Author Archives: Debi Smith

Tainted Love Pre-order

This is the original Author’s Note that was going to be in Tainted Love. Then, the domestic terrorism of 3 Asian-owned spas in Atlanta on 3/16 happened and I knew given the subject matter of Tainted Love that I had to rewrite it. Tainted Love will be out on 5/18. Pre-order link is at the end.

This story started with a question in the form of a song late one night many years ago. I was watching the Butch Walker episode of Live From Daryl’s House that I kept on my DVR because I loved everything about that particular episode. I found myself rewinding the performance of “Why Was It So Easy?” over and over because at that moment the song had taken hold of me. I furiously wrote out what would end up being a piece of flash fiction that I posted on my blog.

Once it was up I thought I was done. Move on to the next thing which was finish Family Ties. But that question persisted in the back of my mind and wouldn’t leave me alone. Neither would my author BFF, Katie Oliver. I had to answer it.

Post by post, I created the history of the two characters and before I knew it I had around twenty posts that spanned twelve years.

I was done, yeah?

Turns out I wasn’t.

I put each post into a Scrivener doc and started editing; expanding the story and adding scenes that I was able to skip for expediency on blog posts but were necessary for a novel.

Three months before Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s article in The New York Times detailing accusations against Harvey Weinstein was published, I sent Tainted Love to my first round of beta readers. At the time I was already struggling with some health issues that I thought I recovered from, but by the end of October 2017 I had relapsed and we still had no answers. Watching the #MeToo movement gain traction at the same time my health was falling apart and unable to write gave me time to mull over how I was representing not only the main character and her family’s culture but the larger culture that exists in Hawai’i while incorporating the larger issue of violence against women (verbal and physical)—Asian American women in particular. 48 Hours also aired an episode on stalking and its effects on victims in September 2017. It included Pauly Perrette, stalked for more than a decade. I don’t generally watch the show but because I’m a fan of NCIS and Pauly’s character and it related to my story, I had to watch. When we discuss violence against women, it’s one of the types of violence that is often left out of the conversation and I want to change that. When every election comes around and the judgmental “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” starts we need to push back on the assumption that everyone is able to vote. Aside from the typical voter suppression directed towards disenfranchising BIPOC, disabled, and elderly voters, think about the victims of violent abusers and stalkers who cannot have their name in any public record in order to remain safe because voter rolls are public record.

It’s been a long road, not only of constant doctor’s appointments, finally getting a diagnosis and then creating the right medication cocktail with my doctor to get me functioning again. During that time there were moments where I’d sit at the computer and write one sentence after hours, staring at the manuscript on my screen; or I’d spend a week writing a new scene only to realize that it neither furthered the plot nor revealed anything new. I finally gave up and just focused on my health. Creeping into fall 2019 is when I finally had the right mix of meds that made me as close to whole as I’ll get. I could think clearly instead of spending all day in brain fog and I was able to do more than the bare minimum.

In the thick of all that, I had a running negative feedback loop going on in my subconscious because society has long told us if we aren’t productive we have no worth. I spent a lot of time beating myself up for being unable to be productive even though having a rare chronic illness that is disabling is a valid reason for not. Social norms are assholes. By the time I got rid of that feedback loop I realized that the years of being unable to work on Tainted Love was a good thing. Had I published this back in 2017, it would not be the same story. It would not be truly representative in the way other traditionally published stories are being told by authors of color, unapologetic in directing the story at those who have not had a mirror held up to them in entertainment growing up. You would think it would’ve been easy for me as long as I’ve been writing and taken classes in a state where I was surrounded by people who looked like me and in some cases, had professors that looked like me.

