My mother mourns leaving her own country so deeply it runs through her veins into mine. Bangladesh is what she knows and what she loves. She spends her time showing me her culture: spinning through dances, running through poetry, and wading through history. I, in turn, cannot read her Sanskrit language. My Bangla is passable, but the prose she serves leaves me helplessly thumbing through a Bangla-toEnglish Dictionary. Bangladesh. A slowly sinking country of dark brown soil and dark brown people that I have only ever loved by proxy. Her holidays are mine. Her foods are mine. Her blood is mine. Yet I hear of the trailing, frayed tales of the Liberation War beginning with a genocide of my people, and I feel the disconnect. It happened when my mother was eight, but I cannot imagine it.
I am defined by Bangladesh, but also defined by the split between her and me. My mother was born in Comilla. My father was born in Dhaka. My sister was born in Perth, Australia. I was born in Omaha, Nebraska; I have never lived far from it. My first tongue is English; so are the songs I dive into, the words I weave, and the past I drape myself in. Here, miles away from any tumbling ocean, are my roots. I spend my days willingly, cashing in hours for creating stories and people that I will never know. The earth travels its spin, and my tales appear lazily in smudged, inky English. Sometimes, I cash in my hours to imagine the saltwater people of Bangladesh: riding rickshas in the ever boisterous city or on tin roofs under coconut palms. I ask my mother of prettier, formal words for this and for that as I try to paint her home into something I can understand. The roads form in a dusty copper traversed by a thousand feet in all manner of shoes. The cars must travel slowly; the foot traffic will not stop for them. The air is filled with smoke and spice and the overlaying voices of both symphony and cacophony. The people wear anything from rich, embroidered saris of any color to tucked dress shirts and trousers as they amble, shop, and yell up at boys playing badminton on roofs, holding their birdies. There is no English plastered on the walls. There is little familiar to a girl who has lived in Midwestern suburbs her entire life. It is not real.
I have only ever loved Bangladesh from a distance, and these dips into her image do nothing to make her clear to me. I am creating newness that will not translate into my mother’s sepia toned past. Neither can I ask her to change what I have made. Her eyes glide over the double-spaced, 12 point lines I gave days to and get hitched on certain syllables like getting splinters from wood. In trying to explain, I end up looking into identical brown-black irises and being struck silent at the gap.
She once told me, as we drove home on an innocent little road in Leawood, Kansas, you learned the important one. That she wished she could carve words in English like I did. Yet these words, formed mindlessly in careless Bangla, struck like a bullet. Is that truly what she thought? That it was better to leave behind generations of heritage for the clinical English I wield in America? How does one judge? I am Bangla, and I am American, but one is a country I have breathed for sixteen years and the other is a country I have visited twice. What did I gain and what did I forfeit?
I don’t know if I’ll ever find out. If that’s a given or a decision. I try to keep them both: Bangla American and most definitely first generation: defined by polaroids of Bangla coasts, soles in American prairies, and dreaming of the Pacific passage. But the line between what I am and long to know is crust, mantle, core, adverb, participle, noun, and I haven’t kept pace.
I suppose that’s entropy; natural law. Heat and history lost over a thousand miles, ruling it greed to crave both ends of the Earth, leaving green-ink English a cold comfort, and weaving tributaries into the great river of my bloodline.
(The distance aches.)