Stereotypes and writing…

For a few days I’ve had this scary sounding cough that doesn’t go well when teaching oral English to little kids so I’ve been allowed a few days off. This would have been a great time to work on my novel and blog, but I wasn’t feeling that productive since the medicine made me sleepy. Instead, what I have done most of the time is watch videos, mainly about writing and creativity to feel less guilty. Just now I watched a few TED talks by published, some quite famous, writers. Four of these talks were particularly interesting and inspirational, some because in a way I felt identified with what these great writers were saying, others because of the stories they told.

On the first video, Chimamanda Adichie speaks about the power of stories and how easily they can be misinterpreted by people and create stereotypes. Both her and Elif Shafak talk about how they themselves have been affected by these expectations that people have of people from certain backgrounds. In their case, as a Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie was expected to write about problems related to the African world, and Elif Shafak as a Turkish woman, is expected to write about muslim women.

Well, what if they don’t want to? What if they just want to write about something else? About wizards or aliens? What about if they want to write about something that is completely unrelated to politics, culture, history and any of the other themes they are expected to write about? Haven’t they got the right to just write freely about whatever they want? What if they simply don’t know that much about any of those problems or are simply not interested in writing about them? Can’t a person from an African country just create something simply for the love of it without the need to talk about some political, cultural or psychological issue?

We are so used to reading political books from writers from African and middle eastern countries, that we have completely ignored the fact that there could be other writers out there who might simply want to write for the love of writing just like many people do in the west.

Some stereotypes such as this are so generally accepted that we don’t even see some of them as stereotypes anymore. For many of us, they are facts. I have personally felt affected by them and know many other people who have too. As a Spanish national living in Edinburgh as the Spanish economic crisis grew and more and more people without any qualifications or knowledge of English moved to the U.K., I was constantly patronised about my English language as soon as people knew my nationality despite not even being able to tell I was a foreigner up to that moment. I was also constantly asked to dance flamenco, make tortilla and paella and say “Ay, ay, ay!” For the record, I can’t dance flamenco nor cook Spanish food and “Ay, ay, ay!” is actually Mexican. And I did speak English before going to live in the U.K.

Spanish people, just like many other people from other countries, seem to have this specially strong feeling of coming back “home”, to Spain. I don’t. I never have and I doubt I ever will. It isn’t that I reject my roots or I’m ashamed of them, but it is something that is just not in me. In the years I have been away I have learned to see the beauty of the country and its people and accept those things I don’t like so much. I have come to identify that some of the characteristic of my personality are very Spanish in nature and I am glad in a way that I was born there because my live would have been very different otherwise. But I also know that many of the aspects of my personality aren’t like what is expected of a southern Spanish girl. Some I wish I had, some I’m glad I don’t. As I said, I can’t dance Flamenco to save my life but I could gladly dance to Celtic, Latin or African music. I couldn’t cook a Paella but I could cook some French Crepes or Chinese noodles. I’m a combination of what has happened to me, the things I’ve seen and experienced and the places where I have lived.

Everyone I know, including my own family, is surprised and some even annoyed by the fact that I write in English instead of in Spanish. I’m Spanish, I’m supposed to speak SPANISH and live in SPAIN if I can and I could. But I don’t want to. I speak English. I think in English. I teach English. I watch movies in English. And I talk English to my dog. Why on earth should I write in Spanish about the Spanish crisis? 

I haven’t lived in Spain for years now. For me, it is just a word in my passport and a place I go to my relatives. Spain is not me. It is not who I am. It is just a place. I am a person who has been to many places and taken many things from each one of them. What I am is a mix of cultures and my own self. What I write are stories created to please my mind and move my heart and hopefully, others too.

(Here is the link of the videos for those interested: http://aerogrammestudio.com/2013/06/26/10-inspirational-ted-talks-for-writers/#more-3147 )


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