On #Ownvoices And Checking Boxes As A Biracial Reviewer // Who Gets To Decide What I Represent?

So lately I’ve been seeing more blog tours that priorities #ownvoices reviewers. And this is wonderful of course! But also seeing forms with race/ethnicity boxes to check has me conflicted, just like race boxes to check have had me conflicted my whole life, so here we are.

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I need to start this post by saying that #ownvoices is incredibly important. If you somehow don’t know, ownvoices is when the person (author, reviewer, etc) is from the same marginalized group as the character, thus can draw from their personal experience. Diversity is important, and people from diverse or marginalized communities should be able to share their stories. And there is no one better to tell these stories than people who have lived the experiences.

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A little bit about myself that I don’t think I’ve ever shared online before. I live in a very Asian community in the United States. Although Asians make up only 5% of the US population, Asians are the majority in my city. My high school was about 50% Asian (and the rest mainly white, but also latinx, Black, etc), and most of my friends growing up were/are Asian.

I’m sharing this because this makes my experience very unique, unlike most Asian Americans. Because as a biracial Asian American, I’ve been told over and over again that I’m not Asian enough. And that hurts. I recognize that saying this comes from a place of privilege that white and white passing people have. But when I leave my Asian bubble and travel to the rest of the US, including the white half of my family, I look Asian. I am a second generation Asian American, living in a house and family immersed in Taiwanese culture that books with full white protagonists never capture. I know that I am Asian, and it’s part of my culture and family, even though people deny it all the time.

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So this brings me back to #ownvoices. Because I’ve been told so many times that I’m not really Asian, when I talk about Asian rep in my book blog, when I say that I’m an ownvoices Taiwanese reviewer, sometimes I feel like I’m  a white person out of my lane. 

This is ridiculous of course. There have even been some incredible Asian fantasies written by halfies! Natasha Ngan, author of Girl of Paper and Fire, is biracial! I’m technically closer to her ethnicity than full Asians, yet I sometimes feel like I am less of an ownvoices reviewer than them.

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15749186There’s a big push lately to get books into the hands of ownvoices reviewers, which is so wonderful and I love it so much! But it’s left me feeling very conflicted because I wonder, what exactly am I? I’d imagine a blog tour sign up for To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before would ask if I was Korean, which I’m not, so I would say I’m not ownvoices, and a sign up for American Panda would ask if I was Taiwanese, which I am, so I would say I am ownvoices. However, I identified more with Lara Jean, who is half Korean, than Mei, who is full Taiwanese. I feel more ownvoices for Lara Jean, but technically I would say I only am for Mei.

(speaking of that I love Lana Condor but I’m still annoyed that they cast a full Asian actress for Lara Jean lol Hollywood you had ONE JOB)

35604686And now I’m talking about being more or less ownvoices, which has me feeling a bit like a fraud because how is that possible? The way I’ve seen it discussed, you’re either ownvoices or you’re not. Yes or No. You’re either the same ethnicity as the character or you’re not, there’s no grey area. But if that’s really the case, then to date there exists only one (1) YA book, The Astonishing Color of After, with a biracial Taiwanese/white protagonist for which I am ownvoices, and while I loved it and felt represented, it wasn’t even the most represented I’ve ever felt!

38326343. sy475 The most represented I’ve ever felt in a book was with Harley in the Sky. That book truly felt like a love letter to multiracial people, and Harley’s struggle with being multiracial and not fitting into any box felt so authentic. I mean, take this quote from Harley in the Sky for example, which basically summarizes up this entire post:

Asian people call me ‘too white’ and laugh at me for not knowing enough about Chinese and Japanese culture. And white people only ever see me as Asian, as exotic–different from their version of ‘all American.’ When someone is biracial, it’s suddenly like, ‘no, you don’t get to claim all the things that you are because you’re not Asian enough.

Harley represents me so much, made me feel so loved, but she isn’t Taiwanese and white, she’s Chinese, Japanese, and white, so if someone wanted to give that book to only ownvoices reviewers, would I have to say that that’s not me? Would I have to pass the book up so a full Japanese reviewer who wouldn’t relate to that quote like I did can read it?

