I giggle, imagining you trying to make sense of the angles, curves on the page before you, trying to dissect some meaning out of the title of this poem. The unrelenting, rebellious shapes and letters that refuse to mold into the rules of your familiar and comfortably written script.
Forgive me, dear reader, for it is not my intention to be cruel, but I feel empowered in this temporary little secret between myself and the millions who came before and after me. You must be wondering why, if millions are in on this secret, you still must wait to know?
I will try to answer the best way I know how: this word represents a shared collective.
A people soaked in glittering resilience, history and survival from colonial tyranny and ‘civilizing’ efforts. Some of these men and women are your neighbors, the ones you see in the grocery stores with their funny clothing and long flaring pants, embarrassing their still-naive and unknowing children. The children who will, in due time, yearn for an iota of that pride and culture that their predecessors tried so urgently to protect from the shamers.
Naturally, these children grow up feeling like outsiders and are reminded to carry their parents’ pride like a weight. Trying to pull their tongues as far out of their bodies as they can, so that the language of their kin no longer keeps them from their dreams of living outside the shadows of their ‘brownness.’ Little do they know that in giving up their tongue, they give up a part of their voice.
I can speak on this, because I was one such child, constantly changing, absorbing, and learning from my environment. “V as in Victor, not Wictor,” they taunted, as I practiced altering the natural inflection of my tongue.
As I continued rehearsing my V’s from my W’s, the earthy sounds of my home were pushed further away from my throat and made their way to my stomach, where they resided and eventually dissolved away to make room for English.
…Dreams of living outside the shadows of their browness.
This is how I learned to eat my words.
What I wouldn’t give to go back to the days when my native Sindhi spread out of my mouth like rapid-fire, uncontainable and fierce, even at the mere age of five. Sadly, this no longer holds true for me as I struggle to piece together parts of my history to create tangible strings of sentences and words.
I do however take solace when I hear the voices of the children of immigrants speaking in a rushed flurry the language of their grandparents, as passersby try to get a glimpse into their private world.
The envy of those around is palpable, because they, America’s often-unclaimed children have created their own public yet exclusive haven, which can not be penetrated by those trying to humiliate their tongues into submission.
This, my friend, is why your temporary discomfort at not knowing, is pleasing to this foreigner, for your longing to be on the ‘inside’ shows we aren’t so different after all.