Arts in Migration: An (Im)migrant Justice Art Exhibit
February 16th 2017, Wollman Hall, 6-9 pm
This chapbook is a project composed for the event Arts In Migration: An Im(migrant) Justice Exhibit which took place on February 16th 2017, from 6:00 - 9:00 pm at Wollman Hall at Eugene Lang College. The project was a part of a fellowship Eugene Lang College student Jasveen K. Sarna had with SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together). This could not have been done without support from the Lang CESJ (Civic Engagment and Social Justice) office and SAS (Sister’s Art Salon). This chapbook was put togethe by Jasveen K. Sarna on Adob Indesign. “South Asian Women Rights” Cover art by Prithi Khalique.
ARTISTS Mallika Singh..................................poetry...............................I take this Obligation Freely Marianna Luna.............photography/video......Finding Home and Belonging: Narrative of Migration EmirĂŤ Dervishi..........................memoir.....................................Forty-seven and a Dream Prithi Khalique.............................painting/digital art.............................Angela Davis/ South Asian Women Rights Anthony Jimenez...........................poetry...........................................coming home/piĂąata Sachi Chandiramani............visual art/multimedia........................... ABC - Virtual/Reality Dalia Elhassan.................................nonfiction...............................................Citizen Naomi Khanukayev...........................poetry...................The Triangle of White Superiority Paul Marcus.........................................painting...........................................The Door Rose Park......................process photos from thesis...........................cultural aliens Azzah Sultan........................video/performance...........................Oriental Woman Sahar Sepahdari...................................video.............................Blue and Yellow Rice Jeana Lindo..........................video/multimedia...............................Immigrant Children Noura Kirdly......................poetry/photography...............................at the intersections
Mallika by Mallika SIngh Singh
I take this obligation freely The following poem was written using only the words from the U.S. application for naturalization. The identification number on my green card was also divided into the poem.
A# force fidelity or
in any serve
if the l aw re quires it genocide (select one) concentration camp (select one) police unit (select one) 098have you ever prostituted
made a misrepresentation of confined
n co st ns i t ti ut t u io ti n on i 837fluent in habitual fraud ulent
h abitual exclusion
742 renounce rebel group party child people self
so help me god renounce affiliation origin nation (directly or indirectly)
Marianna Luna- Stills From Finding Home and Belonging: Narrative of Migration
Forty-seven and a dream by Emirë Dervishi At the dinner table a few weeks ago, my father scolded Eros, my older brother, and I because we “don’t know [or care] enough about our history as Kosovar Albanians.” Truthfully, we don’t. Instead of getting mad at us, my father offered to help. He promised to pay for every single book we ordered as long as it pertained to Kosova. The first book of many we brought was A Short History of Kosovo by Noel Malcolm. At first, my father was against our decision; the title of the book used the Serbian spelling ‘Kosovo’ and spelling, for my father, is synonymous with integrity – it must be kept intact. My father wanted to read the book before any of us did to see if it would be beneficial or outright detrimental to our learning. A few chapters in, my father was fed up. He slammed the book and sighed heavily. “What’s wrong, dad?” I asked. “He [Malcolm] says the Serbians took the land, right? But he doesn’t tell you who[m] the land belonged to. These people, they had names and families and lives,” said my father, “What were their names?” Although historically this information may have been nearly impossible to determine my father continued, without even taking a breath, “He [Malcolm] doesn’t speak about Kosova prior to the onset of the Medieval Ages in Europe. That’s like starting the history of the U.S. without any mention of the Indians.” I can’t say, having not yet read the book, whether the author is truly biased against this part of Kosova’s so-called short history or if my father simply dislikes unbiased accounts of history, but I tell him “they’re Native Americans” and move on. Either way, my father’s point was a solid one: “History matters, Emirë. Don’t ever forget who you are and where you come from.” As a Kosovar refugee, my father has carried Kosova’s history, alongside his own, on his shoulders and across the oceans to the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” to America. We, as his children, must do so too and this is something I’ve begun to explore. My father has been my starting point, the initial research ‘article.’ *** My father sits in his chair with a 12 fl oz. Budweiser in his left hand and a right hand full of unsalted peanuts. He is watching a two-hour tribute, “100 Sinatra,” celebrating Frank Sinatra’s would be 100th birthday. In between enjoying the music and the breeze he calls “fladi I Kosoves” (the wind of Kosova), he recalls his first memory of himself as a six-year-old child. This memory is nuanced. It is both one of the happiest moments in his life and one of the saddest. A week before the school year began, my father fell ill with “the bad cold” (i.e., the whopping cough). The year was 1969 and my father’s poor family couldn’t afford antibiotics so he lay in bed isolated for nearly a week. My grandmother, Nena, was there to wipe his tears with a soft, wet cloth. She carried messages, from my father’s neighborhood friends (his “sidekicks”) and five siblings; the messages began with ‘get better’ and ended with ‘fun.’ My father couldn’t stand it. He was undeniably unhappy, but as life often works – especially in childhood – his sorrow was quickly replaced with unparalleled happiness. My father recovered and was able to attend on the first day of school, where he was begging the 1st grade. As soon as the bell rang, letting the students out for the day, my dragged his father Islam to the centralized library in the center of Prishtina, Kosova. It was the first time my father was at a library let alone “the library of all libraries.” As my father tells me, he smiles – big and bright – and I imagine this is the same smile he had on this exact day. For decades, he returned to this library – located across a river and in the city – to buy a book or ten, to solve a marathon of real math problems (“the kind without numbers”) for his electrical engineering major, or to simply breathe in the air. Although my father cannot put into words the smell of this library, where his dreams were born, it remains etched in his memory, and his identity, just as his home – a few blocks away – has too. A few minutes of silence pass. As I soak in the image of my father as an innocent six-year-old, he asks,
with an uneasy intensity, “Do you like the music?” I notice Sinatra’s gone and during my internal monologue, an Albanian singer Gili has found her way onto our 42-inch T.V. I don’t fully understand the lyrics, but I vehemently nod ‘yes’ because her voice is absolutely beautiful. For years my father and Gili held lessons in the homes of the rich, philanthropic Albanians after Serbians shut down the public schools. My father tells me the students “absolutely loved it [the lessons].” He stops there, with no explanation, but I know what he meant to say. We’ve spoken about this before – the students loved the lessons because they were the only sense of stability that remained, until it didn’t, in a country “preparing” for war. War didn’t stop my father, though it tried. My parents got married and a year later, in 1993, my older brother Eros was born. My 31-year-old father was so excited that he passed all his failing students, and there were many. From stories I’ve heard, my father is stricter than any teacher I’ve had in my career, even my Latin teacher who required headings in red ink and didn’t allow you to hold your head during class. “Obviously, the students loved baby Eros,” says my father, laughing. “He was their savior, and our – your mom and I’s – first love. That’s why we named him what we did.” If Eros was any indication of the joy of parenthood, my parents caught on. They decided to have another baby, and in 1996, I was born. My father named me Emirë, which translates to ‘good’ in English. Even though I had a beautiful name, I was “nameless” for a year. Serbian officials refused to recognize and print my name on my birth certificate because the ‘ë’ is an Albanian letter and they were trying to erase our identity, remember? Luckily my dad outmatched them in persistence and the next year, when I turned one, I was given my rightful birth certificate, which remains in the hands of the Kosovar government. After that and up until 1999, when the Kosovar conflict came banging at our door and stumbled into our home, everything was truly blissful. Then it all went to shit. The Serbians wanted us out of “their” country. After years of resisting we realized, as family, this time there wasn’t much that could be done. We had to leave, or wait to meet death early and violently, like so many others did. *** There is an image my father recalls with uncertainty and pain. He pauses often to look out the window. In this image, it is a cold and rainy night in March 1999. My family and tens of thousands of other “ethnic” Albanians are being forced out of our homes, onto buses, and to a train terminal full of cargo trains – one of which we, as a family, would board. The Serbians are determined to “expel every Albanian