Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Journey of a Thousand Labels

The story of a my life just till the age 15 is enough to write a book on everything I observed. It is the story of getting lost in translation, in a colorless world, in a half deaf world, in a world with nowhere to belong.

Who am I?

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Rosy checks”

that is the first nick name I got from my doctors after I was born. Little did I know then that I’d be going there for the rest of my fifteen years. My mother, barely surviving the birth, heard the news about my ear. Microsia and atresia, sounds pretty magical right? Like some kingdoms in some little story book tucked away in a child's bedroom. I often wonder if my parents knew that I was born with chronic asthma and an ear defect that they would have changed me… you know though all those DNA engineering, but then again I would be nothing without those features. My hair like a mini afro mimicked the curls of the men in my family. Rosy, the only color i’d encountered a few days into this world.

“Blue Jeans”

My Mother, being the activist and rebel that she is, decided not to let me wear any "girly" colors. My first encounter with a label.
In the midst of a snowstorm in the year of 2002 a car speeds down the German highway towards a village in Denmark. At the age of one I arrive in the country I call home.
Snow, the first object I associated with myself.
Sne the word for snow in Danish fit perfectly as my uncle took me outside into the freezing snow that slowly crystallized my lashes.

“Where are you from… what are you?”

Mother Tongue… I don’t think I have one.
Am I the first generation? Second? Or third? I often go through my lineage to try to understand where I belong better, though it never yields in any clarity. It just digs a deeper well that just confuses people from the surface.
My great grandparents, born under British rule, were lawyers, police officers, and leaders in the fight for freedom. When the British left the country split in two, my paternal grandparents had to move to current Bangladesh because they were Muslim. My maternal grandparents stayed in their city. My dad was born during the war in Bangladesh. If it wasn't for his single mother he would be stuck selling in a market in the same country. He moved to Dubai leaving his elder brothers behind. Through a scholarship he made it to holland at the age of 16 alone. My mother moved to Tanzania at a young age and moved to Netherlands at the age of 16 as well. Now my mom and I live in denmark and my dad lives in California.
That is what I wish I could say to everybody who ever asked me where I am from. I don’t know.

“Where are you from”
“Gistrup”
“No but where were you born?”
“Ohh, Delft, in Netherlands”
“No but where are you really from”
“Huh”
“You parents”
“Dutch”
“Grandparents”
“Dutch, I’m brown because from Asia” is what I should've said.
“Ohhh”
That like the most popular song was set on repeat for the entirety of my life in Denmark and America.
To be completely honest, I had no idea that these questions were posed due to my skin color.

“Which story today?”

Every night my dad would call over the landline no matter how much work he had. My dad lived in California since I was four. I saw him 4 times a year for a one or two weeks at a time. I put the black phone against my good ear as I closed my eyes and put my head on my pillow.
“You have to sleep now if you want to wake up for school!”
My mom would tell us as she lied down next to me. The nights I fell asleep with that black samsung pressed against my ear is countless.
Because of him I grew fond of language and storytelling. This continued for seven years until I moved to California.


“Blue is a boys color!”

In my kindergarten filled with refugees, I met my first gender label.
My best friend a Somali refugee, Hippo, chose the blue toy and another girl screamed that she couldn’t choose that. This was the start of me standing up for my friends.
If I had not gone to a controlled school, I would have a decent number of punches under my belt for stopping bullying against my friends by now.

“You’re a girl. You can’t play soccer”

This was the first time I had been labeled as a on of the two sexes.
Convincing them to let myself prove them wrong, they put me as defense the least important player for them. I proved them wrong. Form that day on I was chosen first for sports by the boys. That day I realized what it is to be in a man’s world. Little did I know my mother was facing similar problems. I guess I got pushing people's boundaries form her.
My legs racing down the stairs from the the building, I raced down to the sandy soccer field. The wooden goal posts were draped with droopy rope. Tired of talking inside on a nice day with the girls, I asked if I could play. No. I’m a girl. Girls cry when they get hurt. That day I vowed to myself to never let a tear fall in front of others.

“Slaves were usually dark skinned people”

“So Sne is a slave?”
The first time I received a label based on race.
Yet My innocence over flooded this incident and forgot about it.

“You have to buy a lock for your locker! I’m sure you can afford it it's very cheap”
The first time I felt that I did not belong in my own country.
My teacher commented on my status of being an immigrant.

“You are a Dane, don’t you forget that”

My Danish white  ‘adopted’ grandma comforted me as I wept.
My teacher had told me that I did not have to learn math because I was a girl and in her Turkish accent told me that she could speak English to me so I could understand better.
I was confused since I did not know English.
I cried wondering if my danish was okay.

“You have a big butt”

The first time the shape of my body was labeled.
Fifth grade after PE a new girl, who did not like immigrants of any kind told me this.
I looked around. I was surrounded by girls with the same body type. Not knowing any other body I believed that I was fat until recently. I never let it affect my health luckily.
Thank god or whoever runs this messed up world, for my best friends.

“I’m moving to U.S.A”

My heart shattered. I didn’t know what was happening. My entire life was ripped at the seams.
My best friend and I cried for hours.
I cried as I walked out my house.
The white willow trees blew in the wind as though they wept too and waved goodbye as I my grandma pulled out of the drive way.
I said goodbye to my cousin who I grew up with.
The plane ride was filled with tears and even as I landed I let a tear fall.
I have never cried so much in my life. I never thought it would stop.
In some ways it still hasn’t.


“Aren’t you supposed to be good at math?! Aren’t you Indian”

That was the first time I realized what race was.
That many people first saw the tint of my skin rather than the smile on my face.

“Are you sure you are not Ecuadorean?”

The first time I truly felt that someone wanted me to be a part of their culture.
A kind man, owner of a diner in Brooklyn, asks me kindly if I wasn’t from his home country.

“You're my n*****”

The first time I truly felt inferior to everyone else in my home town.
The world turned white for a second. How do you respond to that. A white girl whom you've known since childhood does not understand that the N word can only be used by black and is a derogatory term. A term bread in the hatred of skin. A word for ownership over the life of another human.

“I wish I wasn't brown”

The first time I did not feel comfortable in my own skin.
Cried for hours as my mother and grandmother tried their best to tell how it is not fair the way colored people are treated but it should not harm me.
They shared a glance.
A glance of sadness knowing that this day would have come and they could not protect me from this. A glance to share emotions numbed by their own countless encounters of inequality.
I cried.

“ you are Danish”

The first time someone I just met accepted what I state as my identity to be true.
No questions asked. Just Danish.

“I’m confused”

I say with a devilish smile drawn across my face as people inquire about my identity.
The first time I come to terms with the fact that I may look Hispanic, have the hair that is often associated with blacks. Be mistaken for half white and Indian and Filipino and Japanese. Be Dutch by birth. Danish by heart. American by residency. Indian by maternal links and Bangladeshi and Mongolian through paternal links. Grew up with a Hindu mother and a Sufi father and went to church with them to light candles and sing and hear parables for Christmas and Easter.
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Finally at ease with truly knowing that I belong nowhere but everywhere.