I’ve always been interested in this idea of liminality and its various definitions, especially as it applies to the immigrant experience. There’s this divide in identity for immigrants and their children, but it’s not just a physical link to geography – lines marking borders where one thing begins and another ends. Culture and identity are not solely tied to place, these concepts are born from people, and that is where they exist.
My parents immigrated from China, whereas, I was born and have spent my entire life in a small, predominantly white town. I felt the need to reconcile the contrasts I grew up with, in language, tradition, and my own sense of self while trying also to maintain stasis. I didn’t know how others like me could inhabit their liminal spaces, how I could balance social, societal, and personal expectations and whether or not writing could even factor in to that.
I’d kept my writing a secret from everyone I knew for years. I took comfort in having things that I could keep to myself, something exclusive from my social life and my family life and from the uncertainty of how I was supposed to perform my identity.
Maybe I just didn’t want there to be another way for others to make assumptions about who I was.
It’s one thing to be a visible minority and to have strangers make presumptions about you, but writing was something I could control. It’s only recently that I’ve started being candid about my writing. For the longest time, I struggled with the word “writer”. The title felt presumptuous, like I would never live up to it.
When I was young, writing became a symptom of things I couldn’t easily express. I realized you could find your way to a sort of clarity through abstraction. Having access to art and fiction by people from all over the world online, seeing Asian artists who not only loved and worked hard for their art, but also excelled at it, was crucial to my own understanding of how diverse the creative community can be. Artists like Ken Wong, Adam Tan, and Chrystal Chan all had roles in my realization that there was a place for Asian artists to succeed and to develop their talent in the creative community. And then writers like Ken Liu and Alyssa Wong inspired me to read and write diversely, taught me that the Asian experience can and does exist in fiction.
I’ve always been drawn to visual art and music, but my writing stemmed from a much more personal place and has always been closely tied to how I understand who I am. Identity is not determined by others, but created by you, and every day we create the terms for who we are. I’m not saying everything is certain and I know exactly who I am and will be in the future, I still struggle with aspects of my identity as both a writer and as an Asian Canadian.
What I do know is that we need representation of diverse artists. We need creative spaces to accurately depict the artistic community, and the variety and variability that exists in art.
Simply being present and active in a community of artists is significant. It’s important to other writers who were like me and didn’t have any examples to follow. We are only willing to call ourselves artists when the idea is accessible to us, and the possibility viable. So make your art, because you never know who else out there just needs a little push, a little inspiration.
– joyce chong