Page 4A - Monday, September 8, 2014
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Page 4A - Monday, September 8, 2014 The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom
Edited and managed by students at
the University of Michigan since 1890.
420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
PETER SHAHIN and DANIEL WANG KATIE BURKE
EDITOR IN CHIEF EDITORIAL PAGE EDITORS MANAGING EDITOR
Unsigned editorials reflect the official position of the Daily's editorial board.
All other signed articles and illustrations represent solely the views of their authors.
AKSHAY SETH I
My mother's language
at or be
The Big Apple in Tree City
k a trip to New York City recently homelessness in East Harlem - a neighborhood
visit a friend who lives in the with an unemployment rate of 52 percent, with
edominately African-American and 32 percent of the residents living at or below the
zic neighborhood of poverty level -by building new, more affordable
ast Brooklyn known public housing projects. Despite this, rent prices
Iushwick. Though along the border of East Harlem and the Upper
ing the relatively East Side have continued to skyrocket. A three
t hipster-mecca of bedroom apartment on the south end of East
msburg directly to Harlem was recently listed at $9,195 a month.
st, about 32 percent Patricia had long since moved out of Man-
hwick's residents live hattanto Queens by the time I had spoken with
low the poverty line, AUSTIN her. But because of rent inflation and increas-
ing to a community DAVIS ing property taxes, Patricia had to abandon her
t profile in 2007. home in Queens as well, effectively becom-
king around ing homeless. She is currently sleeping on the
ick, I began to notice several hipster- couch of relatives in an East Harlem apartment.
pop-up businesses in the area attempting I returned to Ann Arbor a few days after
pete with the neighborhood's discount speaking with Patricia to find an eerily similar
Though nothing too impressive - scene occurring at a startling rate in Ann Arbor.
me run-of-the-mill student bars and High-rise student apartment complexes
ants filled with chain-smoking college- such as Varsity, Zaragon Place, Zaragon West
ids - these establishments appeared to and Sterling 411 Lofts cater to wealthier, out-
ving. My friend scowled as we walked of-state students who are willing to pay outra-
ne such bar. He attributed its success geous amounts to live near campus. This forces
upper-middle class clientele of young, students without means outward into the resi-
-something gentrifiers. dential Ann Arbor neighborhoods surrounding
trification: it's become the dirty campus and downtown, putting a strain on the
ord being thrown around in major cities non-student residents of the city, whose rent
oss the country. Wealthy young people prices have been inflated to compete with pric-
:o impoverished neighborhoods and set ey student accommodations.
p. They found new establishments and The result is a paradox in Ann Arbor
igh-rise housing developments, often in reminiscent of what is occurring in New York.
mpt to better the area. Most of the time Ann Arbor, a city that once had a manufacturing
attempts have adverse effects. While economy and diverse population, now has an
ing new, wealthier demographics to the overwhelmingly white population, with 70.8
hese establishments drive up rent prices, percent wielding a college degree. Despite
tely forcing the neighborhood's original this, 21.9 percent live in poverty, and chronic
tions to the undesired outskirts of the homelessness in the area increased by 12.5
in some cases, to the streets. percent between 2011 and 2013.
York serves as an example of the The gentrification process of New York is
s. According to Patricia - a 65 year-old rapidly staking off the city for wealthy elites.
ute with whom I had lunch at a small Within the much smaller boundaries of Ann
ant in the heart of East Harlem - Blacks Arbor, however, the process is happening even
ispanics have been pushed to the outer faster. Expensive housing developments meant
hs for years as a result of gentrification to better the city are paradoxically harming it
hattan. by creating an inaccessible housing market.
Upper East Side, for example - a Without rent control and more affordable
ninately white Manhattan neighborhood student housing developments, Ann Arbor
spans from the eastern boarder of Central will soon become an elitist college town,
o the East River - has in recent years inhospitable to those without means who seek
ingly encroached upon its traditionally higher education and upward mobility.
Inspired by Cameron Esposito's
"Home alone: Lost inyour work"
"The senses, moving toward their
appropriate objects, are producers
of heat and cold, pleasure and pain,
which come and go and are brief and
changeable; these do thou endure, O
traveller. Take heed. Match eyes with
darkness. Because only time will march
by thy side, guiding thee unto an endless
unknown." - Bhagavad Gita: chapter
The last thingyou remember is the
way your index finger clings to the
pages. Fixed eyes dart from left to
right as silent lips trace the outlines
of your mother's language. You're
spread-eagle on your grandparents'
bed. You can smell sticks of incense
sizzling into embers on a side table.
