A free-verse monologue on identity, representation, and self by Rick Kumar (he/him), teacher, Surrey
I was intrigued by the simplicity, and so, when my best friend, Calvin “Kalvonix” Tiu, told me the name of his new album, I was curious. We like the cinematography of Nicolas Winding Refn films, the thrill of ghost hunting, and the sound that music has when played on vinyl. Growing up alongside one another I sometimes forget he has a disability. He has cerebral palsy and sure, he’s short, so what, I’m tall. He rolls in a wheelchair and I walk. He raps and I write poetry. Maybe that one isn’t too different at all. He’s Filipino and I’m Fijian. He is him, and I am me. So when he said his album is going to be called “I’m Me, Be You,” I hit an interesting new juncture in what my identity meant. It seemed all too simple.
Something something we’re the sum of all parts, or something like that. My identity is defined by my relationship to Cal, to my family, my partner, my work, but who really am I? At the BIPOC 2050 Project event I participated in, I wrote a poem and realized that I am the roti that I eat. Or perhaps the Hindu celebrations I get ready for. I surely must be the “nice” biscuits that sit out on a plate in front of me that I’m not allowed to touch until our visiting family have eaten their fill. If not that, I am the smell of incense and the feeling of safety that came from holding my mother’s scarf as we lined up at the temple. So many strangers, superstitions, and traditions, and in it was my little fist grasping my mother’s flowing scarf.
Isn’t it funny how we can teach so much, but know so little? I wonder how many Fijians have been in this room. How many Pacific Islanders? I wonder how many Mauritians, how many Trinidadians, how many South African Indians sat in this room. How many people were torn from their homeland and sent somewhere else they couldn’t come back from? Where we all went there is no Ancestry.com for, no map back. I envy those who descended from John A. MacDonald. Not because he was any such person deserving of admiration or exaltation, but because that hard black line is straight and clear.
Their heritage is written in pen, and mine in pencil.
One day I might find out, for now I must be content with knowing that I am what I was made to be. A product of India, Fiji, Canada, of poverty and providence, of caste systems and hierarchy abolitionists, of labour and disruption, of good troublemaking and of being the son of inconvenience. I am as the world made me and as my culture and threads of heritage shaped me, and if these broad shoulders were made for anything good it was to widen the path as I move forward so those who come after can walk a little easier.
This room wasn’t built for me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t make it my home. I will scrape together each scrap, each torn quilt, each woven strand, build my nest and then change these walls. Paint them with my colours and the colours I hadn’t seen here before. As I sit in these hallowed halls, I wonder how many Fijians sat here. I think back on Cal, he would say that it’s time to be me. When I’m spiraling on tangents, he always knows what to say. I figure he must be right. So, I “be me.” I wear my flags, my causes I champion, and I sit here and think that it’s okay because even if they didn’t sit here before, they’re sitting here now, I’m sitting here now.
I feel better knowing that.
Today I lament, tomorrow I will be the inspirational quote on the wall to another life, and then one day they’ll become the person who they needed to see. The four seasons pass and come to pass again.