Friday, April 22, 2011

like father like soñadora

This is my anecdota, my story on the great divide between to generations and how a people of a minority do exactly what they are afraid of someone doing to them.

I must begin from the beginning. Fifty years ago, a child was born in a tiny village you could not find on the Indian map. Fifty years ago, in an unlit hut, a baby plastered in his mother’s blood opened his eyes to the world as hot tears rolled down his mother’s cheeks. Srinivasa he was named. Srinivasa, the Great Achiever. And that, he was.

He rose before the sun, sitting on parched ground, bending over his English grammar book. Hello, sir. Good day, ma’am. Until we meet again, he addressed the stars at night. If he could have kept/ the sky in his dark hand. he would have pulled it down/ and held it. He always loved something he could found impossible to reach. Like his dream to America. He dreamed of a vision that was inspired by Thursday movie nights watching Doctor Dolittle until he knew every line. Watching Rex Harrison singing in delight while stroking a giraffe, he dreamed of ice-cream sellers and children in lace dresses, where the people drank Coca-Colasinging that Coca-Cola jingle/ everyone knew and a world of fridges that were fully stocked. He wanted out of his dusty town; even if it was impossible. But he tried, nonetheless. The bookish young man stared at the withering pages for so long that he needed thick glasses. His name changed from Srinivasa, the savior to Nalugu Kaanu, four eyes. Isolated by his own people, a minority. No one stroked pages of text like him but no matter. Baba always said intelligence is not judged by your good looks, but how thick your glasses are.

In 1987 Srinivasa, that restless spirit broke free from that dusty town and flew across two oceans with a demure bride he met only once. He reached this country with the prayer without labor no sweetness on his lips. He worked twelve hour shifts at the Temple University Research Center, holding syringe like a scepter, because that is all he knew he could do. He trained himself to work all his life. But “later he learned that not all labor ends in sweetness . My own father learned something new in this land. A word called “hate”. This word “hate” was a disease. It spread through his medical floor. Being the only Indian, my father was known was an “overachiever”. Although it was something he aspired to be all his life, something his very name meant. He realized that he achieved too much and too soon that others could not help but wonder why and wonder why they did not achieve like he did. I could imagine that thin, scraggly man with an unshaved face think my child will never know the word hate. She will be whoever she is. And I shall make sure this world will love her. This noor, this star of my life will only love one thing: hard work. Two years later, his noor cast her light over the Western World.

I was born into my father’s arms. He held me and gave me the birth name Yesheswini, one who succeeds. My mother laughed, telling him that a daughter with that name would draw attention to evil omens like her husband’s birth name. She held me and was shocked to see the fullness of my eyes. She called me Priyanka because eyes were important to her, and she could not see her husband’s because they were always hidden behind those thick, thick glasses.

I spent my childhood on my father’s lap, my fingers stroking glossy pages of National Geographic and Encyclopedia Britannica; my eyes grew accustomed to tiny print which made my mother nervous. Papa and I would lie in the backyard playing count the dots with the stars. He would hover over me, look into my eyes and tell me something I could never forget: noor of my life, never forget where you come from and then he would look at me, looking for something I did not know. Little did I know that what he was looking for was in me.

Who am I? I was the land my father fell in love with. A land that turned the poor into peda manshillu. Big people. A land that did not have problems such as caste and religion, and race, or so he thought once upon a time. And so did I. It isn’t just my family. It is every Indian family that shares this story with me. The struggle is passed from mother to child in the womb. As the first generation, finding our strength in a society we have half a place in is difficult. No one wants to be a videshi, a foreigner. Where do I fit in? If I only knew, life would be easier. I am a minority. Only I know my father’s tale. Only I know what is expected of me. He dreamed of perfection even before I was born. But tell me, who is perfect? I can feel a generation old burden that falls on my shoulders and I am compressed. My heart grows heavy for him. I began to realize all too soon that I began taking an identity: the perfect woman conjured from the corners of my father’s mind. Desperate things happen. I tried to find myself so I looked and looked into my palms or into the sky or in books of poetry. When I thought hope was lost, I found myself. You will never guess where.