soul” and so they treat us like pests to be exterminated. My father is overwhelmed by unanswerable questions and he doesn’t know what to do. He holds six-year-old Eros who keeps fainting and tells him it’ll be okay, even if it might not. The officials ask who wants to board but don’t answer when my father asks where the truck is headed. My father knows not to trust these men, but he weighs his limited options and makes the hardest decision he’s made in his life – he decides to take a chance. We board the train, all four of us holding hands. My father waves goodbye to my grandmother and transfixes his gaze northward where Prishtina lies. “Will we ever be able to return? Where will they take us? Will they kill us? All of these questions … I realized only a miracle can save us this time,” my father says melancholically as he remembers. That night, we drove in complete darkness to avoid getting accidentally bombed by NATO’s airstrikes. Eros slept in my pregnant mother’s lap, comforted by her belly. I didn’t sleep. Three times during the drive, we were stopped. Whoever stopped us never checked inside, and, thankfully, we were never found. Halfway through the journey one man looked out through a fraction of a hole in the window and recognized the place. He told us he was sure we were heading toward Macedonia where they would save us. He was right. We ended up in the neutral zone between the border of Macedonia and Kosova. As we got off the train my father took a breath and if I didn’t know any better, I would say this was his first the whole ride. In Macedonia, we stayed with an old lady we referred to only as “e Hafzite’s,” which roughly translates to belonging to Hafzite, the name of her husband. I don’t remember her husband, but Eros tells me he was creepy. My father tells me, if it were up to him, we would have been killed in his barn. Unlike Hafzite, his wife was kind. She brought me clothing, made me pite – a traditional Albanian pie, usually full of meat or
spinach – and encouraged Eros to continue drawing in his notebook. On April 27, 1999, she helped my mother give birth to my youngest brother Etnik, whose name literally translates to ‘ethnic.’ My father named him this because it was the most commonly used adjective when referring to Kosovar Albanians like my family. He wanted the world to know we were proud of who we are and where we came from. People like Hafzite’s wife were the most helpful. “They did anything they could to help us live a normal life – away from home – which is more than can be said about the government in Macedonia,” says my father, “Within two weeks of our arrival, Macedonia closed its borders and gave up on us, as a people and as a country.” A few months later, on June 13, 1999, my family’s application for refugee status and resettlement was accepted. “With all the luck in the world” we were on our way to America, the place of dreams. We boarded a plane in Skopje and flew to Athena, Greece, where we got on a connection flight, a Trans World Airlines flight (TWA). For five or six hours we sat idly – without water, food, or fresh air – in a plane full of refugees like us and although it was uncomfortable my father was able to pass the time and fear because he knew exactly where we were headed. I ask my father why they stalled us and he admits, “they never told us, they just apologized – so American.” I laugh because it’s true. “I heard people talk about the American dream all the time,” says my father, “I heard stories about hardworking people, about an immigrant country, about opportunity. And I’m not complaining, but the American dream puzzle is not that simple, especially for a refugee with three children.” With this in mind, my father made it his job to put as many of the puzzle pieces together himself. When we arrived we stayed with relatives in Long Island. They promised to take care of us but my father wanted to do that himself. On his first day here, he exchanged his last 100 marks for $47 and used this money to get on a bus and find a job as a dishwasher. He began working full-time for $3.80 an hour, or $150/ week. We looked for an apartment in Long Island but the tenants didn’t want a family with three young children so we searched elsewhere. After nearly a month, we moved to our current apartment in Gravesend, Brooklyn. The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a non-profit organization, paid for our rent for the first two months and the Red Cross gave us a $1500 voucher to begin our new life. Our relatives drove us to Sears where we brought essentials – clothing, mattresses, appliances – and a host of other things I don’t remember. My father found a new job as a construction worker in Brooklyn and within two weeks, he lost forty pounds. We celebrated our first Thanksgiving, with our relatives in Long Island. It was the first time I had turkey and hated it. In 2005, we became citizens of America. We took the oath and I remember I wanted