Recently, this year’s Pagano Lecturer, Grace Lin spoke to Middle School students about the path that she took to become a bestselling author and illustrator. Ms. Lin recounted her experiences as a member of the only minority family in her upstate New York town. It was an uncomfortable feeling. “I decided early on that I was just going to pretend that I wasn’t Asian…I spent so much time pretending that I wasn’t really Asian that I really did forget,” she said. Growing up, Ms. Lin did not see any Asian representation in movies, TV shows, and, specifically, in books. The beautifully-illustrated editions of fairytales that she loved as a child all featured people that did not look like her.
Ms. Lin’s love of these books led her to pursue a degree in art with the goal of becoming a children’s author and illustrator. While studying abroad in Italy she began to consider her own cultural identity and how that might relate to her art. Ms. Lin said that she uncomfortable not knowing anything about Asian culture and returned from her trip with an identity crisis. She told the students “I had to find my own visual voice.” She decided to study Asian art and began speaking with her family about their heritage. Discovering that heritage will be a lifelong learning experience. “My books deal with Asian culture now,” Ms. Lin said to the boys. “I don’t write what I know; I write what I want to know.”