I wasn’t going to post this anywhere, but I didn’t want to lose it. It is, obviously, a very long read and it applies to almost no one who regularly reads this blog. I thought about posting it on Medium or some such, but y’all know I’m a WordPress girl, so here it is. I’ve also linked my live-reading of it.
Again, this is something you could skip without worry. There’s not a single unicorn in it, not a single rhyme.
But since we’re having this chat right now:
How are you, my Best Beloved? Is life treating you gently? Have your adventures been kind? Have you written a happy story lately, or even better, lived one?
I have missed you.
You are loved,
I am sorry it took me so very long to get back to your letters. Your first one, over a month ago, began with the premise that I might have written “over a million words and still would not be able to account for them”, because I am silent, marking me as a soldier for oppression.
I do count, though. In the last 4 years of blogging, I have written just over 2 million words, actually, as I’ve represented Rarasaur blog here and all over the internet. That’s just the blog. I’ve mailed over 3,000 handwritten letters, many sent from a jail cell, some written in blanket forts, some written in invisible ink. I’ve spoken more words than anyone could possibly count. I also account for my words. The stories I’ve shared have been read at events, printed in books, syndicated nationally, tattooed to arms, sobbed at funerals, painted on wedding tables, whispered to children before sleep. I can’t imagine what that adds up to in noise.
I don’t see myself as a quiet person, let alone a silent one, but perhaps what you mean is not that I am silent, but that I am silent in the face of things that matter.
You mention that I continually, consistently, constantly wall out my heritage. You say it is a denial of my inherited marginalization, a glitch revealing my privilege.
To be clear, I have never intended to keep my cultures secret. My words — the stories you’ve read — are from my ancestry of misfits and immigrants, stolen and rescued people alike . They are made from translated clichés. They carry the uneven cadence of another tongue. They are decorated in the bloodied fingerprints from those who held onto a marginalized identity tightly — so tightly that no one could take it away.
And, lest you think them paranoid, lest you think I have forgotten, please know — people have tried.
My people, the ones who planted me here in this soil so I could grow in freedom, are seeds themselves. The kind that are constantly buried. They have been barred from bathrooms, forbidden from schools. They have been locked out of their countries. Their DNA has been made to be a crime. They have sat in cages in first world countries, and wrote me letters, blessing the sand as refuge from the things they’ve left. They’ve been whipped, numbered, raped, registered, stoned, stolen, ignored, harassed, beaten, locked up, spit upon. Lost.
There are pictures if you don’t believe it. There are written laws if you can stomach reading them.
There are bodies, if you dig deep enough.
I was raised by people who know what it is to hide their given name, their chosen faith, the binary-implication of their genitals, the natural kinking of their hair. I was raised by people who were only alive to raise me because somebody was not silent. Somebody spoke for them when they had no voice, or better, handed them the mic. Somebody suffered so that they would not, and it has become the most consistent part of my cross-cultural inheritance, this game of survivalist tag.
When I told you of the man who made a splint for me from his clothes, I maybe should have told you it was a turban. And the old woman who fed Dave and myself when we had no food? She wrote down rice when explaining the meal because she was too embarrassed to say the word. With her accent, it sounds like lice, but then — her tongue can skip over short-syllable words in a way we cannot, in a way that reminds me of the jump ropes smacking against hot Texan concrete. The girls and boys who played with me there were black as night, with bright eyes and a version of English that was either battered or honed, depending on if you listen deep or if you listen wide.
The suitcases in my family smell spicy, like curry or cloves. I’ve used my bare hands to cover a sister with turmeric and yogurt. I’ve skipped over clanging wooden sticks connected to paper dragons. I’ve made piñatas with my own spit, and I’ve wrapped galimotos from a stranger’s trash, and I’ve carved puzzle boxes and twisted friendship bracelets. I went to prison, I lived on a farm, I’ve run across a 4 lane freeway like I owned it because I felt like I did. I’ve been given blessing at temple, at church, on the streets of New Jersey, in front of a missile left behind from a war we all promised we never wanted to see anything like again.