to change my name. I wanted the ‘ë’, my father fought so hard to keep, gone. My classmates teased me and told me my name was a boy’s name (it’s pronounced eh-mir). I never told my father, and I don’t think I ever will – I know how much this will hurt his feelings, and plus, I don’t feel that way now. I’m ashamed I’ve assimilated the ‘a’ to make my life easier, but that’s what happens when you became an Albanian – American, at least for me. After September 11, 2001 my father was laid off. He worked on and off until 2006, where he began designing and making wallpaper at Studio E. A year later my mother began work at Rite Aid. We worried less about money and spent more time as a family. One Christmas we went to the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center and then the “Pokémon Store” (i.e., Nintendo World) and brought Eros his first plush Pikachu. My brothers and I did well in school and my father attended numerous parent teacher conferences, award ceremonies, and graduations. *** Today, my father finds happiness in us, his children. He finds happiness in our education, success, terrible jokes, and “first world problems.” He finds happiness in our reluctant desire to uncover a lost history, a home that remains the “crucial coordinate in placing the self [for my father]” . Although happy, my father embodies a lost desire, an American dream deferred. He hasn’t been able to complete the puzzle. This hope is now ours and he builds it through instilling in us the importance of family and education. Every Sunday, we have breakfast and Turkish tea (a remnant of Turkish imperialism) and we speak about everything, including history. In the beginning, my father tried his best to become more Amer-
ican and less Albanian, but he couldn’t do it. He realized it was wrong. He realized it meant denying the core part of his identity. He says, “I am exactly Albanian-American,” and this surprises me. If he truly were, he would have invested in building a home and a future for himself and my mother, not just for us children. I’m not bitter but I’d love to have my own room here, as opposed to in Prishtina, where I haven’t been since our first visit back in June 2007. “I was forced out of my home and because of this, I have always had my hand and mind in Kosova,” says my father, “I cannot consider this home, or paradise, even if it fits both definitions.” Knowing how friendly New York is to retirees, my father wishes to retire to Kosova or at least go back and forth between his home and his children in New York. He wishes to stand where the library once stood and see if that smell still resonates. He wishes to visit the train terminal and the remnants of my grandfather’s bakery a few blocks away to reminisce a time when he was a displaced person and to finally reclaim his true identity as a person right at home. He wants to visit his parents’ graves and place flowers and share stories of family. He wants to go home and he wants his children to join him, at least for our “too short, twoweek, too American holidays.”
Prithi Khalique - Angela Davis
coming home (written when I was 15) By Anthony Jimenez my mother has straight teeth with a parched mind that leaves her a desert tongue often feeling like a void my father is a flickering lightbulb in dark alley with crooked teeth and short temper till this day, i still don’t understand how they fell for each other maybe my mother found his snaggle tooth to be charming or my father has a thing for timid girls when i ask my mother how they meet she pauses and sighs as if it isn’t about the fifth time i’ve asked her today but i never get tired of hearing about it they went from being next door neighbors to the awkward relationship my grandparents didn’t approve of but before they knew it she was following the man she thought she knew across the border along his side without realizing me—a seedling one day to grow up to be the most frustrating thing about their life all i can remember from my childhood is pan dulce y arroz con leche on the coldest nights my mother is waiting for my father to come home later i would begin telling my teachers a monster sleeps with my mom and their faces partially confused i tell them i don’t understand what went wrong they used to stay up to create their own constellations because their relationship was rule breaking but now i only see someone dying of dehydration because my father asks too much from her but my mother explains their relationship like coming home after a long day even if the bills aren’t paid and my father isnt home she still has three kids that love her immensely so when my grandma calls from Puebla my mother spends hours on the phone with her talking about her children and new life
