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
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.