Friday, October 21, 2011

And Either I’m Nobody, Or I’m A Nation

Climbing into a rickshaw or walking through the busy streets of Udaipur, Rajasthan, I see an expression I never knew I longed for. 

My poor Hindi, my all too eager smile, and my unsure footsteps in this unknown city belie my foreignness.
But, perhaps, in all other ways my face, my color can easily be lost in the interminable swirl of browns and thick blur of vivid all around me.

I arrived in India two weeks ago, the end (or perhaps just the beginning) of a deeply personal journey I began over three years ago to figure out what it meant (if anything) for me to be Indian. What does it mean, when I had been raised African and Afro-Costa Rican; when my memories are wrapped up in the black and brown faces of my family and their stories of “back home”;  when even my very politics are steeped in blackness and latindad and when language and culture anchor and bind me to proud histories that trace the routes of slavery and migration from Africa, to the Caribbean, Central and North America?

It seems fitting then, that the Universe took her poetic license and fashioned the Dominican Republic--really the Caribbean--as the cuna, the cradle of my multitudes. My creation story, my own brief and wondrous life began in the “Ground Zero of the New World.” There begins my myth threaded into the countless other magic fictions born there  everyday.

India too, like Africa, feels like an ancestral place to my very being. Something about its haze, its smell, its taste, its movement is reminiscent of the other "back homes" etched in my rememory. In Hindi, 'to remember' and 'to miss' (as in I miss you), are the same word... And I miss what I cannot remember.

Some days India feels like a coming home, a place of rest. Maybe it’s all the Octavia Butler sci-fi I’ve
been reading, but thousands of feet in the air, tossing in my seat on my Air India flight, listening to "Shiva Mantra" and "Aisa Des Hai Mera"  on repeat, I had a fever dream, a dozy hallucination that had me wondering if land, earth, tierra... had flesh memories. If the minute I stepped on Indian soil, she would know me. Understand me, if only in theory, as one of her own. Perhaps it's the same way we Africans in the diaspora long for the continent, long for recognition, familiarity. I wanted it to be a fiercely intimate pact between us that, “You are a part of me, and yes, I am a part of you.”-- A mutual agreement, a validation. Something I have no need to defend to anyone, Indian, African, Latin@ or otherwise. 

Home and nation, culture and race, history and destiny, truth and myth.... questions yet unformed, answers still hidden and scattered across the world.

My story Osiris. And I, I could be Isis.

* Inspired by Junot Diaz’s novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Derek Walcott's poem at the beginning of the novel

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