never about my father she doesn’t want to admit becoming broken and after she’ll go to the bathroom, look in the mirror and begin sobbing because of how much she looks like her mother sometimes i forget this is how my mother remembers her and i only know her through phone calls but my mother tries to remember my grandma through her cooking, confidence, and charisma i think this is why sometimes when my mother jokingly tells me i act like my father a part of me wonders at what point of my life did i disappoint her? when did i leave her? is she afraid of me? all these questions run through my mind like a scratched vinyl left on turntable with high volume does she hear loosing my mind, a battle i cannot win but before i can ask her she’s laughing and i join her because moments like these don’t last long enough but as i’m getting ready to graduate high school soon to live in the city that has endless days of conversation and endless nightmares my mother tells me she doesn’t want me to leave as i see the tears in her eyes i try to explain to her it’s my turn to find home
piñata By Anthony Jimenez i grew up on the streets of albuquerque where the sun hits you hard son of hopscotch players, soñadores, border-crossers —life was beautiful until It came dressed in blue with a badge on its side pistol whipping my father somehow i could’ve played superman or whatever but i was caught underneath my mother’s kneeling as we witnessed my father being body slammed on a concrete floor we moved closer to the east side where dreams are constantly slapping against the coastline over and over —we are drowning in an open flood this community dressed in camouflage hablamos en nuestro idioma speak in their own tongue escondemos de las patrullas because we feed off uncertainty of someday becoming a doctor but it doesn’t put food on their table at least, here we can make comfort out of a bedroom apartment with a family of five as we learn we are becoming a problem we are being exterminated like insects well they wouldn’t be wrong you see we’re all trying to squeeze into this world looking for shelter from the uproaring battles that blow us hard in the face not giving enough time to breathe my first day of high school everyone was chalk white and bleached hair i look down i find myself feeling outnumbered in a classroom because you realize you’re the only one with worn out shoelaces and because you’re the only latino they think i am made out of clay as they reconstruct me to fit into a social norm
because no one wants to hear you’re a tiny spanish boy that came from rice and bread crumbs even when we think in a different language aprendemos en un idioma diferente yet they don’t bother to listen it’s the price we paid as they turn our culture into a social gathering playing musical chairs dancing the cucaracha on the backbones of our ancestors washing out brutality by robbing our customs leaving las cucarachas sin camino as if we didn’t start from scratch before so how long will it take until we can finally wear this land like it’s not something borrowed we have done it all medical exams, police records, interviews neighbourhood investigations they left us broken open expecting us to drop like confetti we chase after the same dreams some may run with their heads in the clouds without looking what they step on we have played it smart to apologize lo siento times are tough the night became a luxury for those that have the means to become apart of this world every dream comes with a price tag at fourteen i began growing as person ignored the teasing calling me illegal this is just temporary but sometimes it gets worse because there will always be that one kid who will have the audacity that has the privilege to say go back to your country
if you donâ€™t like it here as if they were here in the first place until one day i tripped over my shoelaces and fell hard on my face in front of the cliques i never fit into and laughed instead of crying i wrapped myself in a sun-kissed layer to become in a state of loving every cell in my body apologized for wanting to be a carbon copy so when they finally ask why i became a statistic of undocumented aliens i will tell them i wanted to make cracks on dried soil i wanted to appear more than an inkblot drawing be proud to be latino fighting my way through the customs stereotypes not let them color me one-sided because i am more than just latino
Sachi ChandiramaniStills from ABC - Virtual/Reality
