In this article poet Jaswinder Bolina eloquently shares his story of exploring the terrain and tensions of language, race, and poetry.
Bolina begins: “My father says I should use a pseudonym. ‘They won’t publish you if they see your name. They’ll know you’re not one of them. They’ll know you’re one of us.’ This has never occurred to me, at least not in a serious way. ‘No publisher in America’s going to reject my poems because I have a foreign name,’ I reply. ‘Not in 2002.’ I argue, ‘These are educated people. My name won’t be any impediment.’ Yet in spite of my faith in the egalitarian attitude of editors and the anonymity of book contests, I understand my father’s angle on the issue.”
Bolina’s analysis of the complexities of his being and the way it influences the lenses that he views the world through are insightful and keep the reader engaged. His story and analysis are deep, beginning with a look back to the “especially muted and disdainful brand of racism” his father experienced as a young brown Indian man in London in 1965, moving to the tension of being a first generation United States youth, and on to present day scenarios such as Joe Biden’s comments on how “articulate and bright” President Barak Obama is. His analysis illuminates an important point:
“The one thing I least believe about race in America is that we can disregard it. I’m nowhere close to alone in this, but the person I encounter far more often than the racist—closeted or proud—is the one who believes race isn’t an active factor in her thinking, isn’t an influence on his interaction with the racial Other.”
Jaswinder’s voice is an important part of the story on race, language, gender, and immigration in the United States. He leaves us will hopeful words and much to think about as we enter into our daily interactions with people of all racial colors, cultures, and backgrounds:
“Though ‘high’ English might be born of a culture once dominated by straight white men of privilege, each of us wields our English in ways those men might not have imagined. This is okay. Language, like a hammer, belongs to whoever picks it up to build or demolish. Whether we take language in hand to deconstruct itself, to confess a real experience or an imagined one, or to meditate upon the relationship between the individual and the political, social, historical, or cosmological, ownership of our language need not be bound up with the history of that language. Whether I choose to pound on the crooked nail of race or gender, self or Other, whether I decide on some obscure subject while forgoing the other obvious one, when I write, the hammer belongs to me.”