A Glass of “So Real” – a poem about diaspora and identity

As a person that is outwardly facing as someone from an Asian ancestry, but obviously mixed, I’ve encountered frequent questioning on my familial place of origin.

Born in Scarborough to Jamaican and Guyanese parents, I definitely get a couple odd looks as I do not look like the stereotypical West Indian. And that statement, “stereotypical West Indian”, has always led to an internal conflict; I know my history and who I am as someone from the Caribbean diaspora but yet the need to constantly validate myself to onlookers is very frustrating.

The Caribbean has had many peoples settle within the region, forcibly, coerced, or as an escape route. My personal history embodies all of these lineages but growing up I’ve had my story denounced by many from the Caribbean and larger Canadian communities. This poem is my story.

The reason I named this poem ‘A Glass of “So Real”‘ is that many Caribbean countries drink a medicinal concoction derived mostly of steeped hibiscus called sorrel. Sorrel is a deep red colour which stains most things if spilled. To me this embodies our unity as Caribbeans and the blood that ties us together.

Though we may look different, this narrative is what joins us in solidarity.

Featured in Page to Stage by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver.


It was written that the first people were pureblooded
And eventually it was written in pure blood
You see, the lust for a new exotic type
Trickled down their lips
Thrusted from the arms of mothers and fathers
Taking jaws, fingers, and hearts
Lives
Lives lost forever, even if there was still a 3/4 beat

Flattened voices, still pounding like a drum
Still pounding full of tradition even if masked by gospel song
Mixed children taught to be indoors, where the pretty ones stay

And mastah say,
“He looks well learned”
“She looks fair, no burns”

And you wonder why we have a racial complex?
And I wonder why they’re still called red
And you wonder why we hate those that share the same blood but without physical trait?
We value but hate the blood taint

A history that wasn’t written but tattoo’d
Seared into our eyelids like we’re staring into an eclipse
Well ain’t that some shit?
We hate each other for the same reason they hate(d) us

And that’s why I fought with my own understanding

With my slanted eyelids, high nose, hairy ass legs,
Kinda brown(ish) skin… I don’t really know
I mean, I’ve dug hard to understand my whole lineage
But I know I don’t look Scottish
I don’t look Lebanese
I don’t look African
I don’t look Chinese.
I look Jamaican.

Nah. You don’t look Jamaican.

I could tell you all about the transatlantic slave trade, riding the tradewinds all throughout the Greater Antilles.
I could tell you about the Maroons and how they escaped the plantations to settle with the remaining indigenous.
I could tell you about the Scottish that wanted to be seen as fair, and came to get a piece of theirs.
I could tell you about the Lebanese that came to JA as a safe haven.
Or maybe it’s the indentured servitude of the Chinese.

Nah. You don’t look Jamaican.

Vexed at this type of test, I get thrusted into
Like my story is buried so far deep, some refuse to see it
Though all they need to do is focus.
That’s what it is, I know it’s there and this story has to be told
Whether you like it or not, it can’t be erased.
Lost no more but found forever.

I am a Jamaican, and this history is our connecting shackle.
And in these chains, we can set ourselves free.

Pass me a glass of “So Real”.


Art work:

Phuong Nguyen is an artist and art therapist that currently practices in Toronto, Canada. She is primarily a painter and has completed her Bachelor of Fine Art at OCAD U in 2014.

Nguyen is interested in people and the complexities and simplicities that come with being human.  Working with mostly representational subject matter, she aims to evoke emotion, nostalgia, connection, and empathy.  She has shown work in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.

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