Some of my favorite people have names my American-English tongue can barely say, some have names you pronounce only with your hands. Some, I have never seen their hair, some, I have never seen their mouth. Quite a few of my loved ones worship differently than anything you’ve ever seen on American TV. Almost none are represented on TV — except in farcical passing.
I watched The Little Princess, the 1995 remake version, at 10-years-old, with my best friends. They wondered why Sita jumped out of the circle of protection to fight.
Wasn’t she a princess?
They wondered why the little black girl had such white palms compared to her dark skin.
Was she sick?
They huddled near me when the actor who played Ram Daas came into view. He was scary, all dark skin and heavy accent, slow strides and wrapped clothing. “He’s the good guy,” I told them, but I could tell they didn’t believe me.
I wanted to say that it’s normal to have dark skin and light palms, and that princesses all over the world fight the demons right alongside or even in front of their men… but I guess I didn’t really believe me either. Because I was silent, and my hands curled up in a fist, hiding the drastic contrast in my own skin. Not from them, but from me. I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to wear a lengha to the Christmas party. I didn’t want to leave my circle of protection, in case my bravery made me seem more like a king than a queen.
I stopped watching movies.
I have trouble with accents so I don’t write them, and perhaps that is another mistake of mine. Almost everyone in my stories has one. Their n’s roll, their r’s curdled, they have a name for the sound that happens between two letters.
I was raised and loved by immigrants, refugees, first generation Americans, and people who don’t fit the standard prototype. Some use wheelchairs. Some have glass eyes, drug addictions, rap sheets, a total lack of education. Some have doctorates, a passport full of stamps, a collection of keepsakes from a thousand years before my country was born.
Many, many, many have known hunger, pain, and extreme loss. I was raised on the calluses of their heart hurts. I call it hunger, when I have not eaten for three hours, I call it starving when I make it to six, but there is a Nepalese fairy tale I heard once about a girl who ate goat vomit because she was so hungry. The thing I remember most about that story is how none of the adults I knew were surprised, let alone horrified. They had seen worse. They had eaten worse.
Goat vomit is basically animal product. It’s milk, if you pretend hard enough, if you get hungry enough.
I don’t use the word hungry correctly, but they never call me on it. But I? I tell them all the time that they’re doing something wrong. “Hungry is only two syllables, Papa, not three, and the emphasis is on the first.” My privilege bleeds into every moment of my life, my comfort protected almost reflexively before my cultures. I deny neither.
“You can shape anything with your words,” Mamasaur will say in defense of him, “Why waste energy shaping someone else? Live your own story. Make your own words.”
I guess that’s why I’m calling this reply of mine, quasipolitica.
I won’t pretend that it doesn’t have to do with current political processes. I will not pretend I am not scared.
I am terrified. Terrified for the bodies that carry the voices of my childhood, and ones just like them. Ones just like me.
But not me, particularly.
You see, I’m privileged. I’ve never denied that point.
I don’t have to pretend that goat vomit is milk. Sometimes, goat vomit is just goat vomit. Sometimes bad laws are just as responsible for the dead bodies as the swords that did the piercing. Sometimes the only thing keeping out the ugly are the hands we curl into fists and sling toward everything we fear.
I know that, and your letters seem to think I’ve forgotten it all, but how could I?
I was raised by people with such strong hands, held so safely that I could never forget what it is to hold tight. I slept under a poster of a woman who saved everyone I knew, the best hero I could ever imagine, Lady Liberty. She let Superman in, you know. That poor, tired, homeless, tempest-tossed immigrant — yearning to breathe free. Superman came here like almost everyone else I know, or maybe like their parents, or their parent’s parents, or their grandparent’s parents, or their grandparent’s grandparent’s grandparent’s, well.
Liberty shines for all us now.
I try to be as her, and never drop the light. I try to be as the ones who fought to get here, and learn the balance between letting go and holding on. I try to be as the ones who were here all along, too, to stay close to the secrets of the earth.
I try not to be silent.
I try not to be distant from those stories.
I write about the lessons in those stories, even when I leave out the borders. You see, I’m writing about the whole world. Sometimes I forget that we’ve divided it.
I write about individuals, and their kindness. I know that society doesn’t always feel kind right now, but I am not ignoring that smaller truth.