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45043369When a book about a half Asian character gets praised by a full Asian reviewer for the Asian rep, of course I’m super happy! Obviously I’d rather a full Asian reviewer get a book with a biracial Asian character than a full white reviewer. But also, I want to scream frustration into the void when Asians praise books like To All The Boys, Anna K (which, by the way, I don’t particularly like the biracial rep in that book) and Starfish for the Asian rep, accepting the biracial characters as Asian, but in real life take one look at me and write me off as white. 

The push for ownvoices also makes me wonder, what exactly makes you ownvoices? Is it the Asian culture and customs you have, or is it only how you look? Sometimes I see third or fourth generation Asian American authors or reviewers, and I may have faced less racism from my outside appearance than them, but I’m the one with grandparents living in Taiwan who don’t speak English and who immerse me in their culture when I visit them. And now I’m like, this is so dumb, trying to categorize who is more or less Asian, trying to make everything a contest and squash us all into boxes, and it makes me so frustrated and I just want to ask can’t we both be equally Asian in our own ways?

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Honestly this post is getting rambly and side tracked. I think I’ve created most of this struggle in my head, tbh, as for the most part the book community is very welcoming and I’m projecting my irl struggle online. Especially in blogs most of what made me irked and sparked this discussion was twitter lol.

I guess I’m trying to say that as much as ownvoices is truly amazing and absolutely necessary, it sometimes feels a bit confining and restrictive to me. It can feel a bit like trying to fit everyone neatly into a box, and as someone who has never fit into one box, as evidenced by the many times in my life I’ve had to decide if I should put white or Asian on a form that says check only one, it can be something I really struggle with.

I guess, in conclusion, don’t come for me if I call myself ownvoices for whatever I want to and you should all read Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

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Let’s Chat

What do you think about #ownvoices? Have you ever struggled with being put into a box? What are some books that you’ve felt really represented by? Are you going to read Harley in the Sky now? I’d love to chat in the comments below!

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72 thoughts on “On #Ownvoices And Checking Boxes As A Biracial Reviewer // Who Gets To Decide What I Represent?

  1. This was so interesting, Kay! This is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as someone who is mixed too. I can really relate to you about living in an Asian American bubble in the U.S. 😅, and I think what really sparked similar thoughts for me has been own voices blog tours too haha. It always feels like I would be taking up space as an own voices reviewer as someone who is mixed and often feels the rift between me and my different heritages, and then there’s the added disconnect of being Asian American and not Asian from Asia. Maybe there is a level of overthinking involved because my sister always feels that she’s fully both parts of our ethnicity, but I also know there’s a ton of people like you and I who feel like they’re in a strange limbo 😬. I think what own voices reviews comes down to in the end is really experience—if the characters’ stories resonate with you and conjure instances from your life, then perhaps that is valid enough 😅.
    I’ve been meaning to read Harley in the Sky, but now I really, really want to read it 😄.

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    1. Thanks, Belle! Ahh I’m so happy to hear that another mixed person can relate–was a little worried I was the only one and people would scoff at this post haha. There’s definitely that disconnect of being Asian American; I feel like I usually feel better reading Asian American books set in America, and feel more like a fraud when requesting books set in Asian inspired fictional lands or just Asia itself. I definitely think that at the end of the day experience is important and whether the characters stories resonate–the problem is I don’t know if they’re going to resonate until I read the book which I can’t do until I check that race box on the sign up form lol. That’s wonderful that your sister feels like she’s fully both–there’s definitely a wiiiiiiiide range of what mixed people feel, and we’re all just doing our best haha ❤

      Yes!! I am working to force everyone in the world to read Harley in the Sky my mastermind plan is working lmao

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  2. We really need to have a conversation about ownvoices, because a lot of times people forget that mixed people exist. If we say, we’re also one thing, but we look something other-people always say we’re this, but we’re not. My family is mixed and I am the only one so far who accepts it.

    I’m not fully Black. But I am not fully white either, but I look like it almost, but I’m too light skin to be considered Black, but surrounded by white people, I’m the dark one. I’m stuck in a “Latinx” bubble as almost everyone in my community is Latinx, but I get about 2% Black, 3% Asian, about 2% white, but everyone else is Latinx.

    I hate being in the strange limbo, because it’s not a clean cut at all.

