Hi friends! I’m so happy to welcome back Cathy Yardley. I really hope you read her post – I’m grateful for what she has to say, and that she was willing to share it with us. Thank you, Cathy. <3
When Lime asked if I could write a guest post for APAHM, I was thrilled. And then I was sort of terrified. Because I have a very complicated relationship with my own Asian heritage.
So I was talking with my (white) father last month, and I mentioned something – don’t remember what exactly– that my brother and I had been talking about. I think it was being Asian parents. How funny it was that, now that we had kids of our own, a lot of Mom’s habits had stuck despite out best efforts. Hovering about grades, especially.
And my father said, “It’s not like you’re really Asian, though.”
Just that. Not deliberately cruel, per se. Just… puzzled.
(My relationship with my father’s a bit complicated, as well.)
I’m biracial, Vietnamese and Irish-British-American, born here in the states. I grew up in Upstate New York, surrounded by my father’s family. They loved my Mom, and adored my brother and me. That said, my grandmother told my mother that it would be better that we not learn Vietnamese, because it would set us apart. That “people” would think less of us. I found out recently that when my mother tried making Vietnamese food, they threw it out because “it stunk” – so no Viet food in the house. I vaguely remember going to some kind of Lunar New Year party when I was maybe six. We never went again.
This all seemed really normal to me.
When I was in middle school, we moved to Southern California, and I somehow naturally gravitated towards other Asian kids – Chinese and Japanese largely, no other Vietnamese. Mostly because we were all honors students, to be honest… had the same classes, same pressures, same sense of humor. One of my best friends was full blooded Taiwanese, and was also named Cathy. I still remember a gym instructor who couldn’t tell us apart – even though we looked nothing alike, besides a slight epicanthal fold.
Then I went to Berkeley, which threw me into the deep end of the pool, from an Asian perspective. I still remember an Asian man coming up to me in the library and asking point blank “what are you?” in a slightly aggrieved tone. Like he had the right, somehow, to know.
“I’m Irish,” I said, chin up. Daring him. He backed down and walked away muttering.
The thing was, I was raised like I was a white person, with the cultural markers of being Vietnamese almost surgically cut away. But all it really took was someone looking at me to tell me that I wasn’t. Weird little microaggressions, like the high school coach confused by the two Cathys. A guy I worked for who told me that he “loved Asian girls” like we were items on a buffet. (I responded, “Really? I love calling my lawyer.” He still thought it was a joke.) And on the other side of the coin, the Asians who take one look at me and know that something isn’t quite right, like the guy in Berkeley.
When I got into writing, it never occurred to me to write Asian characters. Or rather, I didn’t try to sell stories about Asian characters to traditional publishers – and when I started, indie was barely scratching the surface. I don’t know that I made a conscious choice. I didn’t read romances with Asians, and I knew white culture because I’d been immersed in it all my life. Writing about white characters believably was hardly a challenge.
After selling my first few books, I shifted from romance to Chick Lit, with multiple female protagonists per novel. I started introducing characters who were Asian, because I wanted to see them there. In my own self-denial, I wound up writing other Asian identities: Chinese-American biracial, Filipina-American, Japanese-American biracial, borrowing from the experiences I’d witnessed with so many of my friends. (I now know to use sensitivity readers, because Asian cultures aren’t a monolith, and just “being friends” with other cultures doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing.)
It took a while to be brave.
I am really looking forward to my first Viet biracial character in my upcoming book, Love, Comment, Subscribe. His name is Tobin Bui, and he’s Vietnamese-British-American. He’s also a gaming YouTuber who has a channel called GoofyBui, and he is, in my opinion, funny as hell. His nemesis/love interest: Lily Wang, a Taiwanese-American woman who has known him for decades and who has her own beauty channel. They wind up teaming up to boost the profile of both their channels, and hijinks ensue (especially when her planning nature clashes with his more organic style.) It is probably the closest thing I have to what my own growing up experience was like… a found family of recovering honors students who have been friends since high school.
And even with all that, there’s a little piece of me that is nervous. That I’m not quite Vietnamese enough, or Asian enough, to write this story. That others will call me on it.
“You’re not really Asian, though, are you?”
I don’t speak the language. I have been divorced from the culture. I don’t even have a Vietnamese name – only the English one. Hell, I just learned about the kitchen god last year, and didn’t even know that your horoscope year is actually bad luck, or at least potentially perilous. (I’m year of the rat and last year seemed to just drive that point home. So be careful out there, Ox peeps.)
But being separate, feeling other, is my experience. Being Asian-American is my experience… and that means doing things that other Americans do. I shouldn’t have to prove my Asian cred to be able to write about characters like me. And I know I won’t make everyone happy – no writer does – so I just need to write what I’ve got, and get it out there.
I’m Asian enough.
Mini-bio: Cathy Yardley writes fun, geeky, and diverse characters who believe that underdogs can make good and that sometimes being a little wrong is just right. Her next title, LOVE, COMMENT, SUBSCRIBE, will be released by Montlake Romance on October 1st.
Back in high school, Lily Wang wanted to be popular, but she considered herself lucky to be part of a tight group of oddballs and honors students called the Nerd Herd. Now, at twenty-eight, she feels like she’s finally on the cusp of succeeding as a beauty influencer—if she can hit five million subscribers, brands will take notice and she could get her own makeup line.
Fellow Nerd Herd alum Tobin Bui has had a lot of success as a YouTube gamer. But the road to online stardom has been rocky. First, he disappointed his parents by dropping out of college, and now, after years of pranks, skits, and playthroughs, he’s struggling to come up with new content to satisfy his ever-growing fan base. His agents say he needs cross-audience appeal, a new twist.
When Nerd Herd frenemy Lily approaches Tobin about teaming up to do a video to bolster her brand and reinvigorate his, he agrees. But when their first collab video goes viral, their relationship heats up too. With the whole internet watching, will these two former misfits finally realize they’re perfect together?
I told Cathy I loved this post – even though it hurt my heart. Thank you again, Cathy. <3
To everyone else … Thoughts? Response? Have you read Cathy’s books?
Do you have similar experiences or know someone who has?