How Cultural Differences Inspired a Book
Readers of romance know love knows no boundaries, and that in some of the best romance stories, the characters face the biggest challenges before they get to a satisfying happy ever after.
Are these challenges any different for a mixed race couple? No, not necessarily. But cultural differences do sometimes add new dimensions to romantic conflicts.
Speaking from personal experience, I have never been more aware of my cultural identity than when I started dating my husband, John, who is white. I knew it would be a bit of a challenge for both of us. We recognized differences in each other that would take time to adapt to, not just in terms of traditions and food and culture, but also in our mind sets.
We had to deal with external challenges, too. My husband especially had to deal with a lot of scrutiny. When my friends first met him, they interrogated him about whether he’d ever dated an Asian girl before--a presumption persists that white males dating Asian women fetishize the relationship. He encountered people who called me his “mail order bride,” and others who accused him of “stealing their women” away from them. We got a lot of dirty looks, mostly from older folks, when we were holding hands in public. And while I’ve never received direct criticism about my relationship—my family has been wonderfully accepting—our obvious differences continue to be remarked upon.
I’ve learned to take most of it in stride—I haven’t been entirely untouched by racism, after all, even living in a big metropolitan city like Toronto—but it got me thinking about how I viewed myself in the context of my family, my community and the rest of the world. All that got me to thinking about how someone like me would grow up in a small town.
I still remember stopping at a gas station while traveling through cottage country in northeastern Ontario with my family when I was about thirteen. I went into the shop to buy some candy and on my way out, encountered a couple of kids a year or two younger than me. Their eyes widened and they whispered loud enough for me to hear, “It’s a Chinese person!”
It wasn’t until later that I realized they’d never seen Asian people before, or had encountered so few that we were novelties to them. We weren’t even that far from Toronto—maybe a two-hour drive away. That moment crystallized for me how isolated a kid can feel in a small town.
In my latest book, Back to the Good Fortune Diner, Tiffany Cheung’s family is the only Chinese family in small town of Everville, New York. She’d always felt out of place, not just in town, but in her own home, as well. Being different made her an easy target for ridicule, but even when she was older, she isolated herself from the other kids at school. Her feelings of alienation were only exacerbated by her parents’ strict traditional upbringing, high expectations and emphasis on personal achievement.
How does Tiffany, a girl who doesn’t think of herself as part of any community, find love with Chris, a man who is all about family and being a part of the world? That was the challenge I faced writing this book. And while Chris and Tiffany have their own personal issues, they’ll have some cultural differences to reconcile, as well.
Vicki’s giving away a copy of her latest book, Back to the Good Fortune Diner. Leave a comment below and she’ll randomly draw a winner of a hard copy or ebook version of her book.