    I loved the mix rep in Color Me In which helped me understand my identity if someone can claim a race, if we don’t look like it, and of course, Harley In the Sky had the most amazing multiracial rep.

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    1. We really do need to have that conversation! Race and ethnicity is not as cut and dry as the ownvoices movement seems to make it out to be, and I’m tired of people telling me what I am. Yay for mixed people–I think we’re amazing!!–and I’m glad you accept it and hope your family will too ❤

      Honestly, the context and situation we're in really had a lot to do with how we look. People always talk about being "asian passing" or "white passing" and tbh I don't really like those phrases because I look white around Asians and Asian around white people. It's really complicated and I'm so tired of people deciding what I am in real life, so it's even more exhausting when people online who don't even know me (or at least how I look) continue to categorize me arbitrarily.

      Ooh I meant to read Color Me In when it came out but I never did and it slipped my mind, but now I really want to read it! I'm so glad it helped you, yay for multiracial rep!

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Lori ❤ ❤

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  3. This was a really interesting post. I’m really really glad you wrote it because while I’ve known about how biracial people can struggle with their identity, as somebody who is fully Indian, I haven’t really had the same sort of problems. I never really considered how you might struggle with ownvoices, and now that I’ve read your post, I totally agree. In the end, everybody’s experience is different and if you relate with the experience in the story, shouldn’t that be enough? Really appreciated your post, Kay ♥︎

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  4. oh my word, this is an amazing post. it’s absolutely fantastic that the book community is focusing on ownvoices, but that also leaves so much gray area. your own personal examples as an Asian American that you gave were super honest and informative!!

    i can’t ever check a box for being either Black or white. i grew up really immersed in greek/italian culture (since that’s what the white side is made up of) and it feels so wrong to claim ownvoices when it’s a book that’s not really representing me. thank you sm for this post, this is a subject that i think should be talked about much more. and i REALLY need to read harley in the sky now don’t i hehe. lovely post💜

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    1. Thank you so much Kaya ❤ Ownvoices is amazing and better than no ownvoices, but as is right now it's far from perfect and I wanted to share my personal thoughts about it! And it really is a strange thing that nobody really talks about of what exactly what makes you ownvoices–how you look? where you live? what culture you grew up with? there's so much grey area and we need to talk about it! hahaha yess I am trying to force everyone to read Harley in the Sky reeeeeead it lmao

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      1. oh, definitely!! i agree, i think it would be super beneficial to talk about defining it. one of the things i was talking about with some people recently is Kamala Harris being half Jamaican and half Indian, but identifying as Black. it adds another layer of “how far does ownvoices go?” and can you ignore half your identity to claim ownvoices for the other half? i’m hoping we’ll get more conversation about this in the future hehe!

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  5. Oh wow Kay I LOVE this discussion so much. I don’t have anything to add to your conversation as I am not biracial nor own voices but I truly l loved reading this so much and hearing about your experience. And thank you for sharing and being so open about it. You’re such a light and I adore you for doing this!!

    (also hi yes I am leaving this post and am going to read Harley In The Sky, but also Akemi’s other books because I’ve desperately been wanting to but have just kept putting it off)

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    1. Thank you so much Ruby ❤ I'm glad you liked reading this post! And yesssss all of Akemi's books are incredible I highly recommend them ALL and especially Harley I am on a mission to convince everyone in the whole world to read them and I hope it's working lolll

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing this, Kay! I don’t have much to add, but I really appreciate getting to read a bit more about this topic from your point of view – you’ve really brought up some interesting points that have gotten me thinking more about #ownvoices and the potentially drawbacks of categorizing in this way! A truly wonderful post!! ❤️

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Kay. ❤️ I also have some issues with #ownvoices – I love and fully support the idea of getting ARCs to ownvoices reviewers, but sometimes, I’m not sure where to place myself. I’m 100% Mexican-American, but since I’m 5th generation Mexican-American, there’s a disconnect between me and my Mexican roots. My parents don’t speak Spanish, and neither do I. I live in a city with a lot of other Latinx people, but some of my peers speak Spanish because they’re 2nd generation, and it makes me feel I’m too non-Mexican sometimes. My family does not make traditional Mexican foods – my dad cooks a variety of foods from many different cultures, and my Spanish-speaking grandparents make their own non-traditional versions of Mexican food. I’m Latinx and have connected with a lot of Latinx characters, even though most of them come from countries other than Mexico.

