My name is Teresa Tran, and I am a first generation Vietnamese American born in Fairfax, Virginia, and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. I am currently double majoring in English and English Education with a Women’s Studies minor. I aspire to be a published author and I want to try my hand at acting one day. In the meantime, I am working toward getting my teacher certification to teach high school English Literature/Language Arts (ya girl’s gotta pay her bills somehow).
For the longest time, I struggled to see myself reflected in the media that I consumed on a daily basis. Everywhere I looked -- all I saw were white faces. They were the ones who got to be the world-saving heroes, the multi-faceted anti-heroes, the redemption-blessed villains. The most representation I ever saw was either nondescript token “Asian sidekick” who made all the racist jokes at their own expense or stoic token “Asian fighter” who happened to know every single style of martial arts known to man (because why not?). Both versions are harmful and stereotypical caricatures of what society believes Asian people are actually like. A lot of these Asian characters are either in the story only to further the white main character’s arc,or not there at all. Or if there were no Asian characters in the story, the aesthetic of the world would practically scream “Asian.” I am absolutely sick of being reduced to the margins, of being part of the subtext, of being erased from the hero’s journey.
“YA Writer writing herself into the narrative” essentially boils down to my desire to see more and better Asian/Asian American representation in media, particularly in young adult books. The young adult book category is populated by smart, impressionable, voracious readers, many of whom are Asian, who demand and deserve to be seen. I deserve to be seen, to be understood in every crook and cranny of my nuanced and emotional life, to be told that I’m valid just as I am. If there are no stories out there that could give me that, then I’ll write them myself.
I have been reading since I could walk. I’ve read all kinds of books: contemporary, historical fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, adventure, romance, slapstick - you name it. But the one genre I keep finding myself drawn to over and over again is fantasy. Ursula K. Le Guin once said something about fantasy that was just absolutely brilliant: “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it their duty to escape? The moneylenders, the knownothings, the authoritarians have us all in prison; if we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can.” I couldn’t agree more. Fantasy books were my young self’s means of escape from reality and remains so to this day. It was only through fantasy books that I could understand who I was and who I may become, that I could live vicariously through characters stronger and better than me, that I could escape. Writing fantasy just felt right.
The first Asian/Asian American actor I remember seeing on TV/film/media was Anna Maria Perez de Taglé, who played Ashley Dewitt, a bully on Hannah Montana. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized how horribly racist it was that the bullies on that show were played by people of color.
The most recent Asian/American actor I saw on TV or on film is Peyton Elizabeth Lee, who plays Andi Mack on Disney Channel’s Andi Mack! She’s such a cutie and absolutely delightful.
I’ve always been a fan of Star Wars, but I truly didn’t become an obsessive fan until Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out in December 2015. I didn’t have a personal fixation with Star Wars until Kelly Marie Tran was announced as the newest cast member in the sequel trilogy in February 2016. My reaction when I found out she was being cast as Rose Tico was at first pure and utter shock, surprised that a Vietnamese American woman got cast in a Star Wars movie. Then I felt nothing but giddy excitement. I remembered my heart thumping really loudly in my ears and a huge smile growing on my face after the news finally sunk in. A Vietnamese American woman was actually going to be in Star Wars. A woman who looked like me and probably experienced some of the same things I had was going to be in The Star Wars franchise. It was unbelievable. Star Wars transformed into this personal obsession and love for me. And suddenly, just like that, Star Wars was mine; I could claim it for myself. For once, I felt deeply seen, vulnerable, and powerful in the best way, and I remember feeling this big sense of hope that I would finally be represented in a story that already meant so much to me.
I think Rose Tico is important to the Star Wars franchise because the entire Star Wars universe is built on Asian philosophies and cultures, and by having a major character be played by an Asian actor, it would pay due to the years of cultural appropriation the franchise has committed since its inception. I still hope more Asian actors get cast in good roles like Kelly did, but I think on a narrative scale, Rose Tico is a wonderful addition to a cast full of blue-collar characters. Rey is a lowly scavenger. Finn worked in sanitation as a stormtrooper. And now Rose Tico is a maintenance worker for the Resistance. I just think she appeals to a lot of people who have never really seen themselves in a big movie like Star Wars before, regardless of gender or race.
Alongside Kelly Marie Tran, the rise of Hong Chau, Chantal Thuy, and Lana Candor in Hollywood has made my Vietnamese heart soar to heights it never knew was possible. Vietnamese women did THAT!
This is our spark, our chance, our time. Kelly Marie Tran and Hong Chau got us in the door. Someone will hold the door for others. And someone will inevitably kick the door down for everyone. I can't wait to meet those someones someday.— Teresa Tran 💪🏼💥⚡️ (@teresatran__) January 8, 2018
In the publishing industry, there are quite a lot of Asian and Asian American writers who inspire me, particularly June Tan, Marina Liu, Ayuna Imura, June Hur, Jeannette Ng, Lyla Lee, Elly Ha, Julie C. Dao, Amélie Wen Zhao, and S. Jae. Jones, just to name a few.
I was recently floored by Andrea Tang’s short novelette Hungry Demigods, which is about a Chinese-French Canadian kitchen witch trying to cure the immortality of a boy (fun, right? You have no idea…). Be on the lookout for more from her!
Roshani Chokshi is one of my favorite authors. Her books are lush, poetic, and diverse! Check out my personal favorite of hers, A Star-Touched Queen, and keep an eye out for her future middle-grade novel, Aru Shah and The End of Time, which is the first book published under Rick Riordan’s new imprint and comes out on March 27, 2018!
I’m particularly excited for Dhonielle Clayton’s new Young Adult (YA) book The Belles. It’s set in a fantasy world where beauty is power in the hands of beings called Belles. There’s court intrigue, lush prose, and smart social commentary. Don’t miss this one when it comes out on February 20th, 2018!
Twitter or Tumblr? Tumblr
Favorite Vietnamese dish? Bánh canh
Favorite fantasy author? Leigh Bardugo
Last book you read? The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Favorite Asian/Asian American writer? Marie Lu