You hear younger cousins gaspingto
climb trees in the summer heat. But
the best part of you knows you're
nowhere near. You're in the air.
Arjuna's chariot smolders. The
horses stampede, their manes
rippling in the feral, blood-choked
stench of carnage. Metal grating,
sparking against the tides of battle.
The hooves' deathly cadence
drumming in your ears.
A water-propelled cooler throws
cold air across your face. The
breeze caresses still limbs as your
grandfather enters the room. He
asks what's in your hands and when
you show him, you can't help but
notice a distinct pride lighten the
time-worn creases on his face. He
asks where you found it. You point
with enthusiasm at his cupboard.
When he sees you answer, he can't
help but notice a distinct fire liven
the curiosity in your eyes.
He teaches you the meaning of
knowledge. He teaches you the
meaning of hard work. He tells you
why it separates the weak from the
strong. He tells you his story.
So you keep reading. You read
about things you never even knew
existed. You read about things
that still don't exist. You see the
power that breathes through good
storytelling. You question why
certain devices leave you writhing
in anticipation while others dust you
with morsels of confusion. Slowly,
of a flawed character. Ypu learn
about conflict. Your eyes search with
more confidence. Somewhere, that
moment where you read your first
curse word is still preserved, where
you can still hear your gasp turning
into a sigh, and then laughter. You
wonder where the stories come
from, about the people who wring
them from life and tame them onto a
page.You wonder if you can see them
in their work. You wonder if you will
ever truly understand what they're
whispering, let alone be one of them.
Time passes. You move away. Your
parents tell you it's for your own
good. You see your grandparents once
every two years. You miss how the
sticks of incense smelled. Nothing
looks the same. People don't look the
same. V-necks. Sweater vests. Leather
boots. Mustard stains. People speak
in strange accents. They make fun of
yours, the way you pronounce your T's
and R's, the way you say "ve" instead
of "we." No one knows your mother's
language. You only hear it at home,
but the best part of you can grasp
some semblance of beauty in the way
it lilts through the walls, shielding
you from this strange new world of
grocery stores and white people. Your
accent changes. You're thankful it
does. There's a pang of regret because
you're thankful. Eventually, suddenly,
you stop hearing your mother's
language altogether. Months pass
by before you notice any signs of its
disappearance. You wonder if this is
what growing up feels like.
You finally meet people who look
like you.You try talking to them in her
tongue, but they stare at you politely,
embarrassed for you, and explain how
they were born here. You understand
why they feel embarrassed for
you. You sense anger coursing in
you. When they notice stereotypes
surrounding them, again they say
"we were born here and have never
even had a chance to visit there." They
reiterate why, on the inside, this makes
them as American asblonde hair, blue
eyes and white skin. So what does
that make me? They celebrate your
culture, but the worst part of you says
they're pretending. You want to tell
them this, but never do.
Time passes. You go back home -
your real home. You hug your grand-
parents longer than they're used to.
You swipe sugary blobs of milk cake
from the pahtry. Your fingers toddle
along brick walls. On the roof, your
aunt unfurls a tartan blanket. She
presses out chili peppers, to be seared
dry under the sun's glaring heat. In
your cousins' stares, you catch snubby
ruptures of hesitation. You try scrib-
bling into speech all the ways you've
changed.You fumble. Knees buckle as
gagging mouthfuls of acrid self-doubt
stalks down the back of yourthroat.
You don't use your American
accent when you talk to them in
English. Air collapses inside your
neck in the moments before you catch
yourself swerving between dialects.
.There's a brief shock accompanying
the realization that you can switch.
You switch. You're ashamed of this.
Your tongue dries. Your lips purse.
You swallow, the way you would if
nervous saliva perched in the fleshy
partsof your cheeks.You switch back.
You pick up your favorite book,
the one your grandfather so gently
put in your hands all those summers
ago.You see dancing, mocking letters.
The writing that once let you scale
faraway realms now escapes you. The
wordsstill dripthroughthe corners of
your mouth but on the page, they're
blurred, alien, distant. You knock. No
one answers. You keep knocking. You
panic. You pound harder. That's what
your grandfather taught you. You feel
an entire world drifting away, and the
worst part ofyou lets it.