    As for book tours and ARCs, sometimes I feel bad if I want to get an ARC for a non-Mexican Latinx book. Should I be considered #ownvoices in this situation? And with Cemetery Boys, I’ve been very excited to be a Latinx ownvoices reviewer, but when I got an ARC, I still felt guilty for not also being ownvoices for the other major ownvoices aspects of the book. Should an “ownvoices” reviewer be ownvoices for everything in the book, or is it okay for them to only relate to one aspect?

    I loved reading everything you had to say here. I think this is a really interesting discussion to have, and I’m grateful that you shared it with us! ❤️ (also I promise I will read Harley in the Sky!)

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    1. Of course, thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts too, Xandra ❤ You're 5th generation full, and I'm 2nd generation half, so we both have such different and unique experiences with neither being less valid. I feel like both of us should be allowed to call ourselves ownvoices and read the books about people like us (for our respective ethnicities obviously), but with all these sign ups that are demanding a hard yes or no for being ownvoices, it can feel really confusing and frustrating not knowing if we're overstepping or whatever, and I feel like the book community needs to acknowledge and talk about that more.

      That's a good point about multiple types of rep, too! I absolutely adored Harley in the Sky (and yayyy you're going to read it I will convince everyone to read it mwahaha) for the multiracial rep, but it also has lovely mental health rep that I know a lot of people who are ownvoices for mental health but are not multiracial really appreciated and connected with, and it's like, how do we get to decide who should read this book? Both types of rep are different and valid, and people will identify differently, and it's annoying when a sign up simply asks "are you ownvoices?" and someone gets to decide which ownvoices reviewer deserves the book more. I'm so glad you liked the Latinx rep in Cemetery Boys (I can't wait to read it once it comes out!!), and definitely think that it's okay that you're not ownvoices for all the rest of the rep… but I'm sure some angry person on twitter would dispute that statement lol.

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  8. This is such an amazing post, Kay! I totally relate with what you have to say and it was very eye opening to read this since it’s not something I’ve thought about enough.

    I have this struggle with some aspects of blogging. For example, when there’s a tour for a book with Latinx rep, tour companies tend to separate the applications in two parts “OwnVoices (Mexican, for example)” and “Not OwnVoices”. Since I’m not Mexican, my application is placed along with the other non-OV reviewers like white, Asian, African and other people that most likely haven’t grow up watching Mexican shows and movies and listening to Mexican music like I have, despite being born in another Latinx country. I don’t think it’s fair because even when I’m not from that country I still can relate to the story and the characters more than someone from a different continent.

    I also feel related outside the bookish community because I’m biracial, half Latinx half Portuguese, so I have dealt with not fitting in any of the cultures quite enough and “having a ‘weird’ last name that doesn’t match my looks” in the eyes of Latinx people. I hope book tour companies can see this post you made and hopefully make some changes in the way the classify OwnVoices reviewers.

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    1. Thanks so much, Cielo ❤ Yes, I totally relate to that; for me it's with other types of Asian like Korean or Japanese that I still relate to more than other non ownvoices reviewers of different races. I feel like ownvoices should be more of a sliding scale than a hard yes or no–there's a lot of grey area, and some people aren't the exact ownvoices rep that matches the character, but still relate more than other people, who could still relate more than others, etc, but for now it seems like everything is just "check this box if you're ownvoices" or not, which is flawed.

      I'm glad you relate! I have a white last name so that's probably part of why a lot of people think I'm just white–honestly, sometimes I wonder if book people online knew my last name, they would just cancel me as a white person out of my lane when I tried to talk about Asian rep lol it's good to be anonymous, totally relate to that. Ahh that would be amazing!!

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  9. What an incredible post, Kay! The ever-relevent topic of what exactly IS ownvoices is so complex, yet I think you expressed the way that it’s specifically complex for you in such a clear way. There’s really no easy answer, is there? But I found it so interesting that you’ve felt more represented by a book that doesn’t match exactly with your identity, which makes total sense to me – it’s more about the book itself than the specific identity of the character, right? Anyway, this was wonderful and really made me think!