In college, the majority of my stories were centered on Filipinas or hapas (mixed race) and it was neither encouraged nor discouraged. It simply was. Then came a correspondence course I decided to do after leaving Hawai’i to keep my skills honed. It was all done by mail and feedback was always handwritten like my English papers in college. I was slow and would go through periods where I didn’t work on my “homework.” The instructor I was paired with left and I was assigned a new instructor. The first piece I sent him was returned with a question about why the character’s skin color was important. Because she looks like me and I don’t have stories about characters who look like me? That one piece of feedback was the type of gatekeeping that authors of color are used to, having our representation questioned to uncenter ourselves and give the gatekeepers what they want while silencing our stories.

For years, I’ve sought out books by Asian and AsAm authors and for a long time, I couldn’t even fill one shelf on my bookshelves with them. Now I can fill an entire bookcase. I’ve also actively sought out other stories by other authors of color and one thing is clear, they are writing for themselves and an audience full of people like them without going into lengthy explanations on every little thing. That, my readers, has meant the world to me. In 2019, I read The Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay and I was blown away. I finally had a book that I connected to not just as a human but as a FilAm. You can’t put a price on that when seeing yourself and your cultural experiences reflected back in the entertainment you consume is exceedingly rare and still stereotyped. While Tainted Love isn’t the same as The Patron Saints of Nothing, it shows that we aren’t monoliths and that our experiences are complex and varying with our own stories to tell.

When I first wrote this, we had not yet gone into lockdown nor had anti-Asian racism risen because of COVID-19. Reported hate crimes against AsAms rose 150% since the start of the pandemic—I make the distinction that they’re reported because there are segments of our population who do not trust the police and will not report for fear of being victimized again so the real percentage is likely higher. Men are verbally harassing and physically intimidating AsAm women for existing in public spaces or saying no to their advances which led to the recent killing of 6 AsAm women plus 2 non-Asians, one a customer and one an employee. The latter then led to the expected racist and fetishized comments about the AsAm women by not just randos on the internet, but police officials and politicians as well. This is the intersection of violence against women that Tainted Love focuses on. Our elderly are being attacked while out walking in their neighborhood, resulting in serious injury and death. Our now former president made sure he left office referring to the virus in a racist manner. Cases of extrajudicial murder by police officers have been uncovered. Politicians on the right have been pushing anti-China since the beginning of the pandemic while pushing anti-China bills that is dangerously similar to the anti-Chinese rhetoric right before the Chinese Exclusion Act. For those who aren’t aware, the Chinese Exclusion Act and laws that were aimed at Chinese immigrants rarely targeted just Chinese immigrants but Asian immigrants as a whole. Anyone doing antiracist work needs to be aware of the racism and danger our community is in, as well as our history in this country, because it’s rarely widely reported or taught.

If you aren’t FilAm or from Hawai’i and fluent in Hawaiian Pidgin English you aren’t the audience I wrote for, but you’re still invited in—hemo yo’ shoes first. Expect to not have everything explained, a glossary to flip to, or exotification, eye shape, or skin color descriptions of the Asian and Polynesian characters. I will tell you that there are words and names that look like one syllable but are two, like: Sale, make, and hale. If you want to understand the rhythms and intonations of Pidgin you can go to YouTube and look up videos from local comedians like Pashyn Santos, Bu La’ia, Rap Rapleinger, Frank De Lima, and Andy Bumatai. There’s also the 2021 Netflix movie, Finding ‘Ohana, you can watch and the dialogue in Pidgin is mostly subtitled for those not familiar with it.

If you are FilAm, from Hawai’i and/or fluent in Pidgin: no sneeze while you eat saimin.

Pre-order Tainted Love

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Posted by on May 3, 2021 in Uncategorized


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Tainted Love Cover Reveal

One man’s obsession is another woman’s living nightmare

What could go wrong when Ariana Baraquio runs into Lance Byun, an ex-boyfriend, while out with her current boyfriend? After all, running into people you know in Honolulu happens all the time. You say, “Long time, yeah?” catch up fast kine and hele on. The chance meeting alters the course of their lives and her boyfriend’s, James Devlin. Finding out where she lives, Lance calls her incessantly and sneaks into the building, leaving presents at her door.

