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Sunday, September 16, 2012

You Can Still Be Who You Wish You Was...

As a child, I learned early on not to question adults. My mother made sure that I understood that this was unacceptable. Now, she has never been strict or even overbearing; she simply laid the ground rules early on and because I understood them, she and I continue to foster a good relationship to this day.

Now that I'm older, having experienced a few things in my two and a half decades on this earth, I kind of regret the fact that I followed the rules so succinctly.

Earlier today, I finished Staceyann Chin's memoir, The Other Side of Paradise. In it, she opens up about the most personal events of her life growing up in Jamaica. Her mother abandoned her and her older brother, Delano. Her Chinese father, to this day, never claimed her as his own. As her grandmother grew older she was no longer able to care for the two young children on her own. Eventually, the trio had to split up, landing Staceyann in the house of relatives she hardly knew. She was molested by older cousins and teased for her light complexion by them and peers. Her childhood left a lot to be desired.

I shared her anger and frustration with her family, asking myself over and over 'why do people--children--have to go through this?'

I was first introduced to Chin's work when I read Rebecca Walker's Black Cool, a compilation of essays from writers describing what they thought it meant to be black and cool. In her essay, titled 'Authenticity', Chin tells us how she became the loud, outspoken, Jamaican born lesbian that she is. She makes sure we understand that she is proud of the woman she is and she gives us insight on why it was so important for her to accept who she was, regardless of what others thought.
"I only know that to be me, to remain true to that self I adore, I must say my truth out loud. If I don't I will be someone else. And it has been forever since I have wanted to be that. I have my own cool now" (Black Cool, p. 119).
Having read that essay and the memoir, I can't help but admire her as a woman. I actually wish I was like her in some instances. She challenged everyone on anything, regardless of if it was her business or not. Chin was not afraid to speak her mind, finding herself in a lot of trouble with her elders. The fact that she never showed fear of getting in trouble pissed them off more. Instead of taking the time to explain things so that her young mind could understand, she often received beatings, in an attempt to drive the devil inside of her out.

As for me, I pretty much accepted everything that was presented to me as truth. I refrained from asking questions, especially about Christianity, because you're not supposed to question God and I was a child; I simply did as I was told. As I think back on my childhood, I feel as if I crippled myself. Today, I'm timid. I calculate my movements, avoiding anything that resembles confrontation. I shy away from debates, friendly or heated, because I feel like my opinion won't be valid.

Throughout the entire book, I felt that Chin knew exactly who she was as a woman, regardless of her disconnect with her parents. She didn't let their mistakes handicap her, stifling her growth as a woman. Even after she made the decision to migrate to New York, leaving behind the hypocrisy of her country and her tumultuous past, she found room in her heart to forgive her mother for the way she left things. She even continued to conduct a relationship with her "father", even if it was business-like.

Staceyann Chin could very well be listed as one of my favorite writers now. There aren't many I feel connected to. But I guess that's the point when you pen your life's story; everyone feels like they know you. I'm always thankful when someone feels it is necessary to share their own stories for the betterment of someone else, someone they may never get the opportunity to meet. I'm thankful that she has sparked something in the usually timid Erika, provoking her to be more vocal about what she's feeling. I'm thankful that she has helped her to realize that her opinion does matter.

For whatever reason, I am thankful that she wrote this memoir.

Check out below as Chin talks briefly about her memoir, The Other Side of Paradise:

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