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    1. Thanks so much Margaret ❤ There really is no easy answer, and it feels inherently flawed to pretend it's just as easy as checking yes or no to being ownvoices. Yes, it definitely is more about the book than the specific identity! It's also interesting to note that I've read a few books about half Asian characters, including the one that exactly matched my identity, written by full Asian authors… and I can usually tell, and the rep isn't as good. I could get into a whole argument about if full white people aren't allowed to write multiracial characters, why are full asians allowed to… but book twitter isn't ready for that discussion I would probably get cancelled lmao

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  10. Thank you for bringing attention to this! I’m not ownvoices in the race or sexual orientation type, but in the disease type. I have yet to find a character with alopecia, whether teen or adult.
    Everyone says if you don’t see it, write it, but that isn’t always the case. I know people who have had it worse than me and who would be able to write it better than me. You identify with what you identify with. I say if you relate, it applies to you! Check the box if it is you!

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    1. Ahh of course, thank you so much for reading it, Brianna! There’s definitely a sliding scale of what I relate to more or less, not just yes or no relate, so for now I check it if I kinda relate lol and I hope we can bring more nuance to this in the future. I hope you’re able to find a character with alopecia! We definitely need more books about different diseases and all sorts of ownvoices categories, not just race and sexuality ❤

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  11. This is such an excellent post, thank you for sharing! I’m so sorry that the ‘own voices reviewer’ concept has been so restrictive and frustrating for you, I hadn’t really thought about that before so thanks again for writing about your struggle with it. I agree it’s ridiculous that ‘Asian-ness’ would be based only on your outward appearance or DNA rather than the culture/customs that are just as much a part of you…

    I’m so sorry that people said such hurtful things to you about not being ‘Asian’ enough. The concept of ‘Asian enough’ is silly in itself because even though I’m ‘Asian’ I don’t feel like I’d ‘count’ as properly #ownvoices for any other Asian ethnicity other than Hong Kong Chinese. And even then I sometimes feel not quite Hong Kong enough because of speaking English as my first language, going to international schools and living now in England. I also don’t look very Chinese as I have some Indonesian blood, and part of me feels Indonesian but also not enough. And I’ve also been called a ‘banana’ before (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). All of this just shows the impossibility of a quintessential ‘Asian’ life experience in this day and age, and how difficult it would be to regulate that for Asian/Asian diaspora reviewers and authors.

    Anyway I’ve started to ramble so just another thanks for this great discussion post!

    (Also I’m shocked that the form would say check only one ethnicity?! Especially as so many people are mixed these days.)

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    1. Yay I’m glad you liked, thank you for reading ❤

      I think beyond being hapa, I have a pretty unique perspective on being Asian in general because the community where I grew up was very much a mishmash of lots of different Asian cultures. Obviously I haven't grown up with other cultures besides Taiwanese/Chinese firsthand and I definitely wouldn't consider myself ownvoices for them, but I had plenty of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese (I swear I've been friends with like 5 different unrelated "Nguyen"s), etc, friends and acquaintances, and have gotten boba, sushi, pho, and a variety of foods from different cultures with them… tbh this might be part of why I related more to characters like Lara Jean, who is half Korean, than Mei, who is full Taiwanese. The "Asian" life experience is so different, and a Chinese person from China vs from my very Asian US town vs a super white US town would all have such different experiences, so I feel like asking for a simple "yes ownvoices" or "no ownvoices" is really an oversimplification.

      I would probably be called a banana too if people thought I looked yellow on the outside lmao instead I'm just called all white on the inside and out, and I know my full Asian friends have been called bananas, so I get you. I wish people would just be more accepting of all our differences–we're all Asian in our own ways!

