Today Kathi and Vivian Mabuni are talking about why representation matters and how we can communicate the importance of it through our writing and speaking. Each of us has a unique base that we draw from, and as we learn and grow as communicators, we expand that base and broaden our perspective. Join in to learn about how broadening that base in a certain way allows more people to relate and:
- Makes a better reading experience for the reader
- Helps our audience to see themselves in our writing
- Gets us out of a narrow way of thinking
As women after God’s heart, we honestly desire to please God. We want to be used by Him and to experience the peace and fulfillment He wants for us. Yet it’s all too easy to fall into living mechanically, with a rule-based approach to the Christian life, or to focus on getting what we want when we want it. Even when we want to be willing, saying yes to whatever God asks often feels scary, and the distractions of this world get in the way.
Vivian Mabuni knows this all too well, but she’s discovered that openhanded living starts with an intentional posture of the heart. Through surrender to His will, we draw closer to God in a way that makes our day-to-day lives more purposeful, powerful, and pleasing to Him.
With Vivian’s warm encouragement in Open Hands, Willing Heart, you’ll learn how to step out in courageous trust as you invite God to give and take–and move and work–in your life as He sees fit. Along the way you’ll discover true joy and serenity that will carry you through every circumstance.
Links and Resources:
Vivian’s instagram @VivMabuni
Giveaway: For a chance to win Vivian’s new book: Open Hands, Willing Heart, Tell us in the comments below if you have not broadened your perspective by reading enough authors of other ethnicities, but you would like to so we can grow together.
West Coast Christian Writers Conference. Use the code RedHouse for $120 OFF your ticket price! In addition to the discounted ticket price, when you register with the discount code, you’ll also receive a special bonus: Susy Flory’s Red House Training – Escape the Stuck: Free Your Story at These 5 Places. Registration opens soon so “Cast Your Net; the Deep Awaits You!”
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Meet Your Hosts
Author, Speaker, Communicator Academy Creator and CEO
Vivian Mabuni is a dynamic Asian American author and speaker who is passionate about seeing God raise up a generation of leaders who will have a cultural and spiritual impact on campuses, families, churches and communities around the world.
After joining the staff with Cru 30 years ago, Vivian went on to serve on the campuses of UC Berkeley and UCLA. She served ten years with Epic, the Asian American ministry of Cru and currently works with Cru City partnering with leaders who seek to help serve the different communities in large metropolitan cities around the country.
Connect with her on You Tube and Instagram at @VivMabuni
Read along with the Podcast!
Writing at The Red House Podcast # 219
Why Representation Matters
Kathi – Well, hey friends. Welcome to the Writing at the Red House podcast, where we gather at the table to break bread and tell tales with some of our favorite writers and speakers, who share their wisdom to help us all share our story. Today, we’re are in the midst of a very special story. I wanted to get incredible, talented writers together and ask them for their best writing advice. These are all authors that are going to be at this year’s West Coast Christian Writers’ Conference. You guys all know Susy Flory. She’s been on here a million times, because she’s a genius. I said, “I want you to pick four of your favorite writers and let’s ask them their secrets.” So, today, I am very, very excited, because we have Vivian Mabuni. She is the author of Open Hands, Willing Heart: Discover the Joy of Saying Yes to God. Vivian, welcome to the Writing at the Red House podcast.
Vivian – Oh, Kathi. Thank you so much for having me.
Kathi – I’m really excited, because you’re actually going to be one of the keynotes at this conference. I know that Susy has been talking about you for a long time. First of all, I’m super excited to be able to listen to your message. I’m so glad. I know it’s weird to say I’m so glad it’s all online this year, but that means I can listen to everybody. I don’t have to pick and choose. I can nerd out and go all the way in. I want to take our conversation in a little bit of a different way today. As you and Susy were emailing back and forth, I saw this hashtag flying around. It was #representationmatters. Of course, I’ve seen that hashtag before, but I thought, “That’s really interesting.” I’ve seen it in the context of a lot of different places. Recently, we lost Chadwick Boseman, the incredible actor from Black Panther and 42. I’ve seen it attached to this great video that’s going around with two little girls who are watching Beyoncé and getting to see someone who looks like them on the screen. I want to know. You’re adorable, but you’re not Beyoncé.
Vivian – Not by a long shot.
Kathi – I don’t know what your dance moves are like, but my question is, how do you define representation? I know it’s close to Susy’s heart, but I want to find out why it’s close to your heart.
Vivian – Well, obviously, since this is a podcast, people don’t know what I look like. I’m an Asian American Christian woman. I’m a cancer survivor, so my first book was actually about my cancer journey. Why representation matters is, as an Asian American woman, when I walk into a bookstore, when I look online, when I look at a speaker lineup, even for a conference, my most natural leaning would be to look for someone who looks like me. Honestly, Kathi, for as long as I can remember, growing up, there were no women who looked like me. Or, very few. That does something to your soul. So, if you can remember when Crazy Rich Asians came out, that movie?
