas were there representing. A young and amazingly beautiful boricua named Marissa (who blogs @Marissa Reads) was just so full of life and loved to read so much that she had to start blogging about books to find others like her!
While our intersectionality panel could have been the very best panel I’ve ever spoke on, I have to say my favorite moment of that day had absolutely nothing to do with any of the panels themselves but a member of the audience during a panel about professional blogging. The father of the young lady we’d met earlier was just so proud of her, filming and taking photos, silently encouraging her love for books.
It brought a tear to my eyes because just a month ago a friend of mine confessed he didn’t push his son to read because “Dominicans don’t read.” Maybe it’s just he doesn’t see Dominican kids in books. Either way, the moment gave me so much hope for the future and plans to incorporate a Dominican character in my next WIP. Just one person’s mind challenged about race, culture, gender, and disability is a battle won in my book. Next year, I pray I won’t be so afraid to tell people my story because my story is one of many that I hope can diversify people’s perceptions about the world we live in today.
*From left to right Marissa, Guinevere, Maureen and me representing for the Latinas*
Libertad Araceli Thomas is one half of Twinja Book Reviews, a book blog that celebrates diversity. Between mastering her handstands and perfecting her butterfly kicks, she can be caught reading and promoting a good book! Tweet with her @afrocubansista and @dos_twinjas