      There are more with check multiple these days than when I was younger, but there's still plenty that say check one, and also a lot that say check one and one option is "more than one race" which just lumps us all together lol–apparently I as an Asian/white person am the same as, say, a Latinx/Black or whatever other mix. It's just something I think all of us mixed people have all accepted tbh

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  12. First of all, Kay, this is an *AMAZING* post, and I love you so much for writing it ❤❤❤

    I completely agree that #ownvoices could use more nuances ~ being able to relate to a certain identity is on a personal level, and honestly, no amount of check-boxes could sum up my identity. I feel like we ~as in the community that is not completely white~ have had bad experiences with our identities being compromised and lots of big players in the publishing industry prioritize white people over poc and I think that because of that, those who prioritize ownvoices have become really really strict about who gets what opportunity to the point where it just seems like unnecessary gatekeeping 😖 but maybe that’s just me :(((

    So, I’m actually a first generation Indian-American, so like I guess I’m as Indian as it gets without actually living in India? and idk whenever I read diaspora Indian rep (which I would be like the most ownvoices for) I just don’t relate to it that much?? like the struggles, cultural disconnect, etc. but like i feel like i SHOULD, because it’s my ownvoices. def not as big as what you have to go through (I am so sorry you have to go through all that. it makes me MAD to think about how sometimes it’s all about who’s “more Asian” ugh) but like yeah I totally get what you mean.

    also I just thought about it but. how come full-asian authors are “allowed” to write biracial rep but full-white authors are not? the logic i saw was that apparently everyone can write the white experience but only asians can write the asian experience,,,, and idk. i feel like this is an unpopular opinion but i do think that as amazing as #ownvoices and promoting diverse reads is, gatekeeping is not the answer oof.

    anyways this is such as insightful post and i swear i literally am bursting with thoughts and feelings and i love this post and i love you ❤

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    1. Thanks you so much for reading it, Sara! ❤

      Yes, ownvoices really is wonderful to combat so many historical white only things, but it really can feel like gatekeeping! I originally put the word "gatekeeping" in my title for this post but then I took it out because I was afraid I would get cancelled lol I'm glad you agree though!

      We really all have such different experiences that are more unique to the individual person than the "ownvoices group" or whatever. I was pretty much just considering my own mixed identity writing this post, but after reading a bunch of comments it seems like a bunch of people are like you where despite being just one race, they still don't relate because of the subtle nuances every unique person has, and I wish we could have a more nuanced conversation about ownvoices instead of oversimplifying to a simple check yes or no.

      YES. I've thought that a LOT but didn't want to get cancelled for that too lmao. It doesn't make sense to me?? When you say an author can only write their own rep, but let a full asian write a halfie, are you just erasing the unique mixed identity and saying they're the same as a full Asian? I've read books about half Asians by both half Asians and full Asians and… I can tell the difference. But again with the gatekeeping, I feel like it's fine because I would rather books by full Asians about halfies than no books about halfies… so why not books by full white people about halfies? And with the Eleanor and Park debacle, a bunch of people were rec'ing "ownvoices Korean books" and yes that's good that's better than racist Rainbow Rowell but also… Park is half Korean and you are saying read books by/about full Koreans they are… not the same? idk I have a lot of ThoughtsTM

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  13. Wow. Kay. I’m blown away. You delivered your thoughts and opinions so eloquently and I really appreciated how you incorporated your own experience into this post. I think that in literature, films, and music, it is incredibly important for everyone to feel that they are represented realistically. For me, it’s easy to love characters, not too hard to connect with them, but challenging to identify with them. Maybe I just haven’t read the books I need to…I agree that the gray area should be explored more, and brought into the light, so thank you so much for sharing this with us.

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  14. This is such an interesting and important post Kay! I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately; what counts and doesn’t count, and also if an own voices reviewer should check every single box.

    I haven’t actually read Harley in the Sky, but I’m definitely going check it out!!

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  15. This was a very interesting perspective to read! There are so many different perspectives regarding the ownvoices conversation and it’s definitely a very nuanced topic. Like you mentioned, I’ve definitely found that I feel more connected to certain rep that doesn’t fit the exact ‘box’ that my identity fits in, because there’s such a spectrum of experiences, and not everyone is going to relate to things the exact same way.

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  16. You know I actually never about it this way before I read your post. I personally believe that a book having biracial rep should be given to a biracial reviewer, because only a biracial person can understand what that means, even if they don’t share similar identity with the MC.
    I also sometimes feel that ownvoices is restrictive. Is cultural identity the only thing that should decide whether the reader will relate to the MC or not. I have read books where the identity of the MC was completely different from me, but still that book made feel seen more than any Indian book ever did. A few days back I was reading a book with immigrant Lithuanian main character. He was so far from my identity, but when he said that his parents always encourage him to become a doctor and disregard all his hobbies. I felt it. I felt seen.
    Thank so very much for writing this post. And sorry for the long comment!

