A history founded on goodbyes

Note: This is an excerpt actually, from a speech I gave at an API Student Commencement Dinner at graduation – I had always had fantasies of speaking during graduation weekend so it was a real thrill – the content is important to me so I thought it was worth putting here.

Second Note: This prequel-my-post-with-a-note thing is not going to become a habit.

~*~

I think one of the hardest things about graduating is saying goodbye to the people we have grown to care about over the last few years. Being at a college like this has not been the easiest experience. It’s been difficult for some of us to get through four years of college. Being here has sometimes meant feeling lonely or disappointed or angry or scared or unsafe. But being here has also meant meeting some of the brightest and most competent and loving people ever…

Community need not be completely unified – it need not be made up of people who have the same shared experiences. It is made of voices that must learn to speak and listen to one another, and negotiate with one another. Participating in and working in and being in a community is a process – and it’s ok that our community here in this room has sometimes felt fragmented and disunified. It’s really ok – we all learned from each other and we found support with individuals here. I feel very lucky to have found the people here in this room when I did because these people helped me feel less scared, and less alone and less angry and less disappointed. These people helped me find a voice to speak clearly and articulately in spaces where I was afraid to speak. These people asked me to think about how best to serve my community, how best to live a liveable life, how best to take care of myself while also taking care of others. The people in this room are leaders. They helped make a difference here. They will continue to make a difference wherever they go. I’m so proud of the people here, of the students here. Given all of this, I will reiterate – saying goodbye is difficult.

But this is what I realized in the last few weeks – I’m ashamed to admit how late in my college years I truly came to understand this. I come from a history built on goodbyes – goodbyes that were much much more difficult than the ones I will have to say in the next two days. Let me expand on this a little.

In 1947, my grandmother, her siblings and her mother said goodbye to their home in what is now Pakistan. Her father would remain there to tie up loose ends while his family went on to start a new life in India. They did not know how he was doing for three years. It is called partition for a reason – it tore communities away from their homes and separated families from one another, sometimes for years and sometimes forever. I can still see the trauma in my grandmother’s eyes when she discusses this time in her life. I cannot imagine what it must have been for her to say goodbye to the people she loved, to the home she grew up in. I cannot imagine what it was like for her to say goodbye to her parents and move with her new husband to a new city, when she was only 21. How does one recover from these kinds of goodbyes?

My parents immigrated to the United States in 1982. My father and mother said goodbye to their families and arrived in a new place halfway around the world, with what they had. They did it, I think, for a life that would be better than the one they had left behind. They did it so they could live a life that wasn’t their parents’ lives. To do this meant saying goodbye to family and friends – it meant being separated from an entire history, it meant giving up a homeland, one that would never seem the same once they had left. What was it like to feel this kind of isolation? To feel so overwhelmed by homesickness at a time where one could not simply email or call regularly.

The point of my recollecting familial history is this: for most of us, myself included, we come from immigrant histories that our founded on goodbyes. We, or our parents or a parent or grandparents or great grandparents or great-great-grandparents left homes and families –risked heartbreak and homesickness so that we could eventually be here. That’s really astounding. That’s really something we need to consider when we leave college because it is a testament to the kind of love that exists amidst fear and anger and pain. I really believe that we have to stay committed to remembering and writing our own histories, of uncovering our own pasts, because there are many many people in the world that have tried to take this opportunity away from us. It’s important to realize that it isn’t just about making a difference through our work and our decisions on a political level, it isn’t just about looking towards the future, it is about remembering the people we’ve said goodbye to in order to create new opportunities for other people’s lives. The goodbyes we say today will give way to a better life for ourselves, and hopefully for our families, present and future.

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