Heritage, take 2
There will be moments in front of the mirror
when the summer has saturated and almost sun-burned your skin
and resignedly, you resolve to love it anyway.
There will be moments when a voice jars
you, suggesting you try something else.
Callow, you will criticize where you come from
except when you can capitalize on it — importing
crystal bindis and cold Jasmine to meet some male gaze
misplaced in your head
Brilliant, you will swear to better the age-old
betrayals and bereavements of your bloodline, burning
with tears in your eyes to reverse the remnants of back-alley abortions
and brushed-over legacies of religious recusants and assigned-boys-
at-birth and great-aunts bearing black magic and elopements
bound for Bangalore —
before you realize the bloodline ends
And you will yearn for people who look less
like you in the hope that they will hear you better,
but what if you only know half
of yourself, and the rest is illuminated only in isolation
and internet corners; what if it’s the same for the other half
of your friends? When you want to wander off
and wallow in self-hatred, who will help
you with your hurting heritage
that have not hurt themselves
And oh, hurt abounds:
Cloth that will cling and itch just a little while more and
fights for shorter shorts nearly there now and leg hair that will burn and
breathe, every day is a fight. everyday is a compromise.
and no apology will ever come except
the ones i write now; Just like the joys you get
out of licking salted citron rinds or sucking on the skin of a mango —
Just like the headaches you have from the smell of smoke and incense
and the incessant clattering of tiny cymbals; tired temples —
Heritage feels too big a word for you
to fix (lest you fail) so you will find more finite phrases
to cubbyhole yourself with
and that is fine.
But you will find that these fights fall flat
in the face of forever, and it is fine
to fumble, to fantasize, to forget now and then
what family feels like and what heritage is —
bloodlines bend, every day, and
sun-burned skin stares back every summer
May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. I was born in south India and am a first-generation American. I’ve wanted poems on this blog to be at the intersection of social commentary and introspection, but Heritage leans heavily on a personal perspective, even when I’m not speaking necessarily from lived experience. Some references are a part of my region’s broader story which I took the freedom of internalizing and presenting here. The poem portrays my immigrant experience, that of living in America and looking back, in an unfiltered, unidealized light. For me, that is the only way I can reflect on it honestly. But I am unabashedly proud of my ethnicity and the people I share it with, who have shaped my world in so many ways. I am inspired every day by the voices of aravanis, hijra, and other trans women from India, who teach me what it means to fight to bring your community towards progress and justice — to consciously try to better those parts of your culture that have marginalized you.
I share the nation’s horror in seeing the recent (though really, the recent increase in) unspeakable violence towards East and Southeast Asian-Americans. It is yet another reminder of racism’s ever-presence in America. It is past time to educate ourselves and speak out.