Tamika Burgess - Sincerely Sicily
As a Black Panamanian, I grew up confident and fully aware of who I am and my racial and cultural background. But it wasn’t until I was asked, “What are you?” that I realized I didn’t know how to explain what I’d always known.
When I asked my mother about it, she told me, “Tell them you are a Black Panamanian” (which I knew). But that response only worked when I was a child. The older I got, the people who asked that question wanted more, and I found myself also needing more-- in terms of understanding fully.
My debut novel, Sincerely Sicily, was born solely from this experience. Loosely based on many of my experiences growing up, the main character Sicily Jordan embarks on a self-discovery journey to fully understand, for herself, how she is Black with a Panamanian cultural background. In addition to her self-identity journey, Sicily experiences hair discrimination from an unexpected relative and deals with plenty of new experiences involving a new school, friendships, and her first crush.
As the publishing industry continues to push for diversity in children’s literature, I have seen a slight improvement. But there are still cultures and countries that lack representation, including Panama. With that, I felt compelled to tell my story and do my part by filling this void. Mainly because I think readers desire to read about something new and different. And readers of Panamanian descent can finally relate first-hand and enjoy seeing their culture displayed in fiction.
Overall, I hope all readers can take a few things away from Sicily’s story. The first is the difference between race and culture. This message is conveyed in a scene when Sicily is doing research and realizes that while her ancestors are from Africa and the Caribbean, her parents were born in Panama, and she was born in the US. The cultures changed, but the racial makeup of her family did not. Thus, displaying to the reader that race and culture are not dependent on each other; the two can mutually exist, as one has nothing to do with the other.
The next takeaway would be gaining the confidence to advocate and stand up for oneself. Through Sicily’s example of resolving a hair discrimination conflict with her abuela, my hope is for that interaction to be a blueprint for young readers on how they, too, can express their feelings to adults constructively and appropriately to gain resolution.
Sincerely Sicily was indeed a labor of love, written to appeal to the targeted audience, but people of all races, ages, genders, and cultures will be able to find a few relatable elements of the story that will entice them to keep on reading.
Born to parents who migrated from Panamá, Tamika has always taken a particular interest in writing themes that explore her Black Latina identity. Because of her passion for spreading knowledge of Black Panamanian culture, Tamika has been featured on various websites, podcasts, and panels.
When she is not writing, Tamika is somewhere cozy online shopping, sipping lemon ginger tea and reading, or listening to a podcast. Read more at TamikaBurgess.com
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