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    1. It’s definitely a complicated thing, having to question what makes us relate and identify more–the fact that we’re mixed, or the specific ethnicities we’re mixed with. I absolutely love ownvoices and feel it’s so wonderful and important, but agree that it can be restrictive, and it shouldn’t be the end all be all on deciding who gets to read what book and how they should relate. I’m glad you were able to find a book you related to so much. Of course, thanks for reading and commenting! I absolutely love long comments ❤

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  17. This is honestly one of the best and most interesting posts I’ve ever read. You make such excellent point. To be honest I never really liked the idea of ownvoices books being given only to ownvoices reviewers because I feel like it essentially signals to all the people who don’t fit into that category “this book is not for you” and it assumes that people in that category must or should relate to it. I for example am Latina. I was born in the Dominican Republic and yet I’ve related to characters from all over the Latinx world. Just as I’ve completely identified with black and white and Asian characters. I’m fact, I honestly tend to relate to Latinx characters the least and it’s because everyone has a different experience being who they are, even people of the same country or race. Relating to someone goes so much deeper than race and nationality. If that were the case everyone would be the same and have the same experiences and opinions. So while yes I think ownvoices reviewers should get a chance to read books made by people like them, I think that putting readers into race categories and that being the basis to deny them access to a book is a dumb and harmful way to go about it.
    Again, just wanted to say, this was such a wonderful and fascinating post!

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    1. Thanks, Angelica! I was a bit scared to post this haha so I’m glad you liked it! Honestly, I kind of agree. I think prioritizing ownvoices reviewers is definitely the right idea, but I don’t fully like the whole this book is first and foremost for people who can check the specific box and nobody else. There have been so many characters I identified with who aren’t my ethnicity–after all, my specific personality not related to race has a lot to do with who I am too lol.

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  18. i loved that harley in the sky was such a meaningful book to you. i’ve read summer bird blue and i really appreciated the fact that so many of the characters in that book were multi-racial. as someone who lives in a very diverse country, where most people are multi-racial, it was really interesting to see such rep on page.

    i’ve just recently been seeing more of the own-voices debacle as i’ve found myself in a situation of having to check a “box” for what i identify myself with. it’s weird being brazilian because, in here, i am not “latina”, i am actually white. so i always feel like it would be unfair for me to talk about on the latinx representation when i don’t live the experience of a latinx person in a predominant white country, for example, but i am also latina and obviously have been born and raised in a south-american country. it’s a really tricky situation, and i loved that you put into perspective how that feels for you. thank you so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Akemi Dawn Bowman really writes the most amazing books ❤ I love all three of her books and at this point will write anything she writes lmao. It definitely is a tricky situation, and then there's the whole issue of diaspora rep too which really just makes it more complicated. (Especially when it's a fantasy book and it's like… okay who is "ownvoices" for this, is it, for example, the Asian Americans, or the Asians from Asia?). thanks you for sharing your perspective too!

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  19. i completely agree that the ownvoices label is very tricky (actually, my blogger friends are very mad at a certain tour company for conflating the term ownvoices), and i’m i honestly empathize with your struggles a lot! even though i’m full chinese, i was born and raised in the philippines, so it makes me wonder whether i can consider myself ownvoices for filipino rep, or if i’m only ownvoices for chinese-filipino rep (of which i’m sure very few books have). but i think that, as long as you share the same ethnicity of the character, you’re ownvoices for it! personally, i don’t think an indian person is ownvoices for a book with chinese rep even if they’re both asian because, asia is a huge continent. considering an indian reviewer ownvoices for chinese rep just feeds into the stereotype that marginalized communities are a monolith. however, i don’t think it matters that you’re half-white! the fact that you’re biracial doesn’t negate the fact that you’re taiwanese, and i’d consider your ownvoices for any book with taiwanese rep. as for books like tatbilb that have biracial but not taiwanese rep, i guess you aren’t ownvoices for it, but you don’t have to be ownvoices to personally relate to a book.

