I recently trekked to my ancestral village in Florida and stopped in Atlanta to hang with Salaam, Love contributor, Alan Howard, and Love, Inshallah featured, YA author, Aisha Saeed. She has a forthcoming book (March 2015), Written in the Stars, available for pre-order.
Aisha swears allegiance to one particular Publix grocery store, so much so that we’ve enjoyed Twitter banter on the subject. Honestly, I don’t know why Publix hasn’t recruited her for public relations in celebration of diversity. Seriously. She could do for Publix what she is doing for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign (of which she is on the executive committee).
Yet, she got me to Publix and folks were as friendly (if somewhat smartphone inept) as she had suggested. (Note: there are three little readers in video, my Afghan-American son, Ibrahim, in a TAPS t-shirt, and Aisha’s two sons. This is America’s future, these precious kids.)
Aisha and I were both raised in Florida, but in different cultural spheres. She commented over Vietnamese cuisine during my Atlanta-lunch that she didn’t eat stuff like pho growing up. Her family dinner table consisted of traditional Pakistani foods. “Spaghetti was as exotic as it got,” she shared.
Likewise, my Southern palate consisted of collard greens and cornbread. I did not know about biryani until I became an adult. Pho? Pfffh! I didn’t eat Chinese food until I was 12 years old. I didn’t meet anyone “foreign” until I moved to a big city high school in eleventh grade.
Every book I read as a child — and I read a great deal — featured kids that looked like me: white, blond, simple, certain. The only literary diversity I experienced was Mowgli in The Jungle Book.
Aisha grew up without book characters that looked like her, and this literary absence is one reason she started writing. The cover of Written in the Stars features a “brown girl”, and Aisha shared that this felt like an achievement, specifically because her publisher worked with her to develop a cover that accurately represented the story.
On that day in Atlanta, our children slurped down pho and then strolled through Publix, and each of us celebrated components of hybrid identities. The power of globalism was tangible. Yet, I want more diversity in pop culture because my son is transcultured and of mixed race heritage. He needs stories celebrating his cultural experiences.
I devoured the ARC for Written in the Stars on the land settled by my Irish ancestors in the early 1800s, and on the same patch of earth where I was raised. In one swoop of the page, I was transported to Pakistan and into a reality very different than my own. This is what great writing can do: it becomes little transformative journeys. Writers like Aisha are opening new cultural spaces in celebration of complex identities.
I give a shout out to Aisha and Written in the Stars. What a fabulous story of love, redemption, and hope. Pre-order your copy now, and celebrate great groceries and literary diversity.