Donna, born in Greenwich, Connecticut, identifies as a Chinese-Taiwanese American woman. She enjoys writing, doing puzzles like escape rooms, playing video games, trying new things, playing team sports, and super into singles badminton. Donna discovered Legacies on Twitter.
Below are the responses from Donna Xia’s interview with Legacies Staff:
How did you get into illustrating or writing?
I think I just wanted to do it? I started writing when I was in elementary school and my friends and I would read my stuff instead of listening to the teacher during story time. It was really nice because my friends liked my work so much, so I kept writing and eventually transitioned to doing it online once I got my own laptop.
Is this your first publication? If not, what are some other projects/works you’ve done?
Yes and no. It’s my first publication under my real name but it’s not my first publication as a writer—pseudonyms are all in the rage, nowadays.
What inspired you to contribute to the project? (Why did you want to contribute to this project?)
I wanted to contribute because I wanted to share my story! It’s a very selfish reason, haha, but I also wanted to be part of something bigger as well. This anthology is so cool and there’s so many neat people contributing; I wanted to be part of that group as well.
How would you describe, or summarize, your submission?
Dramatic times call for dramatic measures.
What was the hardest things to write/draw about? (I.e. revisiting a trauma, self-realization, etc.) In other words, did you struggle to write/draw a certain aspect?
I think I struggled to streamline it a bit. The way I write is very poetic and dramatic and full of flair and I needed to smooth out the rhythm so that no reader could get lost. Also, I talked about things that I knew but a stranger wouldn’t–much thanks to the lovely editor Ann, who commented things such as, “Why? I know you know, but we don’t.” Ann was probably the best part about writing because she always had your back, even when you’re turning in submissions super late.
Why did you choose to write/illustrate your specific submission? (What was the significance of your submission?)
It’s just a life experience for me. I went to Shanghai for the first time in a long time when I was 17, then I visited there again when I was 21. Four years can change a person a lot, so I wanted to examine the differences and play with the space a little.
What, in your opinion, were setbacks you had to face, if any, and why? (I.e. time, memory, self-righteousness, etc.)
Time! I had been traveling so much for professional school visits and interviews. So it was really hard to carve out time to sit down and write, especially when I’m busy Thursday through Sunday trying to decide what the next step in my life is going to be, and then Monday through Wednesday is trying to stay on top of school work and extracurriculars.
Was there anything you couldn’t address in your submission? If so, what were they?
Not really! As… boxing coaches say, you leave it all in the ring! Or something like that.
What were the most important things you wanted to hit on in your submission? (What did you want to highlight?)
The most important thing is that there are two gaps between my grandparents and me: generational and cultural. My grandmother has transcended those gaps by decidedly just letting me do whatever makes me happy. My grandfather is stymied by those gaps by wanting me to do things in a way that he understands.
What do you hope readers/people will gain from reading/seeing your work? (What do you want people to take away from your work?)
I think I want people to take away that my story isn’t finished. It’s not meant to be! You’re not supposed to leave my piece going, ah yes, her journey with her grandparents is finished and she’s arrived at a happily ever after. I’m only 21! There’s still so much to explore and to enjoy and to accept about each other. I don’t think that real life gets the nice endings that movies or books do. And I wanted to reflect that there was still so much left to think about. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’re wrong. Maybe nobody’s wrong! Who knows? I don’t. And maybe I never will. And that’s the beautiful frustration about it all: trying to make sense of a puzzle when you don’t have all the pieces.
What is your definition of being AsAm, if you have one?
I think Asian American expresses an idea rather than our histories—our histories and cultures and identities are more strongly felt with something like, “I’m Chinese-Taiwanese American” and not “I’m Asian American”. So Asian American is all of us as a group! It’s how we all struggle through navigating being Asian in America, even if we have different backgrounds. Like how most of us can’t speak our native language, because it’s not passed down to us. But I don’t want to define the idea of Asian American as being a bunch of struggles. I think that it’s more about navigating the space between two cultures and figuring out your own personal comfort level. We get to decide how much we want to take from our ancestors’ homelands and from our current home, so each of us is unique in our own way. We’re the ones who get to forge our own path!
What does writing/illustrating for this anthology mean to you?
Writing for this anthology was pretty therapeutic: I was able to dig deep into my time in China and reflect. I took this opportunity to examine my struggles with my grandparents and how that mirrors my struggles with myself. I think putting out there that my family isn’t perfect and that I’m not perfect is hard—it’s rough, because everyone wants to paint this picture that nothing is wrong and that your life is picturesque. But I think a family naturally has struggles and the clash between generations and between cultures is interesting to explore and to ruminate on.
What food/drink most reminds you of home/childhood? Why do you think food is so important to Asian American culture?
Rousong! I had it when I was super young and was the first Chinese food that I learned how to pronounce. It’s my comfort food, for sure. It reminds me of home because I used to eat it all the time and my mom would put it in my sandwiches all the time. When I was sick, my dad would put it on my congee so I’d have something to eat. Another food is mapo tofu! I had it when I went back to Shanghai when I was 17 and my aunt made it for me because she heard from my dad that I wanted to try it. I eat it all the time now, haha.
Food transcends words. In a culture where it’s difficult to communicate with our ancestors, food acts as a bridge that crosses the language barrier. You don’t need to know what each other is saying when you eat homecooked meals—you can feel the hard work, the outpour of love, the attention to detail put into a dish that was made for you.