31 May, 2011

Making a Country Belong to You

This is a piece from a speech I gave not too long ago. A person who was there wrote me a lovely note and asked me to post the text of this particular section and so, here goes:

Perhaps the constant for any immigrant is our disassociation with a specific place even as we strive to maintain the relevance and worth of two particular places within the unfolding of our lives. Both of these countries have become vital to me, both places are home. What I have become is A Defender. I am a defender of Sri Lanka to Americans. I do it every time I speak of my country, in my writing through articles and opinion pieces and petitions to PBS against irresponsible journalists, and by trekking to Washington DC and building relationships with congressional staffers and joining other South Asian groups , appearing at South Asian festivals and using those platforms to speak of Sri Lanka. I do it even when I rant about one thing or another nearly every morning listening to NPR, shouting about something “stupid” that Americans are up to as if somehow none of it could be traced back to me; the media spin surrounding Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Texas shooter, for example, and all the aspersions that were cast about his religious affiliations. It upsets me that Americans, make these judgments based on their own ethno-centric view of the world without any understanding of the depth and complexities of kinship as it is played out in other cultures. And when I say that, I know that I am standing firmly within the depth and complexity of my Sri Lankan culture, which is what enables me to have that perspective in America.

And I defend America by being attentive to its good. I love the fact that if you go to a swim meet or a track meet or any meet at all, the loudest cheer is for the person who struggles to cross the finish line last, sometimes after all the other athletes have left the deck. Despite two incredible dispiriting presidential elections – elections to which my brother had come as part of a team of international election monitors for the first time in US history – after those elections, I could still believe that in that country I could put my faith in a candidate so far from even being considered viable and never doubt that it would be possible to bring him to the White House. I could not only teach my daughter the Pledge of Allegiance but ask that she consider it her duty to honor her country by caring for it through word and deed, by fixing what was wrong. I think it is ludicrous to sing the national anthem at every small sporting event, and yet I also see that the beauty of the tradition is that the anthem has no “right” way – it belongs to every voice, however badly or well they may sing it. I could watch a program on the building of the Hoover Dam and listen to those workers talk about how they hold their hands over their hearts when they stand before that dam and understand exactly why they feel the country belongs to them.

A country belongs to you not because you are born there or die there, it belongs to you because you care for it. In some way, great or small, and in keeping with your system of beliefs, you care for it when you are in it, you speak for it when it cannot speak for itself. If it is broken, you fix it. If it is good, you celebrate it.

2 Responses to “Making a Country Belong to You”

  1. clarence young says:

    Outstanding!

  2. Danushi says:

    Akki! You put into words, what I had in my thoughts! So very powerful!

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The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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