Managing the stress of being stalked with the responsibilities of college, work, and living on her own overwhelms Ari. Lance’s actions culminate in a night of violence as he holds Ari and J.D. hostage. He disappears after that, but his actions create a rippling effect of trauma for her and J.D. When he returns, repeating the same pattern, they eventually put their faith in the justice system. Ari and J.D. know they’ll survive if they continue to support each other while also recognizing that Lance can and will destroy what they’ve built at any time. Ari’s experience make you question why we put so many expectations on victims to do and act as we think they should. Hopefully, her story will not only make you wish for a better future in which the system, institutions, and individuals take victims at their word and do more to protect them, making them feel safer to report in the first place, but to understand that it’s not hyperbole when Asian-American women say their lives are in danger because they’ve been fetishized.

Available soon in ebook and paperback formats through Amazon

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Posted by on April 16, 2021 in Uncategorized


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Talking to Your Kids About Race, Racism, and Antiracism

10 Things 6

Racism wasn’t something I chose to experience as a kid.

My first memory of racism directed at me was the summer between Kindergarten and 1st Grade. I was flying alone to Hawai’i or returning to Seattle from Hawai’i. An older woman, who I remember as having short curly brown hair and was probably in her 40s, was seated next to me on the flight. At some point in her talking to me she complimented my English. “You speak English so well. Where did you learn to speak it?”

I knew, even at my young age, that she assumed because I’m Asian I wasn’t born here—this is a racist trope that BIPOC have to deal with, particularly Asian-Americans as we’re treated as perpetual foreigners in our own country. “I was born here.” [insert 5-year-old eye roll]

I thought that would end the conversation but she kept going, calling me “exotic.”

Pro-tip: don’t call anyone exotic. We’re not objects. I don’t even like calling places exotic. People call my home state exotic but the tropical climate, the plants and flowers and trees and fruit, and the brilliant green of the mountains in contrast to the red dirt are all normal to me. Exotic, to me, has always mean unusual, not normal. But the things (and people) that get called exotic are entirely usual and normal for those who live with them daily. The other problem with “exotic” is it sexualizes and objectifies the women it’s being used to describe. No five-year-old should ever be called exotic and for BIPOC women, it feeds into the stereotypes that lead to the increased violence against, kidnapping, trafficking, and deaths of our sisters.

“What nationality are you?” she asked as a follow up to the exotic comment.

Again, at 5, I knew the difference between nationality and ethnicity. I thought she was stupid for asking me that when I had just told her I was born here. “I’m American.”

“No. What’s your ethnicity?” Understand that this is just another form of “Where are you really from?”

“Filipino.” [insert another eye roll] I don’t remember exactly how the conversation ended but I do remember being done with her at this point.

I’m pretty sure this experience is the basis for my dislike of conversing with strangers on planes, buses, trains, and out in public in general. I have a friend who I think is fearless in striking up conversations with people she comes across in public.

The same summer or the summer after, I was in California visiting my maternal grandparents and my mother’s late younger sister (Auntie Boogie, if you’ve read previous blogs). While I identify as Filipinx, I also identify as hapa (mixed-race for those of you unfamiliar with the term). My mother’s side is predominantly European and we can trace Papa’s lineage back to Mary Queen of Scots. Papa was a locksmith with his own business in Tustin. I loved going into the shop with him. I would sweep up the metal shavings for him and as I got older I would clean the bathroom, make grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch in the toaster over like he taught me, and cut keys for customers. One day, his good friend came into the shop and they were both leaning on the glass counter, each on opposite sides, as I was sitting on it. They were telling jokes that I didn’t understand and Papa stopped to explain one. Pointedly, he taught me the N-word and what it meant to him. I didn’t understand at the time that the meaning was bad, so when they told another joke, I laughed. Now imagine all the overt racists, comfortable with slinging slurs around doing this with the next generation. This is one of the ways kids learn overt bigotry, through jokes because jokes are easily accessible and also a way to tell if someone is part of your in-group or open to being part of your in-group. I learned soon enough what the N-word really meant after returning home and telling my parents the joke. I’ve never used it since.