The table is set. It always is. The
chairspushed in.Your grandmother is
sitting on the ground, her back against
the doorway, her legs swept out on
the kitchen floor, hands plunged in a
goopy mess of coconut powder, brown
sugar and khoa. You watch in silence
as she moldsathe batter, parceling each
sticky little goop into its own little
envelope of bread. Deft fingers seal
the envelopes before tossing them in
a hissing fryer. They beckon to you,
pass you a cake. Oil still bubbles on its
surface. They brush flour across the
spine of your favorite book.
When she offers to give you
lessons, you say "yes." You sit across
the table from her, shins wobble in
anticipatipnShe watches you say the
letters out loud. EIIIIII. AHHHHH.
EEEEE. She laughs when you fuck it
up. Smiles when you don't. In time,
you learn how to scribble "MY NAME
IS AKSHAY SETH" in massive block
letters. That dinner table/makeshift
classroom is where she speaks with
whatyou are, notcwhat you usedto be.
Where you speak with her.
But then you have to leave. You
have to go back home.
You're at college. One of your
co-workers is really convinced he's
a great guy. The starchy collar on his
button-up shirt bobs up and down,
nodding enthusiastically with his
head, a gleeful leer carved across it.
He wonders out loud if you can still
speak your mother's language. You
don't make eye contact. You press
your forehead on the window. Look
at moisturized shadows condense as
"Yeah isn't it crazy how I still
remember the words Isaid over and
over again for seven years? And then
14 after that."
He tells you he's impressed. But
isn't convinced. He asks you to say a
sentence in her tongue. The collar's
still bobbing. He wants to give you a
high-five and chuckle at the novelty
of hearing something alien. You want
to punch him in the face but you
smile wide and reply "Akshay Seth
thinks you should go fuck yourself,
you condescending little shit" in your
mother's language. You tell him it
means "my name is Akshay Seth and
I am an engineering major."
As time passes, it becomes
harder to switch between the two
languages. Sometimes you catch
yourself speaking with those accents
or pronunciations so often used to
pigeonhole your culture. Because
screwing up just one term, no matter
how little it may be - "golf," "won,"
Thai," "salmon" - means you're
"faking." That you're not really from
-here. It means the smirking fuckface
always there to correct you. It means
having to laugh along awkwardly.
The hot blood exploding on your face
in patches of delicate shame.
Other times, you catch yourself
saying your mother's words without
the inflections that once lived,
breathed between your lips. You
think about that wall you hit when
you're angry or emotional, unable to
articulate anything going through
your mind because it's playingtug-of-
war with two languages. How you're
left sitting there, smothering this
belabored stammering, retraining
it with silence until you glimpse
those brief glimmers - glimmers of
your mother smiling, knowing. The
understanding in her eyes.
You never tell her how much that
So you speak in English. You read
in English. You write in English. You
words. You make your own stories
and sometimes, when you're feeling
brave, you want to place them, gently,
in front of your grandfather's eyes.
You never do. Then it's too late. You
don't understand why the tears never
come when you tease out memories
of that afternoon with him years ago.
When you do cry, it's done in private
this is what growingup feels like.
For brief moments, you find
yourself thinking aboutwhat it would
be like if you went back and never
left. It's a romantic idea. Like the chai
wallahs. The coolies hauling luggage
across sunbathed railwayastations.
Like that time your grandfather
took you to a leatherworker's street
stall. You remember the tiny space,
the beaten walls. The watch straps
and tattered purses and old belts he
liked to collect. While you waded in
the strangeness, he chuckled at the
clunky confusion seeping through
your eyes, down your cheeks, in a
pool thickening on the dust-layered
floors. He examined youintensely and
unblinking. He didn't say anything
wise before going back to sniffingthe
damaged cellphone case in his hand.
You remember your grandfather, as
if in response, motioning, nodding
silently in acknowledgment,
admitting "he does know everything
about leather." You remember how
you believed him.
You know that venturing back into
this world would mean never being
accepted as part of it. You'll always be
seen as that outsider who ask what
will always be the deserter, the family
that never came back. You exist in a
state of halves, and slowly, you come
to the realization that this means no
one will ever truly claim you.
When your uncles ask if you like
your new home better than India, you
always indicate America, but deep
down you're still half unsure, as if
maybe' there's some deeper meaning
in the question - thrust in your
hands so often - still escaping you.
