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 convolution and internal conflict; I knew my history and who I was as someone from the Caribbean diaspora but yet the need to constantly validate myself to onlookers was 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 has 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.

short escape: a poem

Hardy Lake Provincial Park – Gravenhurst, ON

Have you ever had a moment?
A moment where you close your eyes
And all things come to fruition
When that blink becomes eternal
And everything can come true
Someone in this dream says, “Stop dreaming”
Open your eyes and make it happen

Head Dawn – a poem

How to Listen with Night Vision
If I wake up and the sun disappeared, is it morning?/
If the blinds refuse to open, I still refuse to be blind/
If the gun doesn’t pop, I will continue to run and not be left behind/
I am different than a mile ago, hell I am different from 2 steps ago/
I am an enigma with my identity changing which ever way I go/
I may not always know the path and the map may be scrunched up/
But no matter where I go, it always seems to be my damn luck/
Where I find my way and lose it, find love and amuse it, find drugs and abuse it, find a bomb with the fuse lit/
I was ready to die. I was ready to live/
Ready to dive. Ready to give/
If the deep end is empty and you jump head first, and you arrive dead first, but I gotta stay a G so they pull up the red Hearse/
Well what’s worse?/
Parent’s tears’ burst. My boys dying of thirst. My woman not caring what’s in her damn purse/
Cuz the love is now gone but not from love lost, but from love removed/
Love vanished not consumed…/
These choices, this confusion/
These voices, this illusion/
My choice is…/
My voice is…/
Neither confused or an illusion/
To not know, is meant for inward abusing/
Which hurts them all from outward pursuing/
If I lost my diamond, there’s another one in the rough/
This one’s bigger, stronger, harder and been through enough/
Fortified through pressure and polished to the perfect buff/
To glimmer is nice, but the lustre will go/
The structure will stay regardless of the road/
My next revolution is one-up and better/
Never heated even in a thousand degree weather/
As I remind myself this, I burnt this letter/