We are often exposed to racism at a young age and these memories become indelible. I often see comments from White parents either about not knowing how to talk to their kids about racism and/or not wanting to “expose” them because they want them to keep their innocence. For the most part, BIPOC kids don’t get to keep their innocence. Once we have that first experience, it’s gone. Our world is now informed by knowing people are going to treat us that way for the rest of our lives. Not to mention, Black parents have to have The Talk with their children about how to interact with police so they come home alive at an age in which White kids get to remain innocent. My parents weren’t there to intervene with the woman asking me racist questions. The flight attendants didn’t intervene either. I was on my own and I was lucky enough to have been taught the difference between nationality and ethnicity so I knew how to respond to the woman. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for.

For those of us who are hapa, who have extended family from different races, particularly European, there’s the additional trauma of dealing with the bigotry within the family. There was no question Papa loved me, but I often wondered how when he would spew such awful, racist things about Asians and Black people in front of us, as well as using racial slurs. How had he done the mental gymnastics to keep himself from directing that racist venom at us (me, my dad, and siblings) but still be okay with saying those things in front of us? How could he say he loves us and show that he loves us while still holding so much hatred for people who looked like us? There’s trauma in that, in coming to terms with and dealing with the racism or bigotry of someone who loves you. I was the one who confronted him every time he started the racist comments and slurs. I was the one who made it clear, while still a kid, that what he was saying was unacceptable when others would not. Deep inside, while he was making those statements about others, it felt like they were directed at me because I cannot separate myself from being Asian. It’s why now when I call a friend on using Asian stereotypes and they say, “I didn’t mean you” I respond with “Yes, you did.”

While we don’t get to opt-out of these experiences as BIPOC children, it’s also important to understand that children as young as 5-years-old are already forming racial biases whether we recognize it or not. They already recognize that some groups have higher status or more value than other groups by the time they start Kindergarten. “But I taught my children to love people for who they are!” Please refer back to my first post in this series where I defined colorblind as an ideal and not a reality. It’s important to talk to your kids about the reality of world, not just Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream for us. Opt-in on these conversations so they understand why we can’t opt-out of the experience.