Society forsakes, at times, but the big story is — individuals can be counted upon for goodness.
And if what your letter is really saying is that you’re scared, too — and if what your letters are really saying is that you need to know if I stand with you, please know:
You can count on me.
You can count on my loved ones.
You can count on Lady Liberty. She sees past walls.
This has gone quasipolitica again.
This is me practicing a freedom to make up words. This is me, practicing a voice that maybe should have been sharpened years ago, but I was too busy counting syllables, hiding my palms in a helpless fist, pretending that because things are better, they must also be done.
We are not finished yet, and though my voice is soft, it is the only one I have. I am grateful for it still, though I know sometimes it mutes itself and sometimes it is hard to hear what I mean. It’s why I say the same thing, so often, so regularly, so repeatedly.
If you didn’t read it right the first time, you’ll catch it in the highlights.
You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.
We have a thimble of things to fear in this life, and oceans of things to be grateful for. We have a world of cultures just waiting to be shaped. Solidarity requires sacrifice, and that is something to be grateful for, not something to be feared.
There is room for everyone. You, especially.
Do you remember when I told you that Dave’s grandpa played Cuban music on a guitar until he was over 100 years old? On my wedding day, I imagined Dave at 100, not knowing he wouldn’t even make it to 36. We were married by a friend, a Tibetan monk, an artist, just after he returned from a goodwill mission. My dress was made by a friend born in Germany married to a friend born in Africa. She painted a Sufi quote on the dress, and my Filipino neighbor hand-wove the garlands. My friend, his golden-red hair gleaming in the light, told a story about Greek Gods and heroes.
We lit candles together.
It’s not a story about my wedding day. It is a story about the rewards of solidarity, the individualism of acculturalization. It is about goodness and heroes, and connectedness and the universality of light.
Society forsakes, at times, but individuals can be counted on to be helpers. To be heroes.
If they risk their own comfort — to speak, to listen, to write, to read.
I know what I write isn’t always familiar to you, it can’t be, because every individual life is so very different. It is one reason I am so thankful for your readership.
It is brave. All reading is.
It is my hope that no matter how different the words I use, that you find familiarity in the lessons that have shaped me. My own words are really nothing more than a repackaging of the lullabies that rocked me to bed, and the fables of monsters that terrified all my heroes when they still felt small. They weren’t always told in a language I understood, but light is universal.
Love is universal.
My people, the ones who raised me, taught me how to read so my heart could remember the soil they walked. They told me stories so I would understand the atrocities of humanity that cut into their heart, so I would give thanks for the heartbreaks I inherited.
They taught me to love so I would not forget.
When I write it about love, it is about me, not forgetting. And yes, sometimes I will leave out the birth origins, and the accents. I’ll skip disability status and health history. I won’t mention skin color or accent, because I learned to write in the universal. Not in the singular.
I learned to write from people who did not know who would be listening to me, they just prayed someone might.
They gave up everything they ever knew so that
So that I might one day not feel like covering up my own hands. So that I might one day feel safe enough, brave enough, connected enough, to unfurl my fists.
In the last 4 years of blogging, I have written just over 2 million words as I’ve represented Rarasaur blog, all over the internet.
And often, I am vague and soft. Regularly, I spin — around and around a topic without getting to the center of it. I skip political events. I am not a perfect example of tolerance. I do not have the most diversified life I know. But this American culture is my culture and I will hold onto it with my feet pressed deep into the soil. I was planted here, fair and square, and it might be the Texan in me talkin’, but the only way you’re going to take liberty out of my country is to pry it from my cold, dead hands.
And I won’t pretend.
Lately, often, I am worried that you just might have to.
Lately, often, I am worried you just might try.
I am quiet on certain topics, but that does not mean I will be silenced.
I am quiet on certain events, but that does not mean I am not a rebellion.
I just believe in a softer activism, a gentler resistance. I believe in open welcoming hands, not closed threatening fists. I believe we give life to what we give energy to, and I believe in giving energy and action to Love, to Creativity, to Life. Life, is the most loving and creative right of all.
My loved ones deserved to live.
Your loved ones deserve to live.