The first time I tasted Spanish was on the lips of a boriqua. Mi Estrella. She held me tight and whispered te amo te amo until I chipped and chipped and chipped within myself. I never heard before. Bonito. Bonito. Me parece todo es bonito... What were these words? Each palabra, each word, was as elegant as the next. I mouthed the words dramatically, tasting each and every syllable: from the moment it traveled from my throat down to the tip of my tongue and off my lips. Te- Am-Ooo.

And then I was captivated. My little Puerto Rican Malinche brought my hand under the belly of the United States. I could feel the pulses of Latin America in my wrist.

They say that French is the language of love, but I think that Spanish is the language of life. Life in Los Americas can be a struggle. Nations such as Bolivia and Mexico are young. These places are full of bright, curious, and hopeful minds that respect old indigenous ways, yet look to the future. In them, I found mi anecdota, my story of discovering a language, a people, and a family.

I voraciously consumed as much information as I could. I learned about the struggle of the Zapatista and how people fought for justice not just with weapons but with poetry, how in Bolivia Evo Morales, an indigenous man was rebuilding a nation and making sure los indegenas had righ

ts. I read poetry from Pablo Neruda. Poems such as “The Ode to the Naked Body” and I fell in love with the moment I worded each and every syllable and whispered Neruda’s feelings. Every time I read a line, I could feel Neruda’s desire and fascination for the human body. I understand Senor Pablo’s soul for a minute. I felt those words throb with my pulse. And when I uttered the stanza:

It is not so much light that falls

over the world

extended by your body

its suffocating snow,

as brightness, pouring itself out of you,

as if you were

burning inside

tears trickled down my cheeks. I understood the Latino passion. I could feel it throbbing in the hands of my teacher, in the poems, and in the art. I surrounded myself with Los Americas.

The most important thing I learned about Latin and South America is how to feel. People live in the present. People do not live for living's sake. Reading about the revolutionaries, I realized that silence is never the answer. Language will always be my vehicle, my voice, my form of communicating who I am to the world. It is the only hope for justicia. Spanish is about strength. I have seen pictures of Cuban men’s cracked hands. Those hands are not cracked because of hard labor in fields, but because these hands were made into fists and stood by what they believed. There is also a sense of wonder in day to day things. People understand what life is. That is something I sometimes forget. The fact that Neruda has written poetry about the most common objects made me realize that the world around us is breathless. La vida es la vida. Life is life.

Ai ai ai, what have I done? Have I severed an umbilical chord connecting me to thousands of years of sandstone and marble and whispers and wedding fires? Have I lost India over new lands, grounds, have I become the conquistadora? I refuse to bite the bullet. I can see the sorrow in my father’s eyes. Have I left India?

Who am I? Nostalgia clouds my mind: I was the land my father fell in love with. A land that turned the poor into peda manshillu. Big people. A land that did not have problems such as caste and religion, and race, or so he thought once upon a time. And so did I. It isn’t just my family. It is every Indian family that shares this story with me. The struggle is passed from mother to child in the womb.

“You have a duty to your homeland, Priyanka. That is why you are here. For you, for me, for your mother, and hers, and hers. This is our story”

It infuriates me! The blood running in me, the blood of temple bells seethes. Never wanting to conform, never wanting to be a native or colonized, just wanting to be. Can’t I just be?

But I wonder: how can I blame my father? I think I am more like him than he realizes: Don't you see? Baba, I am running away too just like you did that dusty August night when you bought a ticket to America to run away from your Baba. I too have bought a billete, a ticket to another culture. Burdens travel through our blood, Baba, like a hereditary disease. How can you forget that?

We try to find ourselves, define who we are because sometimes another person’s burden begins to smother us, but when we do define ourselves And when we do, we are isolated by the people who claim to know us more than we know ourselves. A generation can split people apart due to dreams of perfection. We hide behind our sorrows. Silence is what we choke on. We are the sons and daughters of La Malinche. Running and running. We take stones and throw them over fences just to see what we hit: globalization in its purest form.