Kathi – Yes! Saw it.
Vivian – Yes. It was such a fabulous movie. Well done. But for me, as an Asian American woman, it was the first time that I was seeing a leading man, a leading woman, who looked like me. They weren’t doing kung fu. They weren’t the nerdy sidekick. Representation matters in that, we hold our heads up a little bit higher when we can identify with characters. So, even in our writing, I think it’s so important to have a wider range of stories and experiences to draw from, that, for an ethnic minority, can represent them, but even for a white audience, to be able to expand their palate, so to speak. Learn that life is a lot more beautiful and complex and nuance than, often, what we get, which is the same story told forty different ways.
Kathi – I was so interesting. You know, this being a Christian author podcast, I don’t often talk about heartthrobs and hot guys, but I’m just going to go there for a moment. I remember it was a very big deal that there was a leading man, who was Asian, who was a heartthrob. I had never thought about it, that, “Yeah! We hadn’t seen that before, had we?” There’s a show I love, out of Canada, called Kim’s Convenience.
Vivian – Oh, I love that one.
Kathi – Oh my goodness, I could watch that 24/7. I saw an interview with the leading man on that, saying, “This is not something that happens.” You know what? As a white woman? It never occurred to me that that was something I hadn’t seen.
Vivian – Exactly.
Kathi – So, it’s an educational process. To see how significant that was to my friend, Diane, who’s Asian. I went to the movie with her. She was represented in big and beautiful ways. That will stick with me for a long time. It reminds me of how much I don’t know sometimes. Not to be ashamed of it, but to say, “Okay, we’re going to keep learning. We’re going to keep growing.” So, so many people are listening to this podcast simply because they want to be better writers. Here’s my question for you. How does, talking about representation, how can using representation in our writing and speaking, how does that make us better writers?
Vivian – It’s a great question. So, writing is an art form. I think we have a base that we draw from. Our own experience. But when we’re able to expand a little bit farther, I think that our audience will relate in ways that we wouldn’t know otherwise. So, a couple of things. First of all, demographics are changing. By 2054, “white” or Caucasian will no longer be the majority. So, the reading audience is now changing. So, children are changing. Mixed race kids are more and more an increased reality, and when there’s not representation, we miss out. There’s a sense that, as a writer, if we could be mindful of the examples that we use, the dialogue we have, the characters in fiction that we would pull from, it changes the feel and the overall experience of the writing to have it be something where more and more people can relate to it. So, one of the things I learned early on is that most readers are kind of selfish readers. They are really reading to get something out of it for them. So, as important as my cancer story was to me, I’m realizing that people are listening and reading my book because they are connecting to their own journey, or someone close to them. They’re looking for themselves. So, as a writer, there are a few things I would consider. One is that, your readers are increasingly more diverse. So, to have a mindset that you want to include, even in endorsers. This would be really important if you are a white writer, to not only Google, to actually have relationships with people who are of different ethnic backgrounds. So, when you write something, if it’s completely offensive, you have someone who can call that out on the front end, instead of on the embarrassing part of the other end. So, don’t try to make up something that you don’t know much about. Be about reading and increasing the landscape that we draw our experience from.
Kathi – As writers, our intake as readers, is critical. We are not just looking for other writers to be reading from, but that we’re looking at a whole spectrum of people, that we can say, “Okay, that experience is different from mine, but that experience is valid and I need to take that into consideration when I am reflecting, when I am writing.” So, yeah, it’s the input, but it’s also saying, “Our audience wants to see themselves in what we’re writing.” So, it’s not to manufacture anything, unless you’re a fiction author. Then you can manufacture all the fun stuff. To do a reflection of all those different experiences, I think, is really helpful and valuable. It gets us out of a narrow set of thinking.
Vivian – Exactly.
Kathi – “If I do ‘x’, then ‘y’, then ‘z’ will happen.” Well, if I do ‘x’, but someone else’s experience is ‘banana’, that’s not going to give you the ‘z’ equation. It’s going to be something totally different. I love that idea. One of the things we are trying to do in this next book that we’re writing, is having a reader feedback team that doesn’t look like us. Saying, “Okay, what do we need to pay attention to? What do we need to emphasize? Are we saying something, without even intending to, that’s going to put a barrier between us and the reader?” That’s the last thing we want to do. We want to be tearing down barriers, not building them up.
Vivian – Exactly.
