Reflections on Oak Creek: America the Beautiful

This week we com­mem­o­rate the one year anniver­sary of the hate vio­lence that gripped the com­mu­ni­ty of Oak Creek, Wis­con­sin, when a gun­man stormed into the Sikh Tem­ple of Wis­con­sin on the morn­ing of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the fam­i­lies and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ran­jit Singh, Sat­want Singh Kale­ka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the mas­sacre. As we reflect on this day one year lat­er, it is impor­tant to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broad­er his­to­ry and con­text of racial and reli­gious injus­tice in our coun­try. To help us under­stand, reflect and move for­ward, SAALT is fea­tur­ing a blog series fea­tur­ing a range of diverse voices.

The views and opin­ions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the posi­tions or opin­ions of SAALT. They should be under­stood sole­ly as the per­son­al opin­ion of the author.

Gowri K_photo by Les Talusan_1

Gowri K.
Poet & Lawyer
Pho­to Cred­it: Les Talusan

When my par­ents moved to this country
They knew the warmth of melt­ing pot
But not the burn of Go HOME n—–
Spray paint­ed across first bought house
They thought was theirs now

As a child I stood beside my mother
Hold­ing up gro­cery store check­out line
Because the cashier didn’t want to
Under­stand her for­eign-tongued English

Just as she didn’t want to understand
When I shame­ful­ly descend­ed kinder­garten bus
Ask­ing why do they call me the col­or of ketchup
After all, I was born speak­ing American

Just like I didn’t want to understand
When my grand­moth­er told me
Be care­ful in the city—there are black people
Demand­ing my moth­er explain how
Prej­u­dice could exist between brown people
Being told she only knows any­one besides our people
Through the tv and you see
How racist the news can be 

Just like I didn’t want to understand
When I stood behind my father in a
Crowd of strangers in Sri Lanka
Beam­ing at his ease con­vers­ing in Sinhala
After decades away before realizing
Mem­o­ry can func­tion as sur­vival skill

Just like my par­ents didn’t want to understand
When my broth­er and I flew home to visit
In the year after 9/11 and told them about the
Air­port secu­ri­ty agent conducting
“Ran­dom” checks who
Looked at the two of us and said
I have to pull one of you out of line for questioning—
You can decide which one

Like my three-year old niece
Didn’t under­stand when I told her
Your mom is Indi­an and
Your dad is Sri Lankan
So you’re both
Reply­ing that she was
Born in Minneapolis

I’m from this is America
From this is our home
From we have been here for decades
From we can’t go back now

I’m from still feel­ing like a foreigner
In cer­tain places in this coun­try where
I would blame myself for being there
If some­thing were to hap­pen to me

I’m from pol­i­tics being some­thing to
Dis­cuss at din­ner par­ties but keep
Behind learned vocab­u­lar­ies of
Amer­i­can assim­i­la­tion in public

Fifty years ago
Four black chil­dren in Alaba­ma were
Mur­dered at their church
Because they were proof of
What Amer­i­ca could be

One year ago
Six Sikh adults in Wis­con­sin were
Mur­dered at their gurdwara
Because they were proof of
What Amer­i­ca still is

A coun­try
Whose fin­ger­prints are
Caked with the blood of
Those it calls oth­er

As it claims to crown thy good
With brotherhood

Hood­ie
White hood
Yarmulke
Cow­boy hat
Do-rag
Base­ball cap
Turban
Habit
Headdress
Hijab

None of these things is
More Amer­i­can
Than the others
***********

Gowri K.
Poet and Lawyer

Gowri K. is a Sri Lankan Tamil Amer­i­can poet and lawyer. Her advo­ca­cy has addressed ani­mal wel­fare, the envi­ron­ment, and the rights of pris­on­ers and the crim­i­nal­ly accused. She has co-authored two peer-reviewed sci­en­tif­ic jour­nal arti­cles and her poet­ry has been pub­lished in Belt­way Poet­ry Quar­ter­ly, Bour­geon, and Lantern Review. Gowri was a mem­ber of the 2010 DC South­ern Fried Slam team and has per­formed at Lin­coln Cen­ter Out of Doors, the Kennedy Center’s Mil­len­ni­um Stage, and the Smith­son­ian Folk­life Fes­ti­val. She hosts open mics at Bus­boys and Poets and Bloom­Bars, where she serves as poet­ry coor­di­na­tor. Gowri is also the senior poet­ry edi­tor at Jag­gery: A DesiLit Arts and Lit­er­a­ture Jour­nal. She tweets on-the-spot haiku @gowricurry.