September 2023 – ESEA Heritage Month Activities

by Eva Wong Nava, author and CARG member

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This year marks the third iteration of the East and Southeast Asian Heritage Month. As an activist for more ESEA representation in children’s books and media in the UK, I was invited to take part in various events, and I had also co-organised an event: the ESEA Authors @SOAS Lit Fest.

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This event, organised by Voice ESEA in partnership with On Your Side and Be Inclusive Hospitality, took place in Manchester. It was a daylong celebration that included panel talks, activities such as batik-painting, calligraphy, storytelling and making pretend mooncakes, a screening of short films that featured ESEA actors sponsored by Militia Films, and food catered by ESEA vendors, such as Little Yellow Rice Company and Wong Dumplings.

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To celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, the second biggest festival celebrated by ESEA communities around the world, I did storytelling and an activity around making pretend mooncakes.

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I was also invited to talk on a panel: Representation in the Arts, which was chaired by Abbey Wong, the co-Director of Voice ESEA. Wong is British-Chinese creative, based in London, and founder of Passedport. With me on the panel were Angelina Wong Jardin, Creative Director and Founder of Fish Tales & Rhymes, a bilingual children’s board book publisher, Kyami, an American Blasian singer & songwriter based in Manchester, Andrew McClarty, a British-Japanese tenor. Our topic was REPRESENTATION & CULTURE IN THE ARTS.

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Inclusive Books for Children is a charity that aspires for mainstream children’s books to be inclusive, and for inclusive children’s books to be mainstream. Along the way, we hope to nurture a new generation of open-minded and inspired young book lovers.”

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As one of their inclusive authors (my picture book I LOVE CHINES NEW YEAR is on their resource list), I was invited to this charity’s launch at the CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education).

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The event was well attended by authors, editors and agents, and other charities and representatives from book-prize awarding bodies, such as the Jericho Prize. Photo taken with Sarah Satha, co-founder of IBC.

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I was back at the CLPE again the following day for the book launch of Spellcasters, the first big in a series of four books for middle-graders that centre Ethnic Minority representation. Spellcasters was written by Crystal Sung, with cover art by Wendy Tan. Crystal Sung is the pseudonym of Tania Tay

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What makes this book special is its representation. As we know, the ESEA communities in the UK are varied and diverse. It is rare to find Malaysian representation in children’s books in the UK. The book is published by Hachette Children’s Books, but it was put together by book packager, Storymix Studios, which is an inclusive book packaging company whose mission is to produce books and media that centre Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation.

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The event was well attended by authors and other industry folks working in Children’s Literature and Publishing.

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Photo with Crystal Sung aka Tania Tay.

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This inaugural ESEA Authors Lit Fest was organised by a group of ESEA authors and illustrators of East and Southeast Asian heritage who met through The Bubble Tea Writer’s Network, founded by children’s book author, Maisie Chan.

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The organisers were:

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Candy Gourlay, British-Filipino award-winning author

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A Y Chao, Canadian-Chinese Sunday Times best-selling Adult Fantasy author

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Anne Chen, British-Chinese aspiring children’s book author

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Elizabeth Wong, British-Malaysian award-winning SFF author,

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Tania Tay, British-Malaysian award-winning crime author, and

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Eva Wong Nava, British-Singaporean award-winning children’s book author.

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As a co-organiser, I chaired the panel on ‘Curating Culture’, where the subject of discussion is on how as people living in the diaspora, we reconstruct our homelands for a global audience. The panel interrogates whether the ESEA diaspora have enough authenticity to write stories drawn from our culture, how we see ourselves and how others see us, and the impact of the White Gaze on our work.

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I was also invited to be a panellist on ‘Writing Our Colonial Story’, chaired by Candy Gourlay, where we discussed “the oftentimes painful task of excavating the ESEA story from colonial histories written by invaders and colonisers, trying to see humanity in those that have been dehumanised, and crafting a story that is fair as well as true.”

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The event was oversubscribed and well attended by authors, students, and various industry folks from agents to publishers interested to hear more about the importance of ESEA representation in publishing. This shows that the ESEA communities and some allies in publishing are supportive of more ESEA representation and finding ways to work with ESEA authors and creators, and to better understand how to get more ESEA representation on the page.

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The organisers of this literary festival, the ESEA Authors Collective, are planning a second iteration for 2024.

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This event was organised by Gordon Chong and volunteers of the British Chinese Society (BCS) to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival as well as to give a platform for the Children & Decedents of the Liverpool Lost Seamen.

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Judy Kinnin, Ann Tighe-Pearson and Kellie-Ann Flower are descendants of the lost seamen of Liverpool. Their stories and others’ have been included in a documentary, The Secret Betrayal.

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Photo of Judy Kinnin, daughter of Chang au Chiang, a deported Chinese seamenn

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October marks the start of the Black History Month. This year’s theme is Celebrating and Saluting Our Sisters. I was invited by West Kirby School and College, a school for children with special educational needs, aged 6 to 18 in West Kirby.

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I was asked to talk about diversity and representation in my books, and I chose to highlight the lives and contribution of four ESEA women: Ching Shih, first female pirate extraordinaire, Anna May Wong, the first Asian-American star in Hollywood, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, the most important Filipina artist of her generation, and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, the first Malay woman to graduate a doctor from the University of Malaya.

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As an author and activist of more ESEA representation in children’s literature in the UK, I am often invited to schools to present my work and talk about the importance of diversity in books. This is because if “we don’t see it, we don’t believe it.”

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Photo of Eva Wong Nava, dressed in a sarong kebaya at West Kirby School

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