Citizen By Dalia Elhassan Published by The Oakland Arts Review I carry visions of my home in my chest. Home is belonging to quivering sunset and the textured curve of a mango rind. It is what sky against skin looks like, and what the borders I find myself skirting contain. Home is a question of belonging that draws me back to childhood. It is the notion that someone that grew up tearing up maps of Africa and claiming other nationalities, someone who swallowed two other languages before her own and gutted her throat of any accent, who fashioned denial into the clothes she wore and food she ate and in the hair she relaxed and refused to braid, couldn’t possibly do generations of Sudanese immigrants justice. They came toting impeccably dressed children—pants and checkered button-ups pleated sharply; hair laid, pressed, and braided; sandalwood musk behind the ears and on the necks—and put their best front forward. They fled the country not because of the war, like many of the Southerners, but from what Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls a “lethargy of consciousness”. It’s the drowsiness that names their bones fatigued, that beckons for visa applications and boarding passes. They will awaken in faster-paced places: the United Arab Emirates, Europe or the Americas. *** New York, 1989. My father has slept in an attic stripped bare of warmth or dignity for a few months now. He’s become friends with the floorboards and the last two hundred dollars he made he strung onto a wire back to Khartoum. It is winter and this is the first time he’s left Sudan in his twenty-four years, the first time he’s felt a bitter cold and all he can say is that he never imagined snow to be so white. For the first month he works seven days a week and doesn’t have a word to describe the progression of time in American days. He doesn’t have the words or the language to say that day and night bleed into one another like watercolor on origami paper, or that he cannot understand how the Sun and moon meet on opposing sides of the same sky in the late afternoon, one glowing brilliantly orange as it sets and the other rising a dull yellow on the tail of the first. He recalls an ayah in the Quran that describes the way the Sun and Moon roll over one another, each running for an appointed time and decides that this will suffice. At this point, his legs are still good enough to stand on for fourteen, fifteen, sixteen hours a day and the diabetes hasn’t crept up on him quite yet. In ten years, the arthritis will come knocking on his right knee and kura, or soccer as the Amreekan call it, will be one of the first warmths he sacrifices on the bitter road of becoming American. *** Miami, 2000. My mother is still the apple of her village tree but she’s fallen in a different country. In a photo, her skin is bright and pale (from the help of a compact powder three shades too light; this, however, she will not admit) and her eyebrows do not arch quite yet, but curve gracefully around her brow bone. Her hair is voluminous and chemically straightened, the strands stiff enough to pass as straight but not quite silky enough to be mistaken for a white woman’s. In another photo, her skin is the right shade of creamy brown (courtesy of a Cover Girl liquid foundation and the thought that, in America, it’s tacky to wear makeup that doesn’t match your skintone) and she is smiling with her arms crossed above the door of a 1995 Toyota Camry. It is dented, bought second-hand on a stranger’s front lawn in Liberty City. We take it home and a few months later, she gets her license and declares she is a woman now, more American than Sudanese. But her voice is still warm with a honey language, accent plump with memory and history. *** New York, 2015. Between 34th and 8th, a woman took claim of my body. Her right shoulder dug squarely into the valley of my chest and sends me flying, first backwards and then forwards. In my head, I observe it all with clinical precision. The car lights bend in the foreground. In the background, I see her lips moving. She’s called me something, but I can’t hear what. The red, white, and blue lights of Penn Station glow in my peripheral vision. When I turn and look back for her, she is already down the block, ambling from one foot to the next and doesn’t shove anyone else. Her hair dances in the space between her shoulders and neck. I try to catch someone’s
eye, look for anyone who has witnessed this theft. The pain in my chest grows. It caves in when I find no kind faces and am met with empty stares. The air drops ten degrees, and I begin walking again. It isn’t until the lights grow into swollen orbs, looking more fit in the hands of a fortune teller than the street, that I realize I am sobbing and no one is meeting my gaze. *** New York, 2015. Wednesday, 9 am. The N-400 application is heavy in my bag. Mama’s sitting next to me and whispering prayers into the stagnant air. Don’t worry, she says, you’ll pass this. I nod curtly. In the periphery, I glance at the others on this train, those whose eyes are trained carefully on flourescent phone screens or those whose gaze seems caught travelling through an endless tunnel, their vision hollow as they stare past my own eyes. I think to smile, perhaps breaking the morbid trance each of us exists in as we stare the other down, but I decide against it. I break eye contact when I notice mama’s turned to me again, lips moving nearly in time with the words of Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway. It’s a song I’ve listened to when I needed strength to draw on without having to ask for it. Mama’s lips are pursed now. Simi’tini? Did