    in the end, i think we can all agree that the ownvoices label, while important, can be restricting, which is why we shouldn’t put a lot of weight on it in certain circumstances. this is just my personal way of looking at it, and i’m so happy that these books resonated with you! i can’t wait to read harley in the sky ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I know what tour you’re talking about I’ve been lurking in the shadows watching it all go down lol. I would think that you can call yourself ownvoices for Filipino rep from living there, but obviously that’s your decision. I definitely agree that Asia is a huge continent, not a monolith and just saying “ownvoices Asian” or something like that is bad. However, I also think saying the rep is just from ethnicity, yes or no, is a super oversimplification. I agree that an Indian reviewer isn’t technically ownvoices for Chinese rep (especially with the differences between South Asia, East Asia, etc), but I would also argue that depending on where and how you are raised, people of different Asian ethnicities can relate to “asian rep,” particularly with diaspora and Asian Americans.

      For example, in my specific city, we shop at the Korean supermarket, and my friends of various ethnicities and I love getting boba, pho, sushi, etc, together. If my life were a book, I would think that, for example, my half Japanese friend from my high school would probably relate way more than my full Taiwanese cousins. So yeah, I don’t call myself ownvocies for Korean rep or To All The Boys or anything besides Taiwanese, but I also think that saying the book should 100% first and foremost go to people who can check the “ov Korean” box, while it has good intentions and is definitely a step in the right direction, isn’t necessarily the best thing to do and could leave out people who might relate more.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Caitlin! I hope you like Harley ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I 100% agree with you! Again, this is why i think the ownvoices label can sometimes be tricky and a little counterproductive. obviously, if a publisher had to choose between an indian reviewer and a white reviewer for a book with chinese rep, it should go to the indian reviewer. actually, shealea at caffeine tours once said that she kind of goes about her tours by ethnicity/race/etc. so if a book has chinese rep, her first priority is chinese reviewers, her second priority is asian reviewers who aren’t chinese, and (i’m not sure about this), but i’m pretty sure her third priority is other people of color who aren’t asian. though obviously not perfect, i think this is the right way to go about things, and i definitely didn’t mean to say that other asian people cannot relate to characters who don’t share the same ethnicity as them ❤

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No you’re fine I didn’t think you meant that! I was going more for suggesting that people who are ownvoices/the exact same ethnicity can’t always relate the most. Another example is, hypothetically speaking, for a Philippines inspired fantasy world, maybe you, who live in the Philippines but aren’t ethnically Filipino, could relate more than, say, my friend who is ethnically Filipino but has lived in America her whole life and only visited there a couple times. In cases like that, prioritizing strictly ov might restricting, and counterproductive like you said. But yeah we’re just trying our best, and I agree that Shealea’s method is imperfect, but is still really good, better than nothing for sure!

          Liked by 1 person

  20. I had never known about own voices from a biracial person’s standpoint so thanks for sharing this! I learnt something new.

    While I’m completely Indian (born here, always lived here, Indian through and through), I still struggle with own voices because of the diversity within India. And plus most books that I would say I’m own voices for are set outside of India, so am I really an own voices reader? Because of these doubts, I never used the label before.

    But recently I received an ARC which I highly relate to and is debut own voices with barely any promo and reviews. So I wondered if me using the label would help since I didn’t notice any other own voices review. I spoke to Fanna (from fannatality) about it because talks about own voices a lot and knows about it. She said that own voices can be tricky and hence the best way (according to her) would be mentioning in reviews WHAT you relate to. For example, the book I reviewed was partly set in India and set in a city a few hours from me. But the main character’s mother tongue is Kannada while mine is Tamil even though I’ve spent all my life in this state and I know the language. And then again, it was partly set in the US. I took Fanna’s advice on mentioning exactly what I’m own voices for in the review and I really like that approach.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you learned something new 🙂 I definitely agree that it’s good to mention in reviews what you relate to, as everyone’s experience is different and I usually don’t relate to every aspect of a character, ov or not, but some parts really resonate with me! The problem I was more talking about here thought was requesting books in the first place, especially on a blog tour, and claiming ownvoices just by the label of my of the character’s ethnicity, as obviously I can’t know what parts of the character I’ll relate to before reading the book haha, and I can’t get the book to review if people gatekeep and say it’s not for me, only for strictly ov people… anyways it’s not great, but it’s the best we can do for now ❤ thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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