I always thought my life would have been far easier if I were white.
Because being the only Chinese kid in a small town wasn’t just different. When you’re 8 years old, it’s wrong. And in case you missed The Hunger Games, kids can be real assholes. But enough bitching, because I eventually realized that white kids have problems too.
If I had my way, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth would be mandatory reading because it’s such a great description of how citizens interact in melting pot cities around the world. It’s not just about immigration, it’s about the generation gap, extremist mentality and all the things that make cities complex.
White Teeth tells the story of two families living in London thru three different generations. There’s Samad, the Pakistani immigrant and his family. Then there’s Archie, a indecisive Brit who meets Samad as WWII buddies. White Teeth goes on to chronicle their lives from their ancestors to their children. This is Smith’s fictional eco-system and she adds new fish wherever relevant.
White Teeth describes a beautiful London. But it’s not conventionally beautiful, it’s exotic beautiful, ugly beautiful, gap-toothed beautiful. That’s the only way I can describe beauty in an immigrant society. And I’m not talking about the beauty of cultures coming together over politically correct avenues of food and dance.
No, I’m talking about parents who reminisce of a motherland that doesn’t exist anymore (at least not the way they left it). Second generation kids who are constantly losing and finding themselves. The pride and shame of letting your family history define you. And that universal longing to belong.