  1. Be honest with your kids and don’t sugarcoat the reality that BIPOC live with. You know your child(ren) the best so I’m not going to tell you exactly what to say or how to adapt what has largely been considered “adult conversation” to their learning level. Truthfulness is going to be the key in every conversation you have with them on race, racism, and antiracism.
  2. Give them the basic vocabulary to understand that racism isn’t just slurs and hate speech, but includes excluding us based on our race, judging us by stereotypes and treating us as if we are those stereotypes. They need to know that acts of racism aren’t just between individuals but can be perpetuated by their schools in how they discipline their BIPOC peers at disproportionately higher rates than White peers, even for things as small as dress code violations which then feeds these peers into the school-to-prison pipeline. Make sure they know what creates skin color and that it has no bearing on our intelligence, skills, or temperament as has been taught by racists for generations. Talk with them about how these harmful myths were used to set up harmful systems to oppress BIPOC. Discuss colorism and White beauty/speech standards that affect BIPOC from treating lighter-skinned BIPOC as more valuable and beautiful to conforming to White beauty/dress standards to standard English being the default demand with use of vernacular languages being seen as uneducated rather than a first language or just another method of communication. One thing you and your kid(s) need to understand is that like racism, colorism isn’t unique to the United States. It’s a global issue.
  3. Teach them that while you don’t have to have The Talk with them, Black parents have to do this with their children, often at a young age and doing so is never a guarantee they’ll return home alive. Tamir Rice was killed immediately upon the arrival of police who pulled up on the playground he was playing at alone. It was less than 2 seconds. He was never given a chance to “comply.” Let your kids know that compliance is a narrative of victim blaming. We’ve seen too many videos of Black people killed while “complying.” Instead, they need to understand that police shouldn’t be killing people at all. Don’t get mired in the hypocrisy of taking armed mass murderers alive or allowing a group of men to takeover and occupy a federal building for over a month, but Black people aren’t afforded that courtesy, armed or unarmed. Valuing the life of the young White man who took the lives of 9 Black Emmanuel AME Church members in Charleston, S.C. over the life of the Black veteran, Micah Johnson, who took the life of 5 Dallas police officers after recent deaths of Black people by police officers is the point. A White mass murderer will be taken alive because he has more value than the Black one who was killed by a bomb that police sent in on a robot. Black children are also not afforded the luxury of maintaining their “innocence” by police when their parents are stopped by them or are refusing to let them in their home: Philando Castile and Korryn Gaines are two examples of parents who were killed by police in front of their child; Korryn’s son was shot as well. The Hate U Give is an excellent resource to help you teach this. You can either read it with them, watch it with them, or both. An extension of this is that Black children are more likely to be treated as and charged as adults by the legal system than White children; they are old enough to know right from wrong versus the defense used by many White defendants that their brain isn’t developed enough to know better. When They See Us, Time: The Kalief Browder Story, 13th, and Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story are resources you can either watch to help yourself understand the subject matter better to teach your kid(s) or to watch with them.
  4. Teach them how they can use their privilege when they witness a peer experiencing racism. I think this can make a huge difference. While it’s not strictly about racism, remember the story about the 11-year-old boy who told his substitute teacher last year that he was thankful that he was being adopted by his two dads? That teacher faced consequences because three of his peers walked out of class and went straight to principal’s office when efforts to intervene as the teacher berated the student were unsuccessful. This is why teaching them the vocabulary is necessary, so they can identify acts of racism that aren’t overt slurs/hate speech that are happening right in front of them and can help squash any gaslighting that occurs when the person is confronted—sometimes BIPOC won’t say anything because we know we’ll be gaslighted and no one will back us up. I’ve been in that position many times.
  5. Know their educational materials and if they are lacking in diversity, supplement them with primary sources and texts that provide BIPOC narratives. While this will mostly apply to social studies/history materials, it can include English and literature. I know younger teachers are working to diversify their materials so BIPOC are more represented but there are going to be teachers who are entrenched in their way of doing things and refuse/are reluctant to change. To piggyback on this, diversify their bookshelves and their screens. Make sure they’re reading stories that center kids NOT like them, this builds empathy and helps fight stereotypes. While you’re doing this for your kid(s), make sure you’re doing it for yourself too. Don’t just read those non-fiction antiracism books, read fictional stories by BIPOC authors that feature BIPOC characters. I post the books I’ve read for the month at the end of the month/beginning of the following month on Instagram. You can build a list from that or my Goodreads bookshelf (links to both are on the sidebar). The books range from Young Reader (7-12) to Young Adult to various fiction genres and non-fiction. I also tend to focus on a specific group for the corresponding history month: i.e. Black authors or stories about Black people during Black History Month and LGBTQIA+ authors/stories during Pride Month. One thing I do want to point out is my fondness for the YA “history” books. Not texts, but books written for teenagers (sometimes younger) like Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You or An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People. They’ve made history a bit more digestible than the boring social studies and history textbooks we’re used to in school. Learning doesn’t have to be a drag and you, as the adult, don’t have to slog through Non-fiction history books that are so dry you find yourself re-reading the same page 10 times because your eyes started glossing over. These books are for us too. Take advantage of that.
  6. Make space for your child(ren) to ask questions, even if those questions are uncomfortable for you or challenge an implicit bias that they’ve observed in you. Kids notice our actions, especially when what we say and what we do do not align. This might mean you need to also be more aware of your own actions and whether or not they are antiracist. If something comes up that exposes an implicit or explicit bias of yours in the process of teaching your kid(s) you will likely need to pause the lesson and sit with it alone as you confront it. You know your kid(s) the best and should know if it’s something that can be processed through with them or not. I think the most important part is to ensure you come back to them and acknowledge that bias and how it’s wrong (based on stereotypes, based on a bad experience that doesn’t represent the race, etc.). One of the best things I think we can do for kids is show them we’re not perfect and we all have room to grow and learn. Prepare yourself for that uncomfortableness. Will you be able to explain why most of their classmates are White like them? Why your neighbors are White like you? Where are all the BIPOC in your life? Why you’re pushing for diversity when your social circles aren’t diverse? It’s okay that you aren’t living a perfectly antiracist life, but you have to be honest (back to #1) about why. Don’t make stuff up because it will make you look better in their eyes. It’s okay to tell them, “I didn’t know…” or “It wasn’t a priority when we moved here…” Again, show them there is room for growth.
  7. Acknowledge when you don’t know something. Don’t make stuff up when your kid(s) ask a question and you don’t know. It’s okay to tell them that you don’t know. Make it an opportunity to learn together, to teach them that it’s okay to not know everything there is to know, to go learn something you may not have thought about but they did and return to them with an answer.
  8. Costumes for Halloween or other activities (school dress-up days, community festivals) is one thing friends ask me every year as Halloween rolls around. What’s appropriate? What isn’t? If a group of people are discriminated against or killed for wearing their traditional clothing then a “costume” is inappropriate. If there’s a bodysuit your kid(s) can take off or makeup they can take off but it’s akin someone else’s skin that they cannot take off–think the Maui full-body costume or the girl dressed up as a Geisha giving a tea party in full makeup. Plus kids should not be dressing up as sex workers. It’s not an inherently bad profession, that’s a different story. Sexualizing kids is just plain inappropriate. G*psy costumes are a no because g*psy is a slur (the group should be referred to as Romani) and they are an oppressed group. There are plenty of professions and characters and things kids can dress up as. Taking away options that appropriate oppressed groups is not the end of the world. If kids can dress up as a Princess Darth Vader and go viral on social media for it we’ll all be just fine.


