The Other Side of Paradise is a memoir of Stacyann Chin growing up as an outcast in Jamaica. It begins with Chin at a very young age and her half-brother, Delano, who were being taken care of by their maternal grandmother. Abandoned after childbirth, Chin’s mother left the country. Her father, a Chinese businessman, also denies any relation to her. Her grandmother who is raising Chin at the time has no money, so Chin was sent to live with other family members from time to time. The other family members also see her as a burden because they cannot afford another mouth to feed. Moving from home to home, Chin encounters extreme class differences. At some homes where she stays there is no electricity or running water. The other families who she visits have color television, a maid, and other modern luxuries. Chin is also very intelligent. She was able to get into a prestigious high school regardless of her circumstances. In high school, she is able to become friends with some of the wealthiest families on the island, while still being very poor. Chin was also half Chinese resulting in her having fairer skin than all her cousins. She experienced constant criticism from her family and peers who would attack her for her lighter skin tone. The aunts who she stays with would verbally abuse her, saying that she was worthless and she was beaten as a form of punishment. There were multiple attempts of sexual abuse most of her life living in Jamaica.
Throughout the work, Chin is a victim of extreme religiosity, classism, racism, and sexism, and is later introduced into a homophobic life. Her grandmother, who spends most of her early youth with, is a very religious, God-fearing woman. They spend most of their days attending church and bible study meetings. After learning of her sexual orientation, Chinn suffers from severe beatings and humiliation followed by Bible passages from her family and schoolmates. They was their attempt to try and control her identity of who she should be. However, her brother and grandmother did their best to tame her hyper sexualized life and give her the love she felt she wasn’t given. Even they begin to fade out of her life as a result of increasing poverty, sexualized abuse, and desperation. Her brother left without ever contacting her. His slow and unexplained abandonment explains how the most important men in her life treated her. The men in the book represent a fleeting yet important addition in Chin’s life. Most of the men present during her early youth are sick, drunk, and/or mentally ill. They exit her life whether it is physical absence or psychosocial. Her father’s ongoing absence affects her the most. Although, he does pay for her schooling, and help her get into college, he treats her like nothing and never conceptualizes her as his own. Her brother’s father also offers her help but never the love a father gives his daughter. He sexually abuses her, while offering her money to help her survive. Other men such as the Preacher in her church also make sexual advances on her, while offering her comfort.
Chin is not open about her sexuality until the latter half of the book. She speaks about coming out and being an open lesbian. She survived a gang rape in her college bathroom that initiated because of her sexuality. The violence she experienced goes to show how queers were treated during her time. Chin’s skin color and class position affect her at every school institution she attends, every person’s home she visits and even causes a bitter fight between her and her brother. Because Chin is half Chinese, she is lighter than her other cousins. They often teased her and physically tormented her.
After analyzing Chin’s work, I can conclude that Chin is a feminist. Some may say that because she was a lesbian, it is clear as to why she might diverge on that path. However after reading “To Be Real” by Rebecca Walker, it is important to conceptualize that we cannot conform to one identity as a feminist. If we did this it would regulate the way in which we live (Walker). In my opinion, if we were to conform to one definition of a feminist then we must conform to one definition of a woman. We cannot do that because all women are not the same. Women encompass a variety of ideologies, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Feminists undergo the same structure. There are radical, cultural and power feminists, all of which represent different values. In class we completed a chart that showed how certain characteristics can be used to describe the same group. We were to list the stereotypes of Atheists, Feminists, and Religious persons. Unknowingly, there was very little variation between the groups. I came to realize that one definition can account for multiple groups. Therefore, one cannot classify someone given one definition.
The themes of race, class, and sexuality are explored in Chin’s work, “The Other Side of Paradise”, and are also present in Julia Alverez’s book, “How the Garcia Girls lost their Accents”. The book tells the story of how the Garcia girls assimilated into the American culture. Fights between the father, Carlos, and his daughters occurred when the daughters began to show individuality and independence. His response to his daughters’ actions was for the girl to behave as Dominican women, primarily meaning that they show not wear revealing clothing, engaging sexually with men until married and other strictly held Catholic beliefs. Similarly, Chin struggled with finding her identity as a lesbian woman in the heterosexual atmosphere of Jamaica. She was shunned by her family, church, and schoolmates. Chin grew up very poor, unlike the Garcia Girls, but they both struggled when they were to adapt into an American culture (Lustig).
Closing, Stacyann Chin is strong, talented, and defiant. After reading passages from her memoir, I am impressed to see how she has grown being a woman who has overcome the struggles she faced while growing up. She was abandoned by her mother, unacknowledged by her father, separated from the only family she knew, and abused at the hands of relatives. Yet still, in the end, she opened herself up to the possibilities of contentment.
Chin, Staceyann. The Other Side Of Paradise: A Memoir. New York: Scribner, 2009. Print.
Lustig, Suzanne. "How and Why Did the Guerrilla Girls Alter the Art World Establishment in New York City, 1985-1995?" Web. 14 May 2012.
Walker, Rebecca. To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism. New York: Anchor, 1995. Print.