you hear anything I just said? she quips. I shake my head no, could you please repeat that? She’s silent for a moment but turns back to her phone screen. I just wanted to tell you, she begins, that I’ve waited for fifteen years for this day. Maybe now my nightmares will be over. My brows furrow. I have to ask her why she would call this a nightmare. She’s silent again. The only thing I’ve ever prayed for was an easier life for you in this country. All those years finally paid off. She says all of this quietly and doesn’t look at me this time. She goes back to whispering her prayers, and I’m stunned silent by the power of a single navy blue book, the proclamation of belonging. I hold back tears claiming so as not to ruin my mascara, mostly so as not to appear so affected. It’s just a test, I say back, knowing I’m being flippant, it’s just a single stupid, easy test. *** New York, 2015. Outside the train station, I find the tail end of my scarf bunched in my hands and see it wet. I’ve walked three streets numb to how physically distraught I am. The skin on my chest is swollen and sensitive to the touch. On the platform, I stand close to the stairs and make sure to grab hold, afraid of the broken thought of being pushed. I’m not, and am grateful for the empty corner of the subway I am met with. My eyes are bloodshot, bruised and seedy like mishandled strawberries. I keep them trained on my flats until I feel a hand on my shoulder. I flinch. When I look up, I’m met with concerned eyes and a warm face. The face is a she, and she is wearing a satin white scarf around her head. In the crawl space between being invisible and hypervisible, she is the first person to see me tonight. Her lips are moving and I only briefly register concern before nodding my head. When she pulls me in for a hug, my spine shifts and I hang on tighter. In the moment my face is nestled against her right shoulder, I recall the bright-eyed girl who followed me onto Canal Street a few days before. She’s caught me on a street corner and asks if Muslims celebrate any holidays this time of year. I smile and say yes and no, offering explanation about the lunar calendar and dates shifting back eleven days each year. She nods,eyes smiling, and says she’s a Jew. Her family came as immigrants before World War 1. As replica Michael Kors wallets are shoved at us from every direction and my feet dance right and left navigating the streets, I feel her voice catch my hand and squeeze it comfortingly. My eyes are curious. She tells me don’t worry; this country has and always will be one of immigrants. Don’t worry, she pleads, just don’t worry. *** New York, 2015. Wednesday, 10:52 am. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? The interviewer has his right arm held up and mine is a mirror to his. I smile, nod, chirp I do and sit. The test goes quickly. As he rails questions off my application back at me, I clench the fingers around my right hand tightly and say no when appropriate, answer with explanation when needed, and affirm without hesitation when most necessary. My lips are frozen in a cryptic smile and the upper half of my body speaks with
ease. When his eyes fall on the last page of the test, he begins to draw broad red check marks across the answers I’ve marked yes. Do you support the constitution and form of government of the United States? I reflect on the early days of my childhood, on the books . Headlines roaring off the page with words I didn’t quite yet understand, Susan Sontag’s critiques of post-9/11 US foreign policy, and mostly, exploited images of the dead who were swallowed by grief, mostly poor and mostly colored. In the half-second pause I take to answer, I hear snippets of Suheir Hammad’s poem first writing since. “there have been no words./i have not written one word./no poetry in the ashes south of canal street./ no prose in the refrigerated trucks driving debris and dna./not one word./i do not know how bad a life has to break in order to kill./i have never been so hungry that i willed hunger/i have never been so angry as to want to control a gun over a pen./not really./ricardo on the radio said in his accent thick as yuca, “i will feel so much better when the first bombs drop over there’’./a woman crying in a car parked and stranded. I offered comfort./a hand she did not see before she said, “we’re gonna burn them so bad’./my hand went to my head and my head to the dead Iraqi children, the dead in nicaragua, in rwanda who vie with fake sport wrestling for America’s attention./people saying, this was bound to happen. let’s not forget U.S. transgressions./hold up, I live here./these are my friends and fam, and we’re not bad people./do not support America’s bullying.” Yes, I answer, without a doubt. Suheir Hammad comes back again, I hear my thoughts in her voice. “Shit’s complicated,/and I don’t know what to think.” Excellent, he says. Now, do you understand the full Oath of Allegiance to the