My daughters are a rowdy bunch. Ask any of our neighbors and they’ll tell you that Madison has quite the set of pipes. Same goes for my youngest, Everly. If I had to use three adjectives to describe them both, they’d be: stubborn, spirited, and strong. What they are not is: “lotus-like”, docile and obedient.
It’s not a secret that there’s a prevalent fetishization of Asian women that exists in both Western and Eastern cultures. A fantasy that an Asian woman should be a certain way; that there’s a mold she’s created from and thus conforms to.
Well, whatever that mold is - my daughters definitely didn’t pop out of it. But they are entering a world that is still a work-in-progress. Stereotypes certainly exist today and ignorance surely isn’t in short supply despite all the advances in technology that theoretically has made the world a smaller place.
Madison & Everly will inevitably encounter negative situations in their lives where they’ll be judged not by their actions but by their appearance and gender. I won’t be able to protect them in every instance.
But what I can do is to teach them to be proud of who they are, what they look like, and where they came from. They didn’t get to choose their ethnicity or gender - it was gifted to them, but they can develop a strong love and appreciation for those gifts that are part of who they are.
I’m turning 32 this year and I still have ways to go when it comes to self love and confidence; perhaps I didn’t have a strong foundation as an adolescent, and I certainly wavered when it came to embracing my ethnicity growing up.
But my daughters don’t have to waver. I can’t control how they ultimately feel about being Chinese, but I can present opportunities for them to see that being Chinese and Asian means much more than the stereotypes they’ll encounter.
It’s a shame that we often aspire to become the people that we see most often in media. This may be especially true when it comes to media directed at children. Books have the ability to present characters who are magical and in fact, aspirational. The sad reality right now, is that those characters don’t often reflect the demographic of the children who read those books.
What I hope to show, through the books I write and the characters I create, is that Asian children are also strong, funny, and imaginative. That an Asian child in a children’s book doesn’t necessarily have to play second fiddle to her culture, but can exist as the star of the book just on the merits of her personality (like Madeline, Eloise, Fancy Nancy, etc).
Pepper Zhang is my way of showing Madison, Everly and all children who love books that a story about an Asian girl and her imagination is also a story that’s fit to print.
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