Thursday, August 11, 2011

red wagon and a letter

Sometimes while waiting for things to change, we ourselves change.... Today I wanted to cheat and drive the van to get groceries at the plaza some blocks up the hill from us. Izaka was excited the first couple of times riding in the van since we got it back because of its novelty and I am quite sure he had forgotten what it was to ride in it. I let him know that we were going to the grocery store, and the announcement was followed by the usual bustle and excitement of getting shoes on and getting all ready to go. When I tried to strap him in the car seat he had one of his I'm-not-going-to-have-this tantrums, he felt deeply cheated out of what had become our traditional grocery store trips. I had to give in because he was right on this one. As soon as he was released he climbed up the porch to pull down his red wagon. So up the hill we went, pulling the red wagon together and my little boy looking very content that he successfully disallowed me to drive.

Many people, who know me well, know that the stories of urban immigrant youth have a major role in shaping my work and passion... so these past several days and the events that have been taking place in the UK have captured my attention significantly. Before the recent events I had come across in my work some articles about some of the increasing tensions in European urban centres that visible minority youth face with parents who cannot access the job market and the experience of relative poverty. I remember two years back reading about similar events in France as youth from immigrant families began to engage the reality that their families and communities were getting squeezed out of opportunities to rise out of poverty.

If I could write a letter to black immigrant youth in the urban cities of the West, especially those who are in the difficult process of realizing that "nobody is coming", if I could send a small message I would say the following:

Dear Black Immigrant Youth,

It is true that there is no politician working for you and that there isn't any policy or program that is coming to save you. It is true that your MBA, Phd, MA mother and father will probably not find employment at all, or if they do work, they are looking at retirement in a menial labour job and face poverty as senior citizens. It is true that you will see some of your brothers and sisters lost to prostitution and drug abuse and mental illness. It is true that you may be arrested. It is true that you may graduate and not get hired. It is true that as a black boy you may be harassed by the cops. It is true that they will hire their own before they hire you. It is true that you are smart. It is true what you see and feel and what you have lived. It is true that you have felt pain; you are not making it up. It is true that the system is not working for you. And that is enough for a moment. For you to hear that it is true. That your story is true.

And given that your story is real and true, the next important question, is then how to *BE* in the reality of your truth. How to be and continue being the black son and daughter of an immigrant mother and father who moved to London, Vancouver, Birmingham, Strasbourg, Toronto, and Boston? If you can find a way to exist in the reality of your true story, if you can do the most radical thing and survive... continue to *BE*, understand that in every living moment of your existence you are strong.

Somehow you have pulled together in some mysterious way different worlds like scenes in a stage drama, you have taken roasted maize from the side of the dusty road, language and dialect, beatings and praise, chemistry and history and exercise books, long flights and snow and black skin and hair extensions, mental illness and scholarships, refugee camps and immigration papers, arguments and fights in the mother tongue, pride and shame and humour, domestic disturbances and dreams, being unknown and misunderstood and being celebrated and entertaining and mastering the social code . . .

You have pulled it all together and smashed it all together into a single expression on your face as you wait in the subway pocketing your black hands a bit dry from the harsh winter air. And just in case your mind wonders in this few moments and you almost begin to doubt it, let me assure you, now that you know are no longer seeking affirmation that your story is true, let me assure you that given the truth of your story you are strong.

I will tell you one more final thing before I end my letter, a shocking thing, but you need to hear it. Most likely, nothing is going to change. At least not the kind of change that you are waiting for or hoping for. This is the story in which you have been dropped into like a stolen black man put on a ship and delivered to a new land; you have been dropped here on this page. This is your new true story. And like the stolen man would have hoped that the hand that holds the whip would come to its senses and lay the whip down, so you too will hope that a policy be developed and the reporters tell the truth but you must begin to separate yourself from that hope at this very moment. You must never wait for such things. But here in the truth of your story, what you must do is begin to hold on to the person that you are. Feel your strength and the fact that you exist and acknowledge that to yourself. And that will help you to see the hand that holds the whip for what it is, and you will begin to continue to exist in a way that does more than reacts to the violence, you will begin to create and continue to be.

Yours truly,
Black Immigrant Young Adult

When I first started using the wagon to pick up groceries, Izaka liked sitting in it on the way up the hill, now in these later days of summer he pulls the wagon right along side me all the way up to the grocery store, and only sits in it when it's filled with groceries on the way home, so that he can get first picks on what he likes.

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