I still remember the nights he held my chin in his hand and tilt it to the sky. If he could have kept/ the sky in his dark hand he would have pulled it down/ and held it. But, he didn't have to. He had me. While he watched me, I traced women in the stars and giggled. He would, too, whispering you are beautiful, my little, little noor. I would push him to the grass; he would be helpless. Then I would say:

“Baba, you crazy old man. The stars are more beautiful than me. Just look that them! They shine more than me!”

He grinned and said jaan, my sweetheart, nothing is more bright than those beautiful, beautiful eyes. You are my gift from the Gods.

Our vagabond, Malinchita laughter swallowing the silence of the heavens, two wonderlusts stopping briefly for fresh air. Never slowing. Slowing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Neo-Liberalism.

Señorita Mexico

land not of the free

or the brave

Mexico lugar of the

Chingadas, the violated

what will you do today?

I see you watching the ends of your skirt

to your blankita sister


Four syllables

they role off the tongue

like flames, leave you wanting more

light that can be cupped in your palms

cast that earth away, this

is not the time for story of creation

but emulation.

Papa says we can do anything.


she will make you a new niña.

I saw you in Acapulco

powdered up in the 60’s

like a caramela Marylyn Monroe

squeezed into a lemon Meringue skirt

Acapulco, look here comes the sun
Acapulco, it's a day for fun
I can't wait till I meet your sweet senoritas
Kiss everyone
This is no time for siesta, this is time for fun

Mexico I thought you were your sister

pardon my hands running against your cotton skin

not satin like Ameeri

but I couldn’t resist


I hope you know how to write.

In that case, sign your name on the dotted line

X ____Mexico__________

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Page 61. My eyes wander to the tip of calloused skin. The whole picture comes together. Feet. A pair of dark feet: salt scarred at the toes, bandaged with saffron cloth, standing on a sea of ivory rock. I stare, confused, at the glossy page of National Geographic. The caption reads “Mali. Worker mining salt. Window to the underworld I whisper.

Mali, like a secret on Africa’s lips, is tucked beneath Niger. Unknown to American eyes, she was once a land of promise. Traders from even the Orient craved her spices and teak wood. Mali of the antiquities. Now we look at her, reduced to shards of salt blocks that glisten in African sun like silver mackerels in a sea of boys who call themselves men. Such is the way of history: cities of stone chip in pieces until they are reduced to dust. But when we finally take notice, we see crumbled cities in which the very feet of men seem to decompose. Mali of the fallen.

I wriggle my own feet, plum skin waxing and waning. What of them? Aren’t these as human, as fleshy as the man’s in Mali? I realize that we never see the face. We see broken feet, a novelty of the third world. Bandages cause us to sigh, Mali of the stone feet. Where does humanity lie?

I have found humanity creviced between our toes. I realize that those feet will one day be mine, and mine, his. One and the same, such is the nature of humanity: reversal. A primordial wave of heat beginning in my chest washes over me as I stare. We often haphazardly glance through photos, not realizing the subject is real. It has been for eternity; we simply forget to lift the page. Such is the era. The era of ignorance.

But it is soon to be over. The rush now floods through my limbs and out my toes. The picture becomes more than a picture, and I become more than the self. We blink, our memories, once remiss, is aroused. And it makes me want to throw fists in the air and shout “in the name of Humanity!” I pine to speak of his struggle at the pulpits, rousing the next generation to grow angry. We will grow in numbers! Wait. I halt and sigh.

I look down at those feet. Oh how they taunt me so with their walnut appearance. I have approached this all wrong. What of the boy? Blinded by oceans, a generation grows upset, but what of the face we never see? I lean in. Who will massage the wounds cut deep through decades? Humanity begins in my fingertips. I trace the outline of the bandages. Change begins in my land: across a bed of sharpened salt crystal, in the contours of his mind, in the warmth from my hand in his, in his weak smile, responding to me, yet a smile nonetheless. Humanity of the uplifted.

