“Where are you from?”

While easy enough to answer for most people, it exists to some of us as one of the most complicated questions in our lives. It’s an impossibly loaded interrogation that has been long embodied in the small-talk canon, not taking into account a large number of factors that may distort the reply, and not caring. It demands a simple answer, a recognizable place on the map. It doesn’t take into account those of us that just don’t know, whether it be lost to history, or left enigmatic by circumstance.

In my case, I can’t establish or trace back to home-base. I never lived anywhere long enough to really set up camp and lay claim to a cultural or regional piece of identity. I’ve also come to learn that identity is everything to a person, and knowing where you are from is one of the largest pieces of the puzzle, and when absent, can leave you feeling blank.

 

Where is home?


What is home?

 

What am I?

 

Who am I?

 

However, my passport tells me I have a home — Guanajuato, Mexico. And while I can show you beautiful, postcard-like pictures of my little birth-town, and maybe tell a tourist brochure’s slogans worth about it, claiming it as my own would be a fallacy. I was never able to own it; I simply never lived there. And when I’ve tried, the cut-throat nature of Mexican culture has prohibited me from laying claim to it, not having met enough of its criteria: I have printer paper white skin and speak none of the language.

The reality is that locations are often just stops to people—distant memories. Nomadic as that is, a lot of us yearn for a “home” of our own — an answer to the ever-present question that we can just yell out with excitement and dignity. A “home” is a place which we can embrace and say, “that’s me.” A place whose colors and histories you can stand by, good and bad; a place that fills in the missing piece.

Really, we draw too much validity from places. Like children trying to conform and make friends in the classroom, always worrying about being ostracized and ignored because we’re the most different face in the room; but also, that we are not different enough, concerned that we may be boring and lost in a sea of average.

I can’t help but feel like we’re misconstruing diversity, diversity always being heritage and appearance, but seldom this implicit thing that can’t be categorized in absolutes. We can’t always be expected to look the part, and part the look, and more often than not, most of diversity can’t be seen. Living a wandering life has made me realize that. We can’t expect people to be pigeon-holed, or to pigeon-hole themselves. I’ve always been “American,” not by my own creed but because I look the part, despite only living here for the last couple of years and way out of my formative period.

We, as people, are collages of experiences, and that should be reflected in our writing. We are seldom token characters, and it pays to reflect the reality of what really creates diversity among us. The real world is complex, and so are we; we should all be making an effort to portray mélange in both the characters we create, and the real people we talk about—humanizing those we know little about, and avoiding cheap attempts at emulating or portraying pseudo-authenticity.

So, when people ask me where I’m from, I tell them “I don’t know.” Because I don’t. I blank on the thought, and a big enough part of me is tired of giving one line lies or convenient truths that codify my life into something appreciably short enough: “I’m American.” “I’m Mexican.” There’s no way in hell I’m accepting the grand total of my genetic lineage as what I am, or where I’m from.

But I’d love to tell you who I am, and ultimately, I think that’s what diversity actually comes down to. Not a blip on the map, and not my skin-tone.

 

A Little Like Magic

An orange flyer hung on the wall, it’s bold words issuing a challenge. Read one hundred books; win one hundred dollars. I was a third grader with fifty-two cents in my pocket and only a Razor scooter to my name. One hundred dollars sounded like a fortune. Little did I know, I would be getting something worth more than a hundred dollars.

The school librarian dropped a stack of stapled papers on the table and called us to attention. Entry sheets for the reading challenge were now available. At the end of the school year, one student would win a hundred dollars at our last awards ceremony. I could see it now; while my classmates were getting awards for their exemplary grades and acts of kindness, I would be accepting what really mattered in a nine-year old’s mind: money.

The librarian explained the challenge. No picture books allowed. Each fifty pages equaled one “book” for entry. And the importance of integrity—a quick threat of we are all knowing.

I was already an avid reader, so the idea of cheating never crossed my mind. But I was in severe need of book recommendations if I was going to read 5,000 pages. So I planned out my strategy. Find the biggest books in the school library and read them all. My eyes caught sight of a massive green spine, situated in the Fiction section. But it was a sequel, so I turned my eyes to the first book in the series. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The synopsis intrigued me, and I checked out the book to take home.

