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

White hood
Cow­boy hat
Base­ball cap

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.