Ayman Chaudary is a Pakistani Muslim. She is also a 'booktoker' on TikTok where she creates content/videos based on literature and fantasy/fiction novels. Here, she shares her thoughts on the importance of good Asian representation in media and even gives us a few book recs!
Alefiya: What does your Asian identity mean to you? Feel free to share anything you’re comfortable with.
Ayman: I’m 20 years old. To me, I guess it means the beginning of the rest of my life. There’s so much in front of you but there’s also so much behind you. I’m Muslim and I had a lot of cultural customs growing up. My parents are Pakistani- I grew up with certain foods and values. It was definitely different from American customs, I grew up with different rules. An Asian American household is very different from an American household, and I noticed that difference very early on.
Alefiya: Do you feel that your culture was represented in the literature and the media you grew up with?
Ayman: There was definitely not that much representation for me when I was growing up. Now, I feel like people have a little more awareness about diverse representation, but still, it’s not very good or accurate representation. I feel that so many Islamic representations show that we are oppressed, which is so wrong! Growing up, I guess I didn’t really realize how important representation was until I realized, you know, there’s something missing. But the good thing is, there's more of a conversation now about what good representation means vs. stereotypical representation.
Alefiya: What a nice segue! When it comes to representation, what are some stereotypes about Asians and Asian cultures that you’re sick of seeing in books? What tropes do you think authors need to stray away from?
Ayman: The list can really go on for this question. Asians are always portrayed as the ‘nerd’. Asians in media are always tokenized, they’re always the shoulder piece, always the reason the white character progresses. I want to see the Asian character’s full story, not just their sarcastic one-liners. So for me, personally, I’m Muslim, I’m Pakistani- I hate seeing the ‘Muslims are oppressed’ thing. If that’s the only way you can represent a Muslim hijabi, I don’t want it. It’s so overdone, it’s actually really boring. Your race is not a personality trait. A lot of authors confuse that when representing people of color in their books.
Alefiya: From the reader’s POV: is there anything you’re tired of seeing readers accept or romanticize?
Ayman: Oh, yeah. There’s definitely a heavy romanticization going around in the book community where we hype up a character just for being POC, which again, just enforces the whole thing I was talking about before with a character’s race being their only personality trait. Or, when people hype up a white author for simply just including characters with people of color or different identities. People also just need to read more diversely because they want to, not because they’re trying to look like a good person. Diversity is the bare minimum, really. So if you’re promoting a book and the main tagline there is, “Oh, this book was so diverse!”, my question is: did you really enjoy the book or did you just read it because it was ‘diverse’? And was it even diverse? Or were there 2 POC characters and you decided to call it a day? Authors have unlimited choices, especially in fantasy. Why would their fantasy only include white people?
Alefiya: Why is proper representation important?
Ayman: Representation is so important, not only for the represented to see themselves, but also for other viewers to be able to learn and be appreciative of other identities.
Alefiya: What tropes do you really enjoy? What are your favorite examples of great Asian representation in books?
Ayman: I love seeing myself in books, whether it’s a Muslim or an Asian. I love An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir- I think Sabaa did a great job in representing different cultures and ideals in her series. I like how race in her books was more of a side piece, like it is what it was. I loved the series, like seeing myself in these characters who were saving the world and falling in love, and yes, they were brown, but that’s not all they were. Another example is Inej Ghafa from Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. I love how she was portrayed as this quiet Wraith, but still so brave and strong and smart. I just loved reading about her and her journey. She was the coolest character ever, like just the way she went about. And again, she was brown, but she was more.