February is Black History Month, which means this is the perfect time to talk about the big, wide, wonderful world of multicultural romance. Actually, any time is the perfect time to talk about multicultural romance, but closing out February without touching on this vital part of the romance canon would be remiss. Buckle up, because we have a lot of ground to cover.
First of all, what is multicultural romance? In a grander sense, all of it. Even if the two lovers come from the same community, even small communities, like the nobility of Regency England, or the inhabitants of a small town, or Amish community, no two families of origin are exactly the same. Anyone who has spent their first holiday with their significant other’s family can attest to this. Speaking for romance genre fiction, however, we’re looking at romance novels where at least one of the lovers is a person of color.
So, why the distinction? Many readers (and writers) have differing opinions on this. On the one hand, if love is love is love is love, (thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda) then does the ethnic origin of the lovers really matter? On the yes side, there are a lot of compelling arguments. While romance readers can identify with and enjoy stories about people who are not like them (are any of us medieval knights, vampires, billionaires, rock stars, dukes, etc? Didn’t think so.) there’s nothing richer than experiencing a story with situations and details that are as real to us as our own history, or day to day experiences. It’s one thing to do the research about a particular time or place, but it’s another to have grown up with that as a part of daily life. The experience of seeing ourselves in the stories we read, that “hey, I’ve been there,” or “that’s exactly how it is” feeling, or even our mouths watering at the description of a familiar treat that is out of the so-called mainstream, adds another level to the reading experience. It adds that same extra level to the writing experience, as well, as writers from around the globe, and every level of society, can bring in their own experiences, wishes, hopes, dreams, family history, and more, to the table.
On the no side, there are a lot of good arguments as well. One of the most frequent is a deceptively simple matter: where are these books shelved? This may not be as much of an issues when it comes to e-books, but the internet it vast, and it is indeed possible for books to hide, especially those that are independently or boutique published. When it comes to brick and mortar stores, there are a few options where to shelve multicultural romance, each with their pluses and minuses. If an African-American romance, for example, is shelved in a special section for African-American interest, readers who frequently buy from the African-American section will find it, sure, but what about those readers who don’t know there’s a fabulous western historical, inspirational, or contemporary billionaire romance, shelved in between a nonfiction book on the Harlem Renaissance, and biographies of trailblazing politicians?
Not that there is only one flavor of multicultural romance, either. The “multi” part should be a tipoff on that one. Romance readers of today have a vast array of stories from which to choose. Some outside the genre may see small town contemporaries, erotic stories set in the big city, or historicals set in 19th century England. Those are important to the romance genre, absolutely, and plenty of those stories fit under the multicultural umbrella, as well. Today, readers can also enjoy romances set in Tang Dynasty China, the height of the Ottoman Empire, the melting pots that are the Caribbean during the golden age of piracy, or the American west, where a person born in Scotland might find the love of their life with someone born in Spain, Russia, China, or someone whose ancestors have lived in this “brave new land” for longer than human memory. Bring things up to the present day, and the world suddenly gets a lot smaller, as travel and communications technology widen the social circle by a great degree.
So, why read multicultural romance? How much time do we have to answer that one? Multicultural romance is full of great stories, from talented authors, with dynamic characters, who fall in love in ways that we will remember long after the book is done. Does that sound like “regular” romance novels? That’s because they are. Romance novels are romance novels, absolutely. There’s also, depending on our own histories, cultures, and experiences, either the recognition of seeing characters and relationships that reflect our own experience, or the chance to meet people, see new places. Love is love, all the world over, in every time, and every place. More love stories, and more happy endings, well, doesn’t that deserve celebration every month?
So, dear readers, I hand it now over to you. Do you read multicultural romance? Why, or why not? How do you define multicultural romance? Do you have a favorite multicultural author? Where are multicultural romances shelved in your favorite bookstores? What are your favorite sources for finding new multicultural romance? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.