I fall in.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Brotha West and the Truth

When I heard Cornel West was coming to DC to deliver a sermon at Howard University, I could not help but get really excited. You know, the same excitement children feel when santa or the easter bunny are about to come home? Well this time, I knew it was real.I made my way to the Howard church service at 10 am, one hour before the sermon, and the auditorium was already half full! I found a seat in the center of the center of the center. I was ready.

The program started and there was much singing and joy in the name of Jesus. Now I had never understood Christianity. I had read the bible, but I could not wrap my head around why martyrdom. I did not understand how we were forever grateful. Old women I was sandwiched between cried in the name of the Lord. But there was something powerful all wrapped in this emotion. My heart began to soften. Not because of the words, but because of the charisma and hands in the air. Because of the tears and the smiles. “Jesus, take me in your hand!” I watched Cornell pull out a white handkerchief and dab at his eyes.

He stood up to the mic, dabbing and dabbing while shouting “Jesus we all came from your hands and we will not give up the fight”. I watched him grow like a wave, ready to release. He talked of how the church gave him faith in the dark hours of history, how history is a dialectic and we have to be mindful of our past. He told us that he was not going to be here long. But he will be smiling when he passes because “baby, I’m tired”. He said it was the youth’s turn to carry history and pride. “You need to cut against the grain” because ‘niggerization’ still occurs today.

“Leadership is not a career, its a calling” he said while putting his palms out in front of us as though handing us something. Something I was not sure I wanted to take on. “You need to cut against the grain”. West talked about the corporate lies in the media, the lies we tell ourselves and to each other. He gave statistics of how many black men are chrged for marijuana although the numbers of marijuana users projected in the White and Black communities are the same. He gave statistics of the national incarcerated: 76% we black men. He gave statistics of how black youth were leaving New York city because of the racial profiling on the streets. Where does all this come from? Cornel West addressed the media: it feeds lies. Corporate lies. Corporate media tends to select which story both present and past is important. But history is important. You can not talk about the present without the past. “We the diasporized African race have had a history of crimes against us. And to humanity. Terror has stigmatized our people even today”.Although slavery was abolished, West said, the manifested terror in slavery has not gone away. “We suffer 9/11 every day”. ‘Niggerization’ is the imposing of terror and power on a people. Particularly the African American people. Cornel West said that our story has to be heard. “We need to reestablish and authorize the Black reality”. Cornel then referenced the youth. With all this history and many versions of the truth , what does the youth do? Another part of this dilemma of truth is the fact that corporate media is everywhere and tells a story of the powerful, not those on the margins. “If your roots are weak, you can be shaped anywhere”. It is important to listen to your voice and others. It is important to keep centered while reaching out. To Cornel West, there are only to ways to react and be strong:

1. Tell the truth. Find the truth. Expose truth. Never let go of the true story.

Although truth might expose pain and struggle, exposing the truth is not only important for the party that once infringed on another’s being. It is important for the violated to know the truth and to reflect on it so that member does not retaliate in pain. Everything is a dialectic. “Let suffering speak”.

But sometimes we grow angry when we feel pain, especially pain that we can not understand why it happened. But rage devours the soul. Rule number 2 to Cornel West:

2. Unconditional love. Combat hate with love. "This is will be the our way to combat deniggerization"

It is important to be strong and remember that history continues but we must look forward. We must always want the truth. But when it comes, we need to have the mentality that “I do not hate you, but I hate what you did to me” so that it will never happen again. “Its not about winning but what you do winning and reclaiming”. Combined, these truths makes you stronger and empowered. “Have a vision of what you want the world to look like”. His words were sweet, organic, dynamic, and raw.

I heard him speak and I went numb. There was so much going through my head. The only thing I could do was tear up and sob into my lap. I do not know why. His words just empowered me. I felt stronger. I felt even more ready to read and continue on. I then realized that my answers about race and power and politics will not be answered by the end of the semester. All I can do is take all of it in. Like Brotha West said, its a struggle. So I am ready. Here are my resolutions:

1. Find a new news source that does not lie to me

2. Always tell the truth. Always.

I feel more calm and ready to carry on.