Closets under the stairs, flying broomsticks, three-headed dogs, and why hadn’t I read this before now? I devoured the book, becoming a witness to Harry’s journey and his escape into a magical world. I returned to school the next week needing the second book. I had to know what would happen to Harry and his friends. I had to escape into the Wizarding World just as much as Harry needed to escape from his life with the Dursleys.

I went with Harry to Potions class, watching cauldrons simmer and bubble over. I felt the air rush through my hair as I flew beside him on the Quidditch field. I tasted butterbeer and ate chocolate frogs. I laughed with Hagrid and grew perplexed at the headmaster’s odd words of wisdom.

I had found solace in Harry’s world—an escape from my own normal life. I was shocked that something as simple as words on a page could inspire my imagination and transport me to new worlds. I was the captain of a ship, and fiction was my sea of endless possibilities. And I determined then that I wanted to share my adventures with other people through my own writing.

I didn’t win the hundred dollars. I can still remember staring out at the crowd of students sitting on the gym floor and feeling my heart drop when someone else’s name was called. But I realized that I earned something significantly more important than money. Reading Harry Potter encouraged me to imagine more and to dream bigger. The experience was a type of magic that existed not only in the imagination, but in the real world.

 

Being the Black Girl

Writing has been a part of my life since I learned cursive in the third grade, but I didn’t fall madly in love with it until well into my high school years, where I was often known as the “Black One” or “That Black Girl with the Weird Hair.” Writing became the channel that I never knew I needed. I struggled with my identity as a Black girl and what it means to be black. People often tried to quantify my blackness; my classmates or some of my family didn’t believe I was black enough because I went to a predominately white school. Through my writing I was able to find myself, and it illuminated the person I am today. I don’t know the kind of person I would be now had I not fallen for writing. Something as simple as writing my feelings on a blank page could extricate me from any bad mood or bad day.

Black.

Is the starless night

A hole in space that absorbs all that can fall within.

The colorless color fabricates as rubbish to the blind.

The sign of evil and frightening reminder of sin,

The magic of silver tongued casting witches twisting the mind,

Devils, liars, mystics, cheats, and criminals all absorbs in one,

Distorting the color, policing the image is man who places the bind.

 

Embrace your beauteous form whose curves thy dark caress on light ought,

Enthrall those who shun your essence in ignorance, for the future is fluid to sight.

A resilient experience has made the child in me wise,

Your pain knit in every fiber and strand within my heart and soul forever sown.

Black, is my pride, armor, culture mixed in a bowl, the essence that creates my mind,

A woman painted an image of a man, woman, child in thy color refined.

My identifier, the absorbing shroud over my mirror,

For one so illustriously dark and ebony, my opinion is ever clearer.

Thy inky hand caresses my hair and face sweeping down to my feet.

Acceptance, the windy cold mountain challenge, the greatest feat.

I am you, and you define me.

Black.

This poem created a vacuum for all the thoughts of what it means to me to be black, and how I should move forward, despite all the labels added to my race. Writing is a way to find one’s self-awareness, and I think that bleeds into my works often. To quote the well-known author Enid Bagnold, “Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything… It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”

Where are the LGBT+ Characters?

How many protagonists can you count off the top of your head that can be labeled as canonly gay, asexual, bisexual, transgender, etc.? It’s hard, isn’t it?

As an avid reader in high school, I found the library’s stock of novels that showcased an LGBT+ protagonist to be almost nonexistent. There were a few books scattered here and there that hinted at it, sure—a non-focus character comes out at the very end, or maybe someone mentions the subject once in the 400 pages of the story. As a closeted gay kid who didn’t know who I was, what I wanted, or who I thought was cute—boys or girls?—it was sometimes hard to find works of fiction that I could completely delve into when all of the main characters were typically straight people. There’s nothing wrong with having straight protagonists; I absolutely adore the protagonists I grew up reading: Harry and Ginny? Love them. Tris and Four? Hell yeah. Katniss and Peeta? Of course! Those characters and their relationships are great, but we are seriously lacking in portraying the spectrum of relationships. The boy gets the girl—but why can’t the boy get the boy, or why does the boy have to get anyone? These romance arcs in stories have become so cookie cutter, copy and paste, that I can’t find joy in reading them anymore.