United States? And are you willing to take the full Oath of Allegiance to the United States, including giving up all loyalty to prior nations of citizenship? My mouth dries. This isn’t a big deal, I think to myself, say yes because it isn’t a big deal. But the air has already shifted. I feel my right foot smack against the front of the desk, eager to cross the threshold of citizenship, cross into the threshold of comfort, of safety. My spine straightens, and I smile. In the crawl space between my eyebrows, a bead of sweat grows. I blink once and inhale. Before exhaling an exuberant yes, I see the words of Suheir’s poem bolden beneath my eyelids: i have never felt less american and more brooklyn,/the stars and stripes represent the dead as citizens first, /not/family members, /not lovers./the most privileged nation, most americans do not know the difference/more than ever, there is no difference. This is what it means to be finally be a citizen, I think, as I feel the single-syllable word affirming my loyalty pass from my lips. When I reached down to grab my bag before I go to shake the interviewer’s hand, I blink back the bitter-sweet tears that welled between my lashes. I was told this was the most important moment in my life because I’d gained something so valuable; and yet, all I could feel in that moment was loss. *** New York, 2015. Citizen. Noun. A legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth, either native or naturalized. Legally recognized, legally represented. I’m staring down at a Google page with the definition panned up. There’s a fading bruise between my breasts where the woman hit me the week before. My breathing is no longer labored, my lungs heavy with a painmore abstract than literal. Being born in Sudan and raised in the US has been an experience of learning to live between the margins. It is making a home for myself on the back of a hyphen wedged firmly between Sudanese-American. It is finding comfort in being marginalized. I press my fingers gently against the tender skin. This must be what it means to be a Citizen.
White Superiority By Naomi Khanukayev bags under my eyes because i’m always looking for something. stuck in your triangle of white superiority, tell me where do i fit in there. umi doesn’t read the new york times and say big words like “dismantling the patriarchy” she is just trying to get enough stamps to put pita on the table. abba has learned to hate his skin. his brown skin loud in white spaces trying hard to be a point on your triangle. include him please. i am embarrassed to watch. they said: you need to learn english before you come back here. ‘we only speak english at this school, none of that other stuff ’ our language collapsed in our bodies and reduced to Stuff. well its english if you want to live here. and act more American if you want to stay here. what’s America for an immigrant? america tastes like cold government cheese and stale bread. america smells like gasoline, sweat and piss. america feels like sandpaper on dry skin. america sounds like a history teacher telling me this land is our land, not yours. the constant reminder that we are guests here, and guests can overstay their welcome. my skin is light. my history is dark. if only your whiteness dared shine a light on that. but your skin refuses to hear our language. bags under my eyes because i am looking for the answer. i apply all the right creams. try to sleep more. i tell myself its allergies. its seasonal. afraid to admit to myself that my body wears my pain so effortlessly. language does not matter here. words only help to absolve you of your guilt, you take my language and make it yours. i choose silence. i no longer need your guilt or pity to understand myself.
stuck in your triangle of white superiority. where do i fit in there? i thought i was finally becoming one of you but i need a smaller nose, a perfectly symmetrical body, i need to go back in time and read your books watch your movies eat your food i need to cultivate the essence that comes with capital. you know that “poor-chic” but with a trustfund. i wonder sometimes if you will ever hear the word “NO” i wonder if you will hear it the way we hear it if you will feel that no the way we feel it i wonder if you will eat that word with breakfast lunch and dinner, i wonder how you will make an aesthetic out of being rejected by humanity. what meme you will make. what joke you will make. at the expense of those who suffer for your gains. ...to be continued..
Paul Marcus - The Door
Rose Park- Still from cultural aliens
Multimedia Work (Where it can be found) Azzah Sultan’s Oriental Woman https://vimeo.com/166303044 Noura Kirdly’s At The Intersection https://theintersectionof.squarespace.com/ Jeana Lindo’s Immigrant Children https://www.behance.net/gallery/17600011/Immigrant-Children Sahar Semphadi’s Blue and Yellow Rice https://vimeo.com/203766881/44b871c3b0
Sahar Semphadi- Still from Blue and Yellow Rice