Homecoming game – a poem by Sahana


This is the most poetry reading I have done since my twenties. Poetry of my daughter. I couldn’t be prouder. This is another of her poems I loved.

Homecoming game

Sure, they were singing; they always sang when the band pulled out old favorites.

Stinking jackets sticky with the hot lights of the field and face paint dripping down,

Screaming “Sweet Caroline” with all the tender finesse of a feral pack of racoons.

The thudding percussion, ringing loud through bared teeth and war cries

Pulled tight collars tighter to ward out any threat of wind,

Arms and tongues loose at every play and every call,

Voices sprinkling from above over the field before the game was even over,

Hot summer rain of what was meant to be support, but left a chill in the bones, a tickle in the throat —

It always felt brand new, every home game. Always felt like the suffocation was the fun of it,

That the ritual of limp hotdogs in starched yellow buns were some tradition to be maintained,

Long lines for shitty food and wolf packs on the prowl stalking the sidelines,

Side-eyeing the team and the pep parade held aloft by their short skirts and bright bows.

The sweat of the stands pooling below the bleachers, school spirit into school swamp,

Some cigarette ash could blow them all away, and it’s not like it hadn’t been tried, once.

Tired hands on a barrel, confetti in school colors stuffed tight into the chamber,

The press of familiar weight on slumped shoulders, a voice saying “Give it here, son,

“Don’t do something you can’t take back,” and a quiet release. But the drone of the announcer

Wails on, ambulance screams at every missed tackle, at the crushing force on a field of dreams.

Hopping back on matchstick legs for a shot at the victory sign at the end of the field,

Winging hope to heaven on high, recruiters silent, stone-faced, with his dad in the stands,

Chewing on fingernails and debt dethroned, a lump in his throat. Sleep scorned eyes

Seeking out ready arms, quick prayers, a Hail Mary, for an end to an already long night,

Shade cast over the firm set of his jaw, steady breathing, quick movements.

And a quiet, suddenly, a chill falling in sooner than he knew possible.

Lights off, stands empty, field ripped up and muddy. Sure, they sang when they knew the words.

When the band, electric and flowing, hazarded the first few aching notes.

The sun was a surprise, she mused.

Not unwelcome, for the chill it banished, but a surprise still

Where are you from-from?


I answer that question with joy. Too much joy perhaps because my face lights up (or at least I feel my face lights up) when I say I am from India. And when I see a glimmer of recognition or some encouraging words from the questioner, I expound more on my birth country. Sometimes the person asking that question encourages my exuberance and sometimes, s/he gets glassy eyed. I have matured enough to know the signs when to continue and when to stop. This question is not difficult for me. I am a brown woman who speaks English with an accent, who came to this country in her mid twenties, lived here for years and ultimately became a naturalized citizen. There is no doubt of the fact that I am originally from a different country.

But if this question is asked to any other brown skinned person who was born here, that is stereotyping and racial profiling. This is the premise of the book Don’t Ask Me Where I am From by Jennifer De Leon. Liliana Cruz is a 15 year old girl who lives in Boston with her parents and annoying twin brothers. Her mother is from El Salvador and her father is from Guatemala. And although Liliana is a citizen of United States, her parents are both undocumented. Liliana’s family is not rich but they are relatively happy. She is a gifted writer who goes to Boston public school where she has friends who look like her, understand her culture, share similar background. Her seemingly uneventful life, however, is rudely disrupted when her father vanishes one day. Liliana does not know where her father disappeared. All she sees is that her mother is anxious and is trying her best to remain under the radar of authorities and earn as much money as she can. During this turmoil in her life, Liliana finds out that she has qualified under the METCO program to go to a predominantly white school in a suburb of Boston. METCO stands for The Metropolitan Council for Educational opportunities. “METCO is a school integration program that enrolls Boston students in grades K-10 in participating suburban public schools to reduce racial isolation” – according to their website.

Liliana is devastated to leave her old school and friends, but she chooses to go because she knows her papa would be proud of her and would have wanted her to sieze this opportunity. She soon realizes though, that although the initiative of this integration program was a noble one, the ground reality in her new school is completely different. There is another form of segregation where the METCO kids stick together and the rich kids have their own groups. The METCO students try to prove their worth by exceling in sports, academics, extracurricular activities yet they never become part of the main student body. They are different than the rest, inferior somehow because of their skin color, their style, their way of speaking. And then there is that invariable question that they are asked, “Where are you from?” When they answer that they are from Boston, the follow up question almost always is “No, but where are you from-from?” Liliana is of Hispanic origin but she was born in Jamaica Plains, MA, USA. That is where she is from-from! Many Americans like her, who are people of color, are asked this question and Jennifer De Leon makes a powerful point in this book through this story about insensitivity ingrained in that question, especially when posed to people of color. People are here, they are part of the community. Accept them, acknowledge them, respect them, dignify them.

