So Close, So Far

By November 19, 2010Uncategorized

I have been hard at work on my (adult) novel. It’s set in the early 1960s and the main character is a multiracial boy so I’ve been thinking a lot about what is was like to grow up ‘mixed’ in less hybrid times.

To me, the trailblazer has always been the writer Sui Sin Far (born Edith Maude Eaton; 15 March 1865 – 7 April 1914). Far was the daughter of Englishman Edward Eaton, a merchant who met her Chinese mother while on a business trip to Shanghai. Far was born in England but grew up in Montreal, Quebec.

I was recently re-reading a short memoir piece she wrote back in 1890. (It’s called “Leaves from the mental portfolio of an Eurasian.”) 120 years later, it still feels strangely contemporary. There was one paragraph that reminded me of the scene in Spork, where spork is trying to fit in (or “pass”) by making himself look more “spoonish” or “forkish”.

Here’s the passage: “I also meet some funny people who advise me to ‘trade’ upon my nationality. They tell me that if I wish to succeed in literature in America I should dress in Chinese costume, carry a fan in my hand, wear a pair of scarlet beaded slippers, live in New York, and come of high birth. Instead of making myself familiar with the Chinese Americans around me, I should discourse on my spirit acquaintance with Chinese ancestors.”