A couple of weeks ago, my friend/CP/Brazilian fellow YA writer Debbie spurred on an interesting conversation in twitter about Brazilian representation in fiction and how often we see it misrepresented in our own niche — YA and MG. She put it up on storify in some eloquent twitter words, but I thought I might expand some of my thoughts here on the blog, too.
I first started tweeting about it because in fact, not only I have seen little representation of Brazil among YA (let’s be truthful: very little nuanced representation of all Latinxs) but because me, a Brazilian girl, never actually wrote a Brazilian character or had Brazil for a setting. As one of my best friends put it: GET YOURSELF TOGETHER, YO.
I laughed at her response, of course, but there’s also some hidden truth as to why I’ve never done it — it always feels like too much to represent a whole country or a whole experience by yourself, and hail something I care so deeply about. I love my country and my home, and yet, it’s hard to see it in books, which ends up being harder for me to see it in books, too. It’s a vicious cycle — I don’t see it represented, so I’m not sure I can write it myself. I do have the ideas, things that I have loved and seen from the culture of my country – the dryness of the Northeast, the richness of the Amazon florest, the narratives of lost princess and outlaws, of Portuguese explorers and black people fighting for their freedom. The stories that envolve mermaids, that have folklore and the Virgin Mary at the center, the passion for soccer and the fear of the devil. Brazil is a country of opposing forces and of things that come together, and I love the rich fiction that comes from it.
What I’d never seen before was that fiction translated. We have the great classics, but we have little to nothing at all when it comes to MG and YA. Brazil’s publishing industry doesn’t invest a lot on national literature (thankfully, this has been changing the past 5 years, but it’s a slow process), so when I grew up, I grew up reading the American stories, the ones where there was no mention of my country.
Brazil’s also a lot different than the other Latino countries. We speak a different language, were a colony of different origin and nowadays, have a completely different dynamic when it comes to race and culture. With this unique dynamic, of course it’s hard to completely translate it into stories or pages — and as I’d never seen it, I’d never thought to try.
When it comes to writing, I was so used to the white-default that I devoured from US media that it’s taken me years to deconstruct it and adapt it to my reality. The reality that we live more in Brazil — with people who are vastly different and yet belong to the same place. But even after years of decontstructing things, I’ve written Latina characters, but haven’t written anyone Brazilian that was front and center in my story.
Which in the end makes me wonder, if all these years of reading/writing still haven’t been enough for me to place my own country in the midst of things I write. It’s like it’s strange putting it out there — I don’t have a problem making my MC bisexual or black, but from the moment I make her Brazilian, it feels like something else. Even in the Brazilian literature of nowadays, a lot of it is set in the US or the UK — the countries we’re used to when it comes to MG/YA. Like the YA stories could never happen here. And even if they did, would people relate to them? Would people want to read them? Would my experience be relevant amidst all the other things?
Fact is, I’m not an issue writer. I enjoy writing fantasy and sci-fi, and I’ll rarely cross the barrier to contemporary. And still, even though my world is made up, it’s like I can’t quite place someone from my country inside the book. And when exposing that fear, it was so strange to hear a lot of people telling me that they felt the same thing about their own countries and their own culture — like we could write anything, except our own background. There’s fear there, like it won’t be good enough, or that it’ll be too strange, too otherworldly, and nobody will want it.
In a way, it was good to find out I’m not alone in crossing that barrier I feel like I imposed myself — I want to, but never know if I can. Even now, I’m struggling to build a believable story, something that I’ll try to make it true. And slowly overcoming this fear that my stories aren’t wanted, and that one day, I’ll be able to write full-on Brazilian fiction without having to worry about what I’m doing.