Multiracial Teens Launch A 'Latte Rebellion' "You're half Chinese and half European, I'm half Indian, a quarter Mexican and a quarter Irish. We're mixed up. We're not really one or the other ethnically. We're like human lattes." So explains Asha, the main character in Sarah Jamila Stevenson's debut novel, The Latte Rebellion.
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Multiracial Teens Launch A 'Latte Rebellion'

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Multiracial Teens Launch A 'Latte Rebellion'

MICHEL MARTIN, host: And now to TELL ME MORE's Summer Blend Book Club.

Summer is the time when a lot of us make more time for fiction, whether we're lounging at the pool or just chilling by the air conditioner. So this year we decided to dive into the stories of America's emerging multiracial community. We're reading books by and about people of multiracial background. And we'd love it if you read along with us.

Our next book is in the so-called young adult category. It's called "The Latte Rebellion" and it follows the story of a mixed-race teenager, Asha, who starts a fake civil rights group for multiracial students as a way to earn money for a senior trip. And what begins as an excuse to sell T-shirts with a pithy slogan turns into a real movement with consequences.

"The Latte Rebellion" is the work of first-time author Sarah Jamila Stevenson. And she's with us now from Modesto, California to tell us more about her book. Welcome. Congratulations.

SARAH JAMILA STEVENSON: Thank you so much, Michel. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So, Sarah, can you just set it up for us? Set up the story for us. "The Latte Rebellion" starts with racial slurs.

STEVENSON: Well, it does. And, actually, when I wrote the first draft, it didn't start quite so provocatively, I have to admit. But I think that at the time I was writing it there were still a lot of incidents, especially in this area, where there is - it's actually a pretty multiracial community, and with a lot of South Asian-Americans. And there were still some new stories about South Asians who were getting harassed and insulted and even, you know, assaulted.

And because I'm part South Asian myself, it really hit close to home. It had me worried about my relatives who live in the United States. And so, I felt pretty strongly about working that into my book somewhere.

MARTIN: Well, you sure do. I mean, at one point Asha says to one of her friends, quote, "You're half Chinese and half European. I'm half Indian, a quarter Mexican and a quarter Irish, we're mixed up. We're not really one or the other ethnically. We're like human lattes." Was that your experience?

STEVENSON: A little bit. Yeah. I mean, Asha, in some ways, is a little bit like me. She's a lot more goal-driven than I am. But, you know, I do think that that reflects a lot of my growing up experiences. Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, in fact, true. It is based at school. One of - the challenge comes when the club that Asha decides to start, the Latte Rebellion, which, as we said, is really, mainly because she wanted to earn some money for a school trip. And frankly, you know what? I do want one of those T-shirts, by the way. I hope you're printing some up. But the club eventually gets Asha into trouble and her friends are called to testify about it for a school disciplinary hearing. And I was hoping I could get you to read a short excerpt?

STEVENSON: Sure. No problem.

(Reading) All Asha did was enable our voices to be heard, voices that don't always get heard, Miranda said. Her voice was shaking a little, but still calm. The Latte Rebellion wouldn't have gotten as big as it did if it hadn't been needed. Sir, do you realize that there are people out there who still think that to be proud of being mixed ethnicity is somehow un-American?

Somebody left a comment on our website saying that if we're not happy with the way things are, we ought to go back where we came from. She let out a short bark of a laugh. I don't know about you, Miranda continued, looking now at each member of the panel in turn, but if we can open even a few eyes to reality and have people appreciate us for who we are, then all of this was worth it. All of it.

MARTIN: Was that, in part, you said that the story is based a little bit on your experience and of course it's fiction. Do you still feel this kind of sense, or did you when you were that age, feel the sense of being pushed to embrace one or the other and not being respected for wanting to embrace all of your identity?

STEVENSON: I wouldn't say that I felt that way in general. I actually feel pretty lucky that I grew up in a really diverse community in Southern California. As far as my own home life, I did feel a little bit of pressure from my dad's side of the family to identify pretty strongly with the Pakistani side because he wanted me to be sure that I knew what it meant to be part of his culture.

MARTIN: And, finally, before we let you go, it is a fun book. It's the kind of a stuff that a lot of kids, young people, confront in the course of their, you know, teenage years trying to kind of figure out who they are, just be in the world. Have some laughs, do what they want to do. Do you think - part of the Summer Blend Book Series is the sense that we are in a moment when this kind of literature, this kind of story seems to be finding an audience. And I'm interested if you think that there is kind of a moment right now for this kind of conversation.

STEVENSON: I think that's a really interesting question. And I would like to think that there is. I have been seeing a lot more media coverage of just a variety of stories about, especially the next generation growing up with so many people of mixed race and of mixed ethnicity and mixed culture, I think, could start a really interesting and a really important conversation.

MARTIN: Sarah Jamila Stevenson is the author of "The Latte Rebellion." It's her debut novel. It's considered young adult fiction, but I think a lot of people will enjoy it. She's also a freelance writer, artist and graphic designer. And she joined us from the studios of KQOD in Modesto, California. Sarah Jamila Stevenson, thank you for joining us. And, yes, I do want that T-shirt.

STEVENSON: Well, thank you so much.

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