Study: Black Children More Likely to be Seen as Angry by Student-Teachers Than White Children

Why Keisha Can’t Write”: The Marginalization of Black Student Writing

African American Vernacular English is not Standard English With Mistakes

De-stigmatizing Hawaii’s Creole Language

“I’m is talking right”: How The Stigma Around Black Language Holds Us Back From Liberation

The Limits of Standard English

The “Pidgin Problem”: Attitudes About Hawai’i Creole

The Costs of Code-switching

Five Reasons Why People Code-switch

Code-switching is not Trying to Fit In to White Culture, it’s Surviving it

How Culturally Responsive Lessons Teach Critical Thinking

Early Chapter Books with BIPOC Characters by BIPOC Authors

16 Ways to Help Children Become Thoughtful, Informed, and BRAVE About Race

What is “The Talk” White Parents Should Have With White Children?

20 Picture Books for 2020: Readings to Embrace Race, Provide Solace & Do Good

7 Ways to Support the Young Activists in Your Life

Your 5-Year-Old is Already Racially Biased

Teaching Tolerance (Note: I’ve used this organization as a resource for almost 20 years & they have a Facebook page you can follow)

Antiracist Reads for Kids and Teens

School Dress Codes Unfairly Target Black Girls

Black Girls in US Pushed Out of School Over Racist and Sexist Dress Codes, Study Finds

The School to Prison Pipeline, Explained

The School to Prison Pipeline

How the School to Prison Pipeline Functions

When School Feels Like a Prison

The Problem with White Beauty Standards

What’s Colorism?

The Gender of Colorism: Understanding the Intersection of Skin Tone and Gender Inequality

A World Without Black History

You Can’t Sound White

12 Racist Halloween Costumes FOR KIDS!

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Posted by on July 31, 2020 in Uncategorized


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