And despite what your letter worries on — I do know my rights, and I know my civil rights heroes, half of which schools in this country never even mention. But the stories that stick with me are the smaller ones. The teacher who said that if anyone had a problem with my uncle sitting in his classroom, they should leave. The city construction worker who took his Big Mac down three flights of stairs every day because he couldn’t afford anything different, but he knew that consuming beef disrespected the temple he was building in. The poet who came to my prison to read to us even on the day she had to be stripped out like an inmate in order to even get in.
Those stories are the high notes of the lullabies I was raised on, the songs that are a testament to individual invention. No one knows when or where they started, no one has ever heard one end.
Healing has no finish line.
We’re constantly being asked to pull the cure for a broken world out of our hearts, but there’s no magic word. If there was, it would have been uttered by now — sobbed by a child covered in shrapnel, prayed by a woman as she watched her village burn, typed into a legal document by someone not able-bodied enough to shout it on a witness stand. There is no quick-sip antidote. Peace is just something we work toward, every day. It’s about the things we can become. It’s about the things we should un-become. It’s about changing our hearts when they need change, no matter how scary that is. The secrets to mending broken things are not delivered by missiles, or shouted from podiums — they are whispered to children, they are pressed into today by yesterday’s fingerprints.
The secrets to healing were the lullabies I was raised by, so I sing them, I sing them, I sing them. All day long.
You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.
It doesn’t mean I don’t see a broken world. It doesn’t mean I am 10 years old still, hiding my ancestry in my curled up fists. It doesn’t mean I am pretending that I am not scared, trapping my nightmares in my closed palms. It doesn’t mean that, some days, I don’t feel attacked…
It just means I’ve chosen my weapon.
It is the same one held by my favorite superhero.
It is liberty. It is light.
You ask me, in the millions of words I’ve written, in the dinosaur I hide behind, if I’ve forgotten where I came from.
I hope this is a glimpse into the fact that I haven’t. I couldn’t.
My light is tired and old, but it is my rebellion — my tiny resistance — and I hold it above my head even when I know the world has gotten so dark that it seems like just a sputtering spark.
It is — like me — not perfect, but it is made from generations of hope. And I am holding to that hope like it is a beacon, because in the stories I was raised on, somebody’s hope was.
I am humming the lullabies I grew up to, hoping I am remembering them right, hoping that they will still call to people even though I don’t know the exact right words, or where the emphasis goes, or how many syllables something should really have. I am standing on soapboxes and the shoulders of giants — just hoping that my arms don’t give out, hoping that the light is seen, by whoever needs it, wherever they are.
Hoping that when they glimpse it, even if it’s just for a split second, they breathe free. Free enough to know they deserve freedom, that they deserve life.
Free enough to know that they are loved.
I love them, though I may not know them yet, and maybe you’re right. Maybe I should be marching, stomping, shouting, screaming, sharpening my voice on the bones left from every lesson we should have already learned by now. My friends are, my sisters are, my readers — like you — are fierce warriors.
But it was a long time ago, when I decided to no longer make a fist. These hands are for welcoming new friends. These hands are for letting go of ideas that we don’t need anymore. These hands are for holding light.These hands are for writing, quietly, softly. Gently enough that people seek refuge, gather, and tell stories. Gently enough that people feel safe to send me letters like you’ve sent, knowing that they will be read. You are speaking on the side of goodness, and I am glad to know you. People being brave enough to speak, saved my people a hundreds time over. It’s why I am alive today, but mending isn’t just about shouting. It’s also about listening, and hoping, and singing familiar songs even when the words don’t translate precisely. It’s about small efforts of goodness, and noticing them, and creating life, and living it.
I don’t intend to post this on my blog, or anywhere necessarily — more than half of the stories glossed over in this letter aren’t really my own to tell — but I hope you at least now know where I’m coming from.
It’s the same place I came from, and though I may not write about it all the time — or ever — I never forget it. I never forget. Not once, in 32 and a half years.
Not once, in over 2 million words.
I am here today because someone was brave enough to speak.
But I am also here because someone was brave enough to listen, and listening is a quiet act. It almost looks silent…
but come closer… you’ll hear the lullaby.
You are loved.
You are loved.
You are loved.