GSLIS doctoral student Karla Lucht was recently interviewed by the Center for Children’s Books to discuss her research and recent trip to the School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. There, she presented her lecture, “The Search for Hapas: Identifying Titles Featuring Mixed-race Asian Protagonists in Youth Literature,” addressing the limits of online and print resources when trying to access the depth of cultural patterns in titles featuring North American protagonists with a mixed-race Asian identity. Lucht describes her research as looking at the representation of mixed-race Asian Americans/Canadians with a critical race theory lens.
According to Lucht, “There’s a gap in this kind of research with lots of underrepresented groups, but with mixed-race people especially. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in a book . . . and a good book at that.” Lucht often runs into a problem actually finding titles that fit her criteria. Of the books she’s been able to locate in the past, there have been books about hapa (mixed-race Asian Americans/Canadians) youth, but many of them were not necessarily of good literary quality nor did they quite capture the complexity of hapa youth. “You find books that really invest in ‘othering’ a character’s Asian side and putting whiteness on a pedestal.” However, “finding books is fun and exciting. It’s like: ‘Finally, here is a representation!’ I remember the first time I read a book with a mixed-race Asian character, and even though it was a pretty problematic book, it will always have a special place in my heart, because it was the first time I saw myself in a book like that.”
About her trip to Vancouver, Lucht says, “I went as part of the GSLIS iSchool Doctoral Exchange Program. It’s an opportunity extended to doctoral students to visit another school and network with other faculty and students. My advisor, Carol Tilley, first turned me on to the program and suggested I could go. Deborah Stevenson at the CCB told youth services faculty and Ph.D. students, ‘I can help make contacts.’ Deborah was the one who suggested I should talk to Judith Saltman and made the first contact to help set up the exchange with UBC. It was really helpful for me to go to Canada to help broaden my project to an international—or at least a regional, North American—perspective.”
Lucht also says that going to work with Judith Saltman, who does work on First Nations literature for youth, was a great opportunity. “It was good for me to talk to her and her students about the challenges I’ve had in finding books.” She also reports, “The students there are super engaged in ‘otherness’ and multiculturalism, and we had some good discussion about how to deal with that content: Do you infuse into throughout the curriculum, or do you make it its own class? There was a lot of disagreement, but it was stimulating conversation.”
Overall, Lucht looks at the bigger picture: “I would hope the people realize the need for different representations of young people in books than what we already have. Librarians and educators will hopefully be more aware about thinking about the cultural impact of books, and the kinds of books I’m looking at more particularly. I’m also interested in posing the question: ‘Can we use other words besides multicultural to describe these books?’ I strongly disdain that word in this context. People think they know what ‘multicultural’ means, and often, it’s not a very good definition.” In parting, Lucht says, “I’d also like to say a special thanks to Deborah for helping out with the trip. She really made this valuable experience happen by initiating contact with UBC.”