All posts tagged: Issue: Welcome

The 5th Grade Mehndi Mishap

In the early 1990s, most people didn’t know what henna was, let alone the variation of the word “mehndi.” You see, Gwen Stefani had not happened at that time, and mainstream audiences hadn’t quite accepted that South Asia was “the land of colors and magic” just yet. During that time, my family lived in a town called Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. I say that as if the town does not exist anymore, but it does, and we still have extended family who love living there.  The Mechanicsburg of the early ‘90s was different than it is now. There weren’t many minorities. In fact, in my entire elementary school there was one African American kid. He was the adopted son of our wonderful and white Principal, Ms. Ingram. The other minorities in school consisted of: me, my younger sister, and an Asian girl named Chloe whom I tried, and failed, to befriend. She was cooler than me back then because the early ‘90s was also not the age of the smart-girl dominance. Despite the lack of diversity, Mechancisburg …

American Accent: Passing — and not Passing — as a Latina

(Carla and her parents. Photo courtesy of the author.) One of my favorite childhood memories is of me sitting with my mother on her bed, recording ourselves reading articles to one another. She would look at me and slowly say, acutely aware of her Argentine accent, “I am prac-tis-sing my ello-cue-shon en Eng-lish,” and I would fall into a peal of giggles. I didn’t know my mother thought she needed to change her accent until that moment. I don’t know that I was even aware she had an accent until I was around that age. To me, my mother’s accent was just my mother’s voice.  My family moved to New York City from Buenos Aires on the winter solstice of 1975. It was one of the two coldest winters of the century; my father and mother were 26 and 25. I was 16 months old and my twin brothers just 4 months.  I imagine my parents shivering in their light wool coats and thin leather gloves meant for a mild Argentininean winter as we were …

Make America Great Again: The Canadian Edition

When I was a kid, coming to “the States,” as we called it, was the shit. I mean, you guys had everything. I had never seen that many types of breakfast cereal in my short, Canadian life. The soda aisle alone blew my 9-year-old mind… PURPLE SODA? America the beautiful, indeed.  But other than those occasional Sunday family drives to Plattsburgh, New York—and the obligatory trip to Disney World, when I was 4—my primary exposure to the U.S. as I was growing up was via TV and the news. American presidents are so present and powerful when you live just next door. You almost feel as if they are your president, too. But mostly, the States was just fine—like an annoying older brother, always around, obligated to protect you, much stronger than you, and a little less refined. I certainly had no grand plans to live there.  But, life intervenes: 25-year-old girl meets boy, decides to find a job in a different country, and moves there to see if it will all work out. In …

Maid in the U.S.A.: The Invisible Helpers

My mother was raised in a wealthy household in Guyana. Somewhere in my files, there is a clipping from the Guyana Chronicle, a photo of a pretty girl in a hoop skirt, performing on the piano for Princess Margaret. Her father, Mayor of Georgetown, watches proudly. That girl is my mother. She went on to earn her degrees in music performance at a London conservatory, where she met a handsome British army officer from Barbados. My parents moved around Europe and then to a newly independent Barbados where the marriage swiftly disintegrated. One day she snatched up her children and brought them to Boston, forbidding us any contact with our dear father. In Boston, my mother, who performed on television in Barbados, disappeared into the crowd of invisible Black immigrants. When she met a Jamaican lady who cleaned houses for rich people, she became part of an underground network, scrubbing floors and doing laundry for a pittance.  One Saturday, I accompanied her when she worked in a large house on a leafy street in Brookline. …

Why the United States Remains a Beacon of Hope

I have been working really hard the last couple of months. I’m an attorney in New York City and one case has really consumed me. It is a pro bono asylum case, my first. The trial was today. Let me tell you about it. My client is a gay man from Uganda, a country that criminalizes homosexuality and makes consensual same-sex sex illegal. Violence and discrimination are routinely perpetrated by both state and non-state actors against the LGBTQIA population. The political and religious leaders actively stoke homophobia and violence, and are aided in this process by a vicious tabloid press that solicits tips to out people—those outed are often arrested and imprisoned, and/or attacked and shunned by their communities.  The general belief in Uganda is that homosexuality is like a disease, but also the product of poor parenting, and is contagious and often transmitted by people setting out to induce others, especially kids, into homosexuality. It is a huge taboo.  Mob justice is a form of extrajudicial killing prevalent in Uganda—mobs will form almost spontaneously …