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On Erasure: an assignment based on Zong!
September 19, 2018 Wednesday 10:09 PM
This isn't a poem. Just a precursor to one, I guess. The assignment is to find a document that is significant in some way and create an erasure poem out of it, modeled a bit after the poetry book Zong! I can't think a document with words that'd say anything about my family. Except old Russian documents from my dad's side, but that is not *my* side. And I got to thinking, what is my side? I realize I don't know. And I have this word "erasure" next or around or within the words "displaced" and/or "discursive" and—I don't know anymore. I remember considering this years ago, and probably a million times after that: the idea of cultural history being something that has apparently missed me completely. I feel that if anything I fake it with stories about Nicaragua and my Abuelita and being raised in the care of an angry, anxious latina woman.
But it kind of doesn't feel like a cultural effect. More incidental. My history ends with my mama and my papa. Mama makes ginger root tea when I am sick, and ramen with spinach and sour cream, and gallopinto, and vegetable stir fry. Papa plays viola in the nighttime and tip-taps on his computer, watches nature documentaries and talks loud in the morning standing in the kitchen over a steaming and milk-drowned cup of coffee. Mama makes café con leche. Papa makes "Scrams." Mama sits on the back staircase and talks to her family on the phone. Papa listens to NPR—wait, wait, don't tell me! Our kitchen floor is cold and our counters crowded and I hate it in there almost as much as I miss it.
Just thinking about home makes me want to cry with something like unnamed trauma. Some of it with a tag but most of it: lineage unknown. I know, I know, I've got a lot of pain around this area in my life and I'm not sure why. I was scared; my dad told me I was wrong; mom said "no tengas miedo..." and neither one asked me why I was afraid. Instead it is with the approach of effacement that I lived out my childhood. But I hate being told what to do; I always have. I was a bit of a difficult kid in that way. Never overly disobedient, not even obviously so, but just naturally—in my bones—it was like the pores got clogged and just. Once I'd been led one way my instinct was like that of my parents; which is to peel away and off. Maybe that's why I write. Because unlike them, I am so in need of a history. I make my own. I guess in that way I am effacing their proffered family history, you know—of emotional repression and fury and escape, escape, escape. From Russia (great gramp), from El Salvador (great gram), from Colorado (gramma), California (dad), Nicaragua (mom). I superficially reject this and cover it in my own words in this paradoxical attempt to revive and suppress. At once I speak I am slipping out the back door.
When I think about Home I get so confused. I don't feel that I have one, and this is a line of thought that I've found virtually impossible to thread into the origin. On one hand, New York is my home. More than that, my home is supposed to be dispersed family: the people I never saw, and so by the time I became a person they'd become strangers. They are supposed to be darker skin behind a barrier somewhere along the equator. And here it starts to break down further, because I've lost that sense of home along with the language that used to come out of my mouth naturally. Part of it was environment; full of mixed kids in between white. But I found a lot of those mixed kids either found their communities or they lost it, and I was among the latter. A kid who was mixed hispanic like me once made fun of me for my accent, and I was deeply traumatized for a decade afterwards (actually I still am). A dramatic, but reflexive, reaction to a sensitivity of mine. Being hispanic was something I always hid, and was ashamed of. I sensed a distance between people and my mother. They treated her differently. I hated bringing people to my house; they tensed up and were quiet and did not laugh at my jokes. I felt as if I'd failed them, as if my environment was toxic and I should be ashamed???
I don't know. I've gotten lost while thinking about this. At some point I was writing to my grandma and at another point to my classmates and at another to my mom and dad.
Point is, I don't know. I don't know where to find a documentation of my "erasure" because I don't think there is really a record. My experience isn't unique; my sister and I tend to notice this sort of thing in mixed kids, or at least the ones we've met. And another point I wanted to clarify was that while I don't feel I have a "home" in the ideal sense, I am also aware that that is kind of unfair statement. I have a familiar place and a familiar country; where I instinctively understand customs and processes and can maneuver within them. So yeah. Home, I guess. Home-not-history.
This kind of thing makes me so sad. I don't want to disappoint my mother, but I don't know how to tell her that every time I try to speak spanish I am reminded that it's not in my history anymore.