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Now, here is a quote from the writing of a London merchant called John Lok, who sailed to west Africa in 1561 and kept a fascinating account of his voyage. There were endless stories of Mexicans as people who were fleecing the healthcare system, sneaking across the border, being arrested at the border, that sort of thing. I realized that I had been so immersed in the media coverage of Mexicans that they had become one thing in my mind, the abject immigrant.
So I was an early reader, and what I read were British and American children's books.
I was also an early writer, and when I began to write, at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.
I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. Now, I loved those American and British books I read. So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages.
I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. So, the year I turned eight, we got a new house boy. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor.
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