How Being An “Other” Made Me A Writer

GrubStreet instructor Aimee Suzara shares how outsiderhood and otherness can uniquely fuel creativity and why writing about home is a way for writers to define themselves. You can learn more about this subject in Aimee's upcoming Online: On Demand class Belonging: Writing Home & Identity for Writers of Color, starting May 4th.



“Why am I compelled to write?...Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me.” - Gloria Anzaldua 

When people ask me when I knew I was a writer, I always say it was in 1st grade, when I won the book contest in my small-town school in the Pacific Northwest. At that moment, I felt different in the best kind of way – I felt seen and special. But I didn’t always feel “different” in that way.

Most of my childhood, I felt like an outsider, an exotic child who rarely knew other brown kids and, even less often, Filipina girls in my small town and later in other cities and towns we moved to. In Washington, my friends (mostly white) and even their parents called my mother “cute” and thought my parents had funny accents, and I pushed my parents to dump any remnants of our cultural cuisine to eat “American” food.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time alone. In that melancholy and lonely space, language became a place of refuge and of release. My journals were my safe place and my mirror.

Filipinos are everywhere, and yet we remain invisible. As part of the large, over-generalized group of “Asian Americans,” we find ourselves subject to the model minority myth, stereotypes, and hate crimes that have risen in recent years. At times, I felt that I was not only a part of a “single story” narrative that could have included any brown, black, or immigrant child in my small town, but even worse, I felt invisible, trying to fit in and to define or defend myself. 

Being an outsider, while difficult, creates the necessary tension for creativity. A sense of difference and separation can compel us to write. While it contributed to sorrow, being on the margins gave me the urgency to tell my story, to be seen and heard, and to contribute to the narratives that never included me growing up. As writers of color, most of us never saw ourselves in the media in a positive and nuanced way, if at all; never read storybooks or saw films that even remotely resemble us.  

Being an outsider, while difficult, creates the necessary tension for creativity. A sense of difference and separation can compel us to write.

Why am I teaching “Belonging: Writing Home and Identity for Writers of Color”?

The opposite of “belonging” is otherness, or alterity: “the state of being other or different.” Otherness, as described in sociology, is a state that leads to a sense of expanded consciousness. Otherness gives us a lens into understanding how societies construct that otherness, and how it’s related to power.

As a writer, this lens has been the catalyst for me to define my voice.  I have found in my writing the ability to illuminate hidden histories, to offer perspectives that an audience is forced to consider, and to consider their own part in the construction of this othering.

In “Belonging: Writing Home and Identity for Writers of Color," participants can expect to find a safe space to explore and share personal experiences about identity. We will explore themes like borders, multilinguality, migration, race, origins, and what it means to belong or feel outsiderhood in the United States; we will write to first challenge and respond to dominant narratives and then create narratives that reflect ourselves and self-define ourselves in all our complexities.

Writing “home” to me is an act of making belonging, whether that home is geographical or figurative, related to roots or created family. It is a way for writers to define themselves and to explore and project joy. 

Writing “home” to me is an act of making belonging, whether that home is geographical or figurative, related to roots or created family.

Sign up for Aimee's upcoming Online: On Demand class Belonging: Writing Home & Identity for Writers of Color, starting May 4th! Scholarships are available.

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About the Author

Poet, playwright, performer and college instructor Aimee Suzara has graced stages and classrooms nationally with spoken word, plays and workshops. A Mills MFA alumni (2006), her poems have been published widely and her first poetry book, SOUVENIR, was a Willa Award Finalist (2015). Her plays have been staged at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, Thick House, Bindlestiff Studios and Brava Theater; her play TINY FIRES was a finalist for the Bay Area Playwright's Festival.   She has collaborated and performed as a performing poet with Dance Theater companies such as Deep Waters Dance Theater and Ramon Alayo Dance Company, and her poetry has been adapted into an opera, a choreographed dance piece, and theatrical scripts.  Her work has earned the YBCAway Award, AROHO Spirited Woman Award and she was a 2016 Artist Investigator with CalShakes.  Committed to helping writers develop their voices, she has been teaching English, Composition, Creative Writing and Interdisciplinary Studies for 15 years at the college level as well as poetry and spoken word to youth and adults; she is currently a lecturer at San Francisco State University and working on a commissioned play about Sappho to premiere in Spring 2022 with Cutting Ball Theater.

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