keep quiet, smile back (where you came from)
there is a joke among
indians that our families never
seem to smile in photographs.
this seems to be a strategy
that we are losing in the diaspora
growing up i remember learning the names
like the ways we are taught to identify
constellations in the night sky:
always looking from a
trying to determine lines and
shapes to recall should we be
so fortunate enough to meet in person
i come from
a family of shitty digital photographs
of old people not smiling — with hearts
made out of thousands of phone cords
hugging tightly – attached to
emails from across the ocean inundated
with so many prayers and blessings that
sometimes i think i could break
all the rules and still be okay
(cause grandma’s got me covered
you see this is what it means to be
to embrace half of your family as low quality photos
of wrinkles and frowns
is to become
intimately familiar with the dust of
a family album, the static of a phone
receiver, the stories of a time and
country always on the other side
of your palm
where the brownest
parts of you reside
so family is never really about the kiss,
the hug, the touch. it is more of a feeling
that we learn how to carry deep inside our chests
more of a type of connection that no
border can swallow
it is about hearing the news across the receiver
that one of those stars thousands of miles away flickered out
and maybe you only saw it once or twice but
you are still weeping because
you remember the aluminum of a voice
remember the grayest of eyes
remember that scowl and how deeply and defiantly it loved you
amidst it all
but to be of the diaspora
you are growing accustomed to
this perpetual feeling of loss
how much sense it makes to experience it in this country where they have tried their best to rid you of your ancestors (so they can
call you their own) and all of the other ways of being before the smile they forced on your face that moment they took your photo after granting you a college degree and stealing your native tongue
after giving you a pay raise and sending a bomb across the ocean
after reminding you american and reminding ‘them’ terrorist
you see this is what it means to be
of diaspora: to not be able to isolate
the grief of one passing from another
sort of passage, to become so familiar
of losing that we become comfortable with
mispronouncing our names and our faces
with features that were
never meant for us
and we do not have a language to explain
to the constellations that we were already lonely before they left us
so maybe i am terrified of my own smile because it reveals the vastness of an ocean
and just how much we are capable of losing
and how much we have already
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this is an original poem by alok vaid-menon. please consider supporting the artist.
"Life is going to present to you a series of transformations. And the point of education should be to transform you. To teach you how to be transformed so you can ride the waves as they come. But today, the point of education is not education. It’s accreditation. The more accreditation you have, the more money you make. That’s the instrumental logic of neoliberalism. And this instrumental logic comes wrapped in an envelope of fear. And my Ivy League, my MIT students are the same. All I feel coming off of my students is fear. That if you slip up in school, if you get one bad grade, if you make one fucking mistake, the great train of wealth will leave you behind. And that’s the logic of accreditation. If you’re at Yale, you’re in the smartest 1% in the world. […] And the brightest students in the world are learning in fear. I feel it rolling off of you in waves. But you can’t learn when you’re afraid. You cannot be transformed when you are afraid."
- Junot Díaz, speaking at Yale (via beaucadeau)
My Cupertino mentality is in full force today; I need this reminder.
A collection of rare images of Palestine after the catastrophe (al nakba) in 1948
"What is disaster pornography? Africans define it as the Western media’s habit of blacking out Africa’s stock markets, cell phones, heart surgeries, soaring literacy and increasing democratization, while gleefully parading its genocides, armed conflicts, child soldiers, foreign debts, hunger, disease and backwardness."
Gbemisola Olujobi, Nigerian journalist (Via the December 2007 issue of Ebony magazine) (via the-cat-inside)
A writing exercise in 15 minutes.
Life in the corners.
The Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara is a nondescript brick building. The bottom floor is under construction, and there are many more pairs of shoes on the shelves than there are people inside.
Kaldeep’s husband is the guru for the Sikh community that visits this temple. But Kaldeep, as his wife, also maintains responsibility for the gurdwara, and for the maintenance of the Sikh community that visits the place.
Her kitchen is large and industrial-looking. She cooks for 250 people in this space, full of large bags of rice and potatoes. She’s joined by 14 other women who help her hand press chapatis – all of this in preparation for the gurdwara’s free meal to the community on Sundays, the day of their services.
Kaldeep and her husband moved from their home in the Indian state of Punjab to lead the puja – prayer – at this gurdwara. She’s left behind two children, a son and a daughter, but one of her sons came with. He’s six feet tall, she says, and she wants him to get married soon.
If the bottom floor is marked by bright, pale wood and dust, the upstairs is all rosy pink and soft light, slanting in through gauzy curtains. Here, upstairs, is where their copy of the Sikh holy book sleeps. This is also where Kaldeep spends the night, in a little room off of a smaller room made for daily worshippers.
Not many people come every day to pray, Kaldeep says with a smile. She herself does not. A few times a week, children come to learn how to sing prayers from her husband, but for right now the temple is empty. A chandelier hangs heavy and glittering in the low light of the stairwell, as Kaldeep leads the way out to the ground floor.
Finish what you start.
Know your intentions.
HONK! Festival of activist street bands.
Possibly my last Honkfest ever. Here’s to the crazy ones.
"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance."