She’s not a writer but that night, she wrote.
Stephanie Shieh did a shift as a nurse, picked up her young son, fed him dinner, put him to bed and turned her attention to the blank page. She wrote something that first came to her at lunchtime.
“When I think of my childhood, I never felt any major racism,” she says. “I mingled in quite well with all of my friends.”
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Shieh grew up in Chemainus on Vancouver Island. As the only Chinese kid in class, she remembers bringing dumplings to school. For Shieh, dumplings are the ultimate family food, which is maybe why it stung when she was singled out for her “funny smelling food.”
Spurred on by a contest organized by the Asian Impact Society, Shieh wrote a children’s story called Mina’s Lunch.
“It all came out quite smoothly,” she says, sounding a bit surprised to say it. “I’m not a writer. I’m a public health nurse.”
The premise of the lunchtime story is lifted from her own life. Mina loves dumplings. But when she brings those dumplings – that piece of her culture – to school, the other kids make fun of her.
Asked who she wrote the book for, Shieh takes a moment to mull it over.
“I think, in a sense, I was thinking myself when I was little,” she says. “Also my little guy. . . . I pack him dumplings in his little lunch kit all the time.”
Since writing the story and winning the Asian Impact Society’s contest, Shieh says she’s realized just how common her experience is. Many people have told her stories about bullying, small slights and unintended insults.
Shieh says she hopes the book can stir conversations about diversity, family and multiculturalism.
With discussion questions included, the book is set to be distributed 46 elementary schools across School District #43.
The story was “fine-tuned” by Port Coquitlam graphic designer and author-illustrator, Kirstin Hepburn, who worked alongside Asian Impact Society director Justina Mark, Tiffany Duff and Celia Chiang.
The nurse/writer is slated to give her first reading in support of Mina’s Lunch of the at Coquitlam library’s City Centre branch on March 26. Registration required.