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
Awesome piece! I also have the unicorn syndrome but at age 48 have decided to celebrate my uniqueness. I have to present to my local school board next week why diverse children’s stories like mine are sorely needed. Between you and I; the first part of my speech will be in espanol! I love shocking people then making them squirm for being shocked! So, bravo to you and your sister and continue to celebrate your gumbo of multiculturalism.
It has taken me so long to celebrate my uniqueness but I’m glad I’m finally there! Oh espanol should shake things up! Why didn’t I think of that? Lol! I’ll admit, I can’t always tell someone Latina either so I try not to get offended when people don’t guess I am. But that’s then fun thing about being Latina, as one of the librarians stated, there is no one identity!
Wish I could see you speak!I love supporting my fellow Latina writers!
I loved this post — thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I recall the first time I was at a SCBWI conference and by the second day, I felt so out of place. But I summoned the courage to talk to the presenter, a well-established picture book writer, and she gave me (a complete stranger) a huge hug. We need to support our fellow writers — of all backgrounds!
Thanks Alicia for reading! And I agree, we need to support all of our fellow writers and folks who come out to show their support! I’m not opposed to hugs!
I was so sorry to miss this year and I KNOW that feeling of, “Ugh, the only one,” and hiding (although the hiding, for me, it’s part personality trait…) but I’m glad you rallied and that it was good. The plan is to keep talking about diversity in some form every year, even when the overall theme is different, and I’m glad you saw both room for improvement and where it happened.
Also, I like the hoops, and CUTE HAIR!!!
Yea Tanita, Guin and I looked ALL over for you! We totally missed seeing you! Thanks for the compliments on the hair! Ya know I big chopped last year right before kidlitcon and was so afraid to wear it that short and kinky that I wore braids instead! So glad I got over that and let folks see the fro this year!
Hi, Libertad, I’m SO sorry that you felt uncomfortable the first day. I was so wrapped up with trying to keep things running that I didn’t notice. I for one was glad to see you. I felt like we became good friends in Sacramento, and I was looking forward to seeing both of you. I wish we could have spent more time together. I’m glad things worked out, and I’m especially glad you had the courage to speak about your experiences. Your panel was terrific even though Zetta was sick and couldn’t make it.
For what it’s worth, as an introvert I’ve always felt uncomfortable at conferences, too, although as a white/het/cis person I don’t have to also deal with the things that you’ve had to deal with. But I can at least, on some small level, empathize.
One of these days when I’m making the trip to New Hampshire to visit my son, I’d love to make a stop off to visit you, if that’s ok. We should really have a northeast Kidlitcon next time it’s on the East Coast; seems like there are so many kidlit folks in the northeast!
Yea things were pretty busy for both you and Paula as the organizers of this years event and the two of you did an excellent job! You were one of the ones I really hoped we’d see again because you made us feel really comfortable and you were just awesome! It really meant a lot to us to see you just a week prior at the Baltimore Book Fest! Totally made our days as it was our first time in the city and it was nice to see a familiar face!
We really had fun at our panel and we want to thank you so much for inviting us to talk about this subject. It’s near to both of our hearts and I’m glad you personally asked us to speak about it.
I think most book bloggers are introverts. When it comes to books, I usually am one too. In my everyday life though, I’m pretty loud and crazy and expressive so even my behavior the first day surprised me.
And in terms of stopping by CT, we welcome you! Although Baltimore is nothing like New Haven. New Haven is boring compared to Baltimore. But we’ll find somewhere neat to take you to! You have to stop by!
Sounds like a plan! *hugs* I’m sure I’ll like New Haven. I probably won’t be going up north again before the end of the year, though.