The sexual orientation of a main character can have a much larger impact on readers than you might think. Take me for example: when I was a young reader, I didn’t know that a relationship could be anything but a boy and a girl. There wasn’t anything else for me to base relationships off of, and I wasn’t exposed to all of the possibilities that are out there. It’s hard to accept and validate your own feelings when every book you read is about one straight couple after another. There’s no message telling kids that it’s okay to be gay, or to not feel comfortable with their born gender, or to just not be into anyone at all.

As a writer and as a member of the LGBT+ community, I want to contribute to filling the gap in diverse relationships found in literature. Because it’s such a niche topic, there are a million and two original stories waiting to be sculpted. I get it, writing these characters can even be hard for people within the LGBT+ community. As a lesbian, I’m afraid of getting it wrong when it comes to asexual or transgender characters. No one wants to misrepresent a culture that is not theirs, so it’s a writer’s responsibility to research these complex topics before putting them on paper. I hope that soon, more and more of these accurate representations will be introduced in the novels to come so that young readers can find characters they are comfortable identifying with.

How to Make a Million Bucks

I discovered my passion for writing by accident. I didn’t have a passion for writing right away, but I had the confidence to be the best. Writing was a huge part of my life during high school. In high school I won a poetry contest celebrating Oklahoma’s centennial celebration, which culminated in earning a college scholarship for creative writing. With my scholarship secured, I decided to pursue a church music degree at a Christian university instead of a writing degree.

If you’re wondering, I’m not a worship leader now. As an undergrad, I left the Christian school, and I went to the University of Central Oklahoma where eventually I dropped out. I partied too much, and I didn’t attend class. I started at UCO with a 3.5 and I left with a 0.08. I was determined to fail. What I needed now was a career change.

My career of choice was a maintenance man at my local church denomination. I spent my days fixing light bulbs, changing toilets, and fetching tools for my boss like an obedient dog. Eventually, this direction bored and it offered no purpose to my life. Cleaning toilets, helping old women move light stands, and stealing snacks from department break rooms didn’t suffice anymore. At the time I needed change, and I needed it fast. This epiphany hit me one summer day. 

This summer day was hot—one hundred degrees with one hundred percent humidity. Cleaning windows forty feet above the ground, for the umpteenth day in a row, is enough to make any man rethink his decisions. I said to myself, “I hate this. I don’t want to do it anymore.” Then, I concocted a plan to attend school again. Hot, hard labor made this man want that cushioned desk job. This epiphany wasn’t the only factor in deciding to be a writer; listening to sports radio was inspirational too.

One day I drove down 36th toward a postal office located on the service road. I was listening to The Sports Animal, waiting for recaps about the previous night’s Thunder game. A commercial came on before the recap. It was narrated by a Methodist preacher, and he told a story about how a woman discovered pie making. She made pies out of necessity to support her family, and she started selling them to the public. Eventually, the business was sold to a large corporation for nearly a hundred million dollars.


The preacher asked her, “How’d you make so much money?”

She replied, “I found something I was good at and did it.”

“That’s it!” I shouted, thinking back to how I received a college scholarship for writing in high school. After that, I decided on to go back to school. I started my journey as a writer and finally obtained my bachelors in English.

I’ve now worked several jobs as a writer or pertaining to writing. I’ve been a photojournalist, writing tutor, editorial intern, freelance writer, freelance editor, script editor, copywriter, copy editor, social media manager and marketing intern—where I discovered a passion for graphic design. Each position has challenged me as a writer and challenged my creativity. Currently, I am a grad assistant for the New Plains Review, which is a literary journal at the University of Central Oklahoma. This is my grandest achievement out of all my attempts at being paid as a writer.

