Images of slanted-eye illustrations and mentions of misrepresentation like Sixteen Candles’ Long Duk Dong punctuated memoirist Grace Talusan’s presentation at Fullerton College on Oct. 24.

Talusan, an English instructor at Brown University, visited Fullerton to give the talk “Writing Ourselves into the American Story,” which highlighted the importance of representation, diversity, and immigrant narratives in literature.

Grace Talusan speaking about her life and her book

Grace Talusan speaks about her life and memoir during her presentation on Oct. 24. Photo credit: Jasmyn Ramirez

The NOCCCD Office of Diversity & Compliance hosted Talusan’s presentation as part of their Pluralism, Inclusion, and Equity (P.I.E.) series. “The [P.I.E. series] offers workshops and trainings designed to increase our intercultural proficiency so we may provide effective teaching and support services for our diverse student body,” according to the NOCCCD website.

This year’s P.I.E. series has featured talks about critical race theory and marginalized college students. Presenter Allison Gerrard will discuss empathy, division, and labels during “The Moral Courage Method of Communicating Across Divides” on Nov. 18.

The English instructor invited students and faculty to examine American mainstream media through the lens of her 2019 memoir, “The Body Papers.” Talusan’s book explains her relationship to her Filipino American identity, particularly within the context of growing up as an undocumented immigrant in Massachusetts.

“I found that all the things I could never talk about are in this book … I turned to writing,” Talusan said.

The Body Papers by Grace Talusan discusses her struggles as an author and undocumented immigrant from the Philippines.

The Body Papers by Grace Talusan discusses her struggles as an author and undocumented immigrant from the Philippines. Photo credit: Julianne Le

The Body Papers was featured in multiple New York Times articles, and Talusan won the 2017 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.

“I think for students of color, in particular, the Asian American community, it can be very inspirational, especially if the student of color is pursuing to become an author or something in literature, or writing, or English,” said Ben Ahn, a sophomore psychology major.

Grace Talusan starts up a discussion with the audience

Grace Talusan starts up a discussion with the audience during her Oct. 24 presentation. Photo credit: Jasmyn Ramirez

As a child, Talusan often consumed literature that depicted Asian people through a racist, Orientalist lens. She recalled being a young person and meeting Asian authors like Amy Tan through book covers on her white friends’ coffee tables, altering her original perspective towards Asian Americans in literature.

After realizing that there was space for Asian authors in the American mainstream, Talusan delved into writing and eventually published her memoir.

“I didn’t know you could write about these people–I didn’t know they could exist in literature,” said Talusan.

Talusan invited the audience to consider how Asian Americans and other marginalized communities have been misrepresented in books and films. Attendees shared their thoughts, creating a conversation around vulnerability, heritage, and community.

Grace Talusan with faculty and students as she ends her presentation at Fullerton College

Grace Talusan gathers with faculty and students as she ends her presentation at Fullerton College on Oct. 24, 2022. Photo credit: Jasmyn Ramirez

Religious studies instructor Martha Roberts accompanied her Honors World Religions class to Talusan’s presentation.

“My world religions class is all about stories–about the stories that we tell ourselves and how humans make meaning in this world,” said Roberts as she noted the relationship between immigration and identity. “And so my goal in bringing my class to this talk, in particular, was to help us to start to make those connections in our own lives.”

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