Kathi – Oh, Vivian, I am so excited that I’m going to be able to hear you. Vivian is one of 50 leaders. She’s going to be keynoting, but we have so many amazing people who are going to be at the West Coast Christian Writers’ Conference. They’re calling it a mega-conference. I love this. It’s 60 workshops. You could be doing this for a month. February 25-27. You’ll get to learn from the best, including agents and editors, and award-winning authors just like Vivian. Vivian, I want to ask you one more question. What does it look like for me, a white woman in her 50s, which, let’s be honest, a lot of the Christian writers are looking a lot like me; have experiences like me, but how do I be an advocate for representation? In my writing, but even more importantly, in my platform? How do I become an advocate, so that the make-up of the writers, who are writing for God, don’t continue to just look like me?
Vivian – I love that question. First of all, it’s communicating to me that there is desire. There is a desire to ask questions and want to learn a posture of humility, of wanting to ask a question of that. To me, it’s communicating a willingness to share power, to share a platform, to share opportunities. So, probably the biggest thing is: once our lenses are changed, where we realize we’ve been missing out. I’m the mother of two sons and a daughter. So, by the time my daughter came along, I knew how raise boys. I did not know how to raise girls. But, when my daughter came along, she added so much to our family. I can’t imagine life without our daughter, now. I think it’s the same way with our whole experience. When we have relationships, life just looks different because we have more. It’s just more worthwhile. So, a couple of really practical things: Once our lenses are opened, and we realize that our whole world has, pretty much, centered on a white narrative, I think the beginning is to change that. Change that on a reader level. Questions to evaluate: How many times have I put myself under the teaching of someone with a different ethnicity? How many times have I read books written by authors who are not from my same background? I’m learning, by what’s going on, nationwide now, I’m reading a lot more black authors, because it’s helping me to fill in the history that I did not know. In the same way, as an Asian American, I don’t want to just speak on my Asian American experience, just like I don’t want to just speak on my cancer experience. Those are very important pieces of me.
Kathi – They inform who you are.
Vivian – They mark my life, but they don’t define my life. So, that I could, actually, keynote a writers’ conference is significant to me, simply because, for everyone who’s looking at the lineup of speakers, for the minority writers, they’re thinking, “Oh, someone gets my experience.” So, being intentional about who your intake is. When you have opportunity, when you’re a speaker, for example, and you have opportunity, be about helping introduce other speakers of color. If you have a writers’ group, be about trying to raise up and give opportunity. If you’re four steps ahead in the writing process, and you know about agents, and you know about query letters, and you know that there’s a person of color who wants to be published, do what you can to introduce and make those connections to agents, and to publishing houses, and editors, and so on and so forth. Those are very intentional things that we can do, but it changes everything. Honestly, the family grows, and we are all the better for it.
Kathi – Okay, so first of all, I just want to say thank you for letting me ask all the questions. I know there are a lot of people like me who have the desire, but feel like, “I’m stumbling through it. I don’t know what to do.” Second, I love when God gives me little winks. I never have a word-for-the-year. That’s just not me. But around June, God dropped on me, “Kathi? It’s ‘humble’.” You know? I always thought ‘humble’ was a place of weakness, and I’m beginning to understand ‘humble’ is a place of learning, and that is a powerful place to be. So, when you said there was a posture of humbleness, I’m like, “Oh God. Thank you for sharing that.” Vivian, thank you for having this conversation. Guys, if you’re like, “Yes! I need to be reading more people of color!” I want to give you an opportunity. I want to send two of you copies of the book that Vivian has written. It’s called Open Hands, Willing Heart: Discover the Joy of Saying ‘Yes’ to God. So, if you’re one of those people, and you’re willing to humbly say, “I have not read enough people of color.” – and I think, pretty much, all of us can say that – would you go put a comment on the show notes, over on the blog, and I am going to randomly pick two of you and I’m going to send you a copy of that book. I think this is how we all grow together.
Vivian – Can I throw in something, really quick?
Kathi – Please!
Vivian – On my Instagram account, @vivmabuni, I do have two lists that I’ve compiled, just off my bookshelf, Asian American authors. So, you’ll see the spine of all those books. Another one is a book, written by people of color, about how to learn about our history and what’s going on, just with the racial tension. So, those are two resources as well.
Kathi – Wonderful. We will put those links in the show notes, so you can all be there. Vivian, thank you so much for being on Writing at the Red House.
Vivian – I’ve loved being here, and I hope to eventually come to this Red House that you speak of. It sounds so amazing.
Kathi – It’s pretty magical. I would say, within the next couple of months, we’re going to have eggs, so it’s going to be even more special. Right? Guys, thank you so much for being here with me today. You know you are the best part of what we’re doing here. You’ve been listening to the Writing at the Red House podcast. Now, go share your story of God’s extravagant love.
*see show notes in podcast post above for any mentioned items