Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blog Roundtable: Rehannah Khan's Thoughts on Caribbean Multiculturalism and its Relevance to Children's Literature


Welcome back to this week's Blog Roundtable on race and diversity in Caribbean children's literature! Yesterday we heard Carmen Milagros Torres' thoughts on race in Puerto Rican children's books. If you missed it, do go back and take a read, very interesting stuff. Today, I'm pleased to welcome back Rehannah Khan, a longtime reader of the blog. Rehannah was a guest blogger previously and she always has very thought-provoking things to say. Here is Rehannah's completed questionnaire and below that is her post.Take it away!

Your name (first name alone is fine): Rehannah
The nationality(ies) you identify with: Trinidadian
Your self-described racial identity: Indo-Trinidadian (East Indian descent)
Your experience reading Caribbean children's and/or YA books, either in print or online:9
*Rate yourself on the following scale of 1 to 10.

1 - You haven't read any Caribbean children's or YA books, EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading, but you have read reviews or summaries of such books.
2- At some point in time, you have read Caribbean children's or YA books (AT LEAST 1) as part of required reading for school. You have NOT read Caribbean children's or YA books outside of required school reading.
3 - At some point in time, you have read Caribbean children's or YA books (AT LEAST 1) as part of required reading for school. You have also read 1-3 Caribbean children's or YA books that were not required school reading.
4 - You have never read a Caribbean children's or YA book as part of required reading for school. You have read 1-3 Caribbean children's or YA books.
5 - At some point in time, you have read Caribbean children's or YA books (AT LEAST 1) as part of required reading for school. You have also read MORE THAN 3 Caribbean children's or YA books that were not required school reading.
6 - You have never read a Caribbean children's or YA book as part of required reading for school. You have read MORE THAN 3 Caribbean children's or YA books.
7 - You review Caribbean children's or YA books (on a blog, website, in a newspaper, magazine, scholarly journal or other media outlet) and have read and reviewed AT LEAST 5 such books.
8 -You have read 0-3 Caribbean children's or YA books, EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading. You have written (but not published) a Caribbean children's or YA book(s.)
9 - You have read MORE THAN 3 Caribbean children's or YA books EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading. You have written (but not published) a Caribbean children's or YA book(s.)
10 - You have read MORE THAN 1 Caribbean children's or YA books EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading. You have written AND published a Caribbean children's or YA book(s.)


Caribbean Writers As Multicultural Writers

by Rehannah Khan

Regarding whether to consider Caribbean literature as multicultural, I am for it, and thus I have termed my novel (in progress) a "YA Multicultural Fantasy." The reason I justify it is that on the one hand, Caribbean literature is multicultural in the literal sense of the word (that is, about more than one culture, or cultural origins at least). On the other hand, as you have said on your blog, multicultural literature in the US is basically 'minority' literature (which I'm guessing would include the Caribbean). I tend to prefer the literal definition as I consider Caribbean literature on the whole as multicultural literature, though not all multicultural literature is Caribbean, obviously. I suppose this decision has to do with the fact that I have an ethnically diverse cast in my book, and that it's a fantasy. The term 'Caribbean Fantasy' just always sounded too idyllic or superficial to me.

In terms of 'minorities' and 'majorities' and whatnot in the Caribbean, numerically speaking, I suppose Afro-Caribbean people would be the majority or at least the perceived majority (I don't have any figures to back that up). In Trinidad and Guyana, however, Indo-Caribbean people would be considered the majority, again numerically speaking. Taking that further, the majority of these individuals would probably be Hindu. Yet I don't know if other ethnicities or religions are treated necessarily as 'minorities' in the way described in the U.S. Taking myself as an example, since I'm a Muslim Trinidadian of East Indian descent (or Indo-Trinidadian), I would be a minority within a majority, which is itself a minority in the wider Caribbean.

This just makes talk about minorities in the context of the Caribbean thoroughly confusing. What’s considered the minority in one country may not be in another, or may even differ in different islands of the same country (Trinidad and Tobago, for example). Thus I understand your reasoning about multicultural literature being a somewhat unnecessary term in a Caribbean context, when using the American definition of the genre. The term ‘minority’ doesn’t have a very strong meaning in the Caribbean.

That being said, if asked, I would still have to consider myself a ‘minority’ in the Caribbean, given my religious and ethnic background. Again, this is in terms of numbers (which I don’t have exact figures for). Despite this, I wouldn’t say that the experiences of Caribbean people (at least in the same country) of different ethnicities are all that different from each other. Yes, there are differences because of religion, but in my opinion, I don’t think all these differences make that much of...well...a difference. I think it boils down to the way we speak. If you notice, older generations tend to speak a little differently from younger generations, even within the same race, and younger generations of people tend to speak more similarly to each other, regardless of race. What this means is that with every new generation, cultural differences (like language, in particular), get smaller and smaller, and most ‘post-race’ young people, to use your terminology, are capable of appreciating their religious and ethnic heritage, while not letting such differences get in the way of their overall Caribbeaness.

In my opinion though, I would have to say that there has been an under-representation of characters and cultures in Caribbean literature (especially children’s) that are not of African origin. This probably has more to do with the fact that most Caribbean authors are of African descent, who may also be of an older generation and whose experiences may not be as broad culturally as younger generations. Thus, while there may be a cultural ‘minority’ in Caribbean literature and Caribbean children’s literature, I couldn’t say if this is a result of deliberate discrimination or not. However, I also don’t think that Indo-Caribbean (or any other sub-culture) type of books should be a distinct category or subgenre in Caribbean literature. This is perhaps because, although I am of Indian origin, I wouldn’t consider my experiences as having a certain ‘Indianess’ about it, and although I am Muslim, I grew up attending Roman Catholic schools. My experiences are multicultural, and therefore, I write multicultural.

I don’t find the "Caribbean Folklore Diversity" widget box on your blog (Summer's note: Rehannah is referring to the display of Amerindian and Indo-Caribbean kid lit. in the left-hand column of my blog!) offensive, although perhaps it’s a bit unnecessary. Those books seem more historical or folkloric, so perhaps it’s better to classify them as that, along with other books in that genre with different cultural origins. That’s just my opinion though. The fact that you felt the need for that widget in the first place, however, is kind of proof that people of Indian and Amerindian descent (and others) are under-represented in Caribbean children’s books, and Caribbean books on the whole. Furthermore, the title of the Anansi conference (Summer's note: Rehannah is referring to a conference titled 'A is for Anansi: Literature for Children of African' ascent that I presented at in New York last year.) is also more proof that there does seem to be a perceived Caribbean ‘mainstream’ in the US where ‘Caribbean’ in the US means ‘African’. I’m not certain if this is the case in the UK.

***

Rehannah Azeeyah Khan is a self-taught Trinidadian author of an unpublished children’s book, which she likes to call a "Young Adult Multicultural Fantasy." She is currently seeking publication. A Muslim and former St. Joseph's Convent girl, Rehannah holds a B.Sc. in Information Systems and Management, which thus far has been helpful in giving her some much-needed organizational skills (but perhaps some day she’ll get that MFA!) Rehannah is an avid reader of all genres, and is always happy to get her hands on a great Caribbean read.



Summer Edward is a Children's Literature and Publishing Consultant. She holds an M.S.Ed. degree in Reading, Writing, Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania and is the recipient of a Highlights Foundation Scholarship for promising children's writers and the School of the Free Mind's inaugural Way of the Book Honor Award given to artist-authors demonstrating long and sincere commitment to changing the world through children's books. Learn more about her here .

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-Summer