Liliana’s father, we find out along with her, has been deported. Liliana’s world crashes around her as she discovers how vulnerable she is. Her parents could be taken from her anytime by authority and then what would happen to her? Despite the uncertainty and huge unrest in her life, Liliana grows strong, faces her challenges and searches for solution to end racial inequality instead of wallowing in self pity.

De Leon confronts some difficult issues head on. Liliana is a 15 year old girl who speaks in a lingo I am not familiar with and I do not particularly like. I found the narration of the story in Liliana’s voice somewhat detrimental to fully appreciating the story but I am not the target audience of this book. I wonder if young readers will relate to the narration. I recommend this book for the issues and the way Liliana grows in character.

‘Where are you from’ perhaps is a valid question if it comes from a place of honest curiosity to learn about a different country/culture. The follow up question, “No, but where are you from-from?” is the one to avoid.

Alienated or standing out?


I was volunteered to sale books at my daughter’s high school on my birthday afternoon. She heard the word books and she volunteered her mother. I love how she makes that instant association. Later, she realized it was my birthday and meekly asked, “Oh, it is your birthday? Will you do it?”

I, of course, did it. What better way to spend a couple of hours on my special day than to sell gently read books to book-loving teenagers to raise money for a good cause. I was in. I was also lured by the prospect of my high schooler sitting next to me during her lunch break. She said she will sell books with me while she was at lunch.

As I sat there among milling teens I observed a microcosm of the world we live in. It is all in there – the groups, the sub-groups, the layers, the sub layers. The popular teens – confident, dressy, flying hair, The gamers with the certain look and hair, the athletes, the scholarly ones colloquially known as nerds. The groups were different in demeanor, looks, attitude, confidence but they were similar in one aspect – the device they held in their hands, their smart phones. It was clear that the different groups sported a certain look and that look was one of uniformity within the group. I chuckled silently at the thought that these same teens who try to break out from the norm try their best to fit in and belong within their own peer group.

The high school has implemented the BYOD (Bring your own device) rule this year because they felt that social networking is and will be an integral part of the times and world that these young people will inherit. The objective of the school system, by allowing device in the school, was to teach the young adults responsible usage of social networking. I will not get into the debate of whether the experiment is successful or not. As I see it, it is a way of the education system to save face and tell the children, ‘Fine, bring your device to school, because we know you are sneaking it in anyway.’ The other benefit, according to the principal, was the children can use their own device to pull up resources during instruction time. And the ones who don’t have their own device (the tiny minority) will have access to the class computers.

The lunch break was an interesting time to observe the teens with their mobile phones. Most of them walked while their eyes were on the phones, different expressions played on their faces – beatific smiles, frowns, nonchalance, excitement and so forth as their fingers browsed internet/Facebook/ tumblr/snapchat. They walked with their friends but did not interact with them directly, like we used to. There were, however, interactions! Their laughter and camaraderie revolved around jokes/messages that they found on the phones and shared with their real life friends. Although it was odd to see them connected to their devices while their friends of flesh and blood sat right next to them, I did observe solidarity and enjoyment. It seemed odd to me only because I have experienced the laughs, angers, sentiments and direct communications with my friends before this wired age but these children have not. But these children have sustained their friendships, built and broken them, in this way. Whether the relationships they make now in this unique way will withstand the test of time, only time will tell. I recently read a beautiful post written by a friend lamenting the loss of direct communication. I lament it too and I feel our children are missing out. But then again, our children have hardly experienced or nurtured many friendships in our way, how can they miss what they never experienced?

There were some loners too. And there I saw the advantage of cell phones. If you are eating your lunch alone, you don’t seem conspicuous any more if you have your phone in front of you. You can blend in just fine if you hypnotically look at the screen held in your hand like everybody else. You don’t have to hide your head and find a corner to sit so no one will notice your loneliness.

My daughter has an antiquated device at home, but I was not convinced enough to send that device to school with her. I said she could use the school computers to access resources. She has done fine without her iPod in school. When I mentioned my observations to her she looked at me with ‘now you understand how alienated I feel because I don’t have a device at school’ expression. She said it too. I said, “How about you looking at it in a different way? Instead of feeling alienated, how about this idea – you are standing out?” She nodded her head disparagingly, “You don’t understand Mom. It does not work that way.”