That damn radio commercial has influenced my decisions for the past decade. Don’t ask me how to make a million bucks just yet. So far, I’ve only made a couple hundred. But I guarantee, I’ll let you know when it happens!

Intersections – What it Means to Me

Diversity in Literature: Intersections

Literature is a preserved collection of the human experience. It transfers thoughts and ideas into a shareable medium. Literature by nature is diverse, but does it represent the expanse of the human condition? Does it provide a truly collaborative snapshot, or merely the most popular narrative?

We are all humans, and like literature, exist in a variety of forms. We are diverse in race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, culture, socioeconomic status, political beliefs, occupation, etc. Literature helps us understand/comprehend the differences and the connections between us. Literature is at a point of intersection. To expand our minds, we must also expand our exposure to different perspectives.

We at New Plains Student Publishing encourage everyone to have a voice, and are excited to announce a new biweekly diversity blog series: Intersections.

Intersections will feature blogs from alternating diversity themes.

-New Plains Student Publishing

racial identity
What It Means to Me

Written by Caitlin Carnall

I would be lying if I said I had it figured out from the start, writing that is.  For the first couple of years, I was extremely self-critical of my own work and never wanted to share it in fear of judgement from my peers.  

During my fourth year on campus at the University of Central Oklahoma, I was in a Young Adult Literature course and we were studying W.E.B. DuBois’s concept of double consciousness.  The concept encompasses the idea and struggle of an individual’s identity being split and divided into two or more facets.

It was difficult for me growing up with a Hispanic grandmother who blared Latin tunes during Sunday’s chores, singing every word in Spanish, but not understanding what I was listening to.  Not to mention, I would look in the mirror and notice my skin wasn’t as dark as hers, so did I really belong to her ancestry? Or was I just this white girl living in the Mexican neighborhood in Oklahoma City?

When I first began studying the concept of double consciousness, I didn’t recognize that I, myself, was split between three different racial identities: Caucasian, Hispanic, and American Indian.  When speaking directly about the effect of my racial identities upon my writing, I rarely talk about and reflect on my American Indian ancestry for the simple fact that I know very little about it.  On my mother’s side of the family, my great grandmother’s mother was full-blood Cherokee Indian, but we couldn’t trace back the history far enough to take ownership of our benefits. On my father’s side, I know my grandfather was less than 25% Indian.  I reflect most on my Hispanic and Caucasian ancestry in my writing, especially my poetry. The divide between my racial identities add a certain kind of character to my work, where in reality causes me anxiety that I am normally uncomfortable sharing out loud.  However, through my writing, I am allowed to express this struggle I encounter with my racial identities without feeling directly judged. My writing truly allows me an outlet for overwhelming emotion, and it gives voice to a diverse individual. The following is my poem, Tough Meat:    

Girl, you crazy.

Yeah, gram.  You.

Best friend—my fear

Is my best friend.

 

Hold you close, but at a distance.

Like your skin color, like

the color my skin should be—

Stuck to my finger and stuck to my memory.

 

Mine—

Just don’t let anyone catch me

Admiring mine:

Love you at your worst.

 

Oh shit, maybe I’m crazy too.

The skip-a-generation bullshit is real.

We got tough meat—as hard as is—

Always soft.

 

Lithium over easy atop my enchiladas

¿Por favor Abuela?

Over easy brain,

Over cooked heart, impenetrable.

 

Impenetrable

I am crazy, but

We got tough meat—as hard as is—

Always soft.

 

¿Duele?  Swallow pills like Portia

Swallowed fire. Your neuro

home is not a home any longer.  You

know the medicine is there in your food, your brain.

 

I stopped taking my happy pills and

I’ve been searching for the roundness

in light, caramel dermises on the streets.

We got tough meat.  Always soft.

Within the piece, I am questioning my identity as a Hispanic female, but also, I am questioning my future mental stability as the grandchild of a woman who suffers from a severe case of bipolar disorder.  So, not only do I struggle with a divide in my racial background, but also, I struggle with the fear of my genetic mental state. The personal tear I experience when dealing with such issues is flavorful for my writing.