Eventually, finally, you say "I don't
think I'm the same person who left."
You never repeatthose words again.
You decide to stop letting your
background define you. You decide
that if you try hard enough, you'll
get past all the rage, all the blam-
ing so many of your people think is
the answer to inequality. You realize
why peace escapes those who defend
themselves by directing generaliza-
tions in the other direction, those who
infect serious discussion by hiding
behind phrases like "[color] people
are ..." In more ways than not, you're
still one of them. You try hard not to
be.Yousee why harmony doesn'tmat-
ter whenyou're baskinginvats of con-
gealed self-regard. Only its pursuit.
You see the ways understanding
can caress rigidity into change. Why
hatred stifles it. So you help them
understand. You don't pander. You
don't condescend. You tell them
your 'story. Plaster it in front of
curious, dilated pupils. Dust off its
cracks. Highlight the flaws. Scorch
them with humanity.
And then you place your index
finger on the page. It clings to your
mother's language, whispering silent
flight into still wings.
You soar. You brush along clouds of
a distant sky, feel sheets of moisture
trickle toward mumbling lips. As
your eyes drift low, regret wraps you
in its stiffening embrace, but in that
pain you feel the gusts, the winds of
strength carrying you forth.
You accept that this is what
Akshay Seth is an
g-class neighbor to the north, East
. The New York Housing Authority
empted to combat growing poverty and
- Austin Davis can be reached
Engaging in the world
After the 2012 presidential election,
Politico published an article citing
Tufts University studythat found Mitt
Romney may have gotten
away with his plans to call
the White House "home"
were it not for those
Nationally, 67 percent of
young voters cast ballots in
favor of President Barack
Obama in 2012, while Rom-
ney secured only 30 percent. TYLER
According to the report, SCOTT
Obama won at least 61 per-
cent of the youth vote in
the so-called "swing states" of Florida, Vir-
ginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Thanks to the
intricacies of the Electoral College, had Rom-
ney been able to earn a split decision among
young voters he would have nabbed those
states - and the presidency - from Obama.
The next presidential election is still two
years away, but the truth about the young-
est voting bloc's newfound significance is an
important lesson to learn. At a young age, the
millennial generation has cemented itself as
an active and concerned demographic, whose
numbers in 2012 continued the trend of increas-
ing young voter participation since 2004.
The importance of our own political
consciousness doesn't lie where we choose to
pin ourselves - individually or collectively -
on the political map. We're at the dawn of the
defining day of our generational adulthood,
where the actions taken by and on the behalf
of millennials could result in changes to laws,
policy and culture in the short term, with
limitless future potential.
This generation is far from the first group
of people to call for equal rights and social
justice. For decades, members and advocates of
the LGBTQ community have been fighting for
their own civil liberties, the same can be said
for feminists, and not long ago the legalization
of marijuana was a far-fetched pipe dream of
those furthest left. This is the work of previous
generations, ideals that are - now gaining
unprecedented progress. Progress that is, at
least partially, due to sweeping support from
us - the youths.
As a demographic, millennials are wholly
buying into the notion of our own ability to
influence society. With the issues mentioned
above, we have already made an impact. Yet
other problems persist, like the uncomfortable
reality of being institutionally pigeonholed into
gambling our futures on the present by taking
on massive debt for an education in hopes to
achieve relevance, security and livelihood in a
changing economy. We are still young enough
to have not had the time to earn the revenue,
nor forge the relationships, to control our own
future. Yet, our needs are real.
Ultimately, if millennials continue to hold
stock in the idea that we all have political
significance regardless of resources it may
become truer. Because with pockets thin or
thick, one vote is still avote, and for any aspiring
politician, a collective body of youngsters that
consistently show up at the polls could present
the possibility of a heck of a lot of votes for
Of course, it all hinges on whether young
America continues to reach higher levels
of social and political fusion not just on the
biggest stages of presidential elections, but all
Every election in every town is a chance for
more millennials to cast ballots and to become
a bigger percentage of America's voting public,
as we did in 2012. That will only lead to more
time being spent figuring out what causes us
to vote. For example, if more students head to
the polls, maybe Ann Arbor will end up electing
a mayor with a more favorable view towards
Not to say it will not result in an overnight
redirection of political sympathies in the Unit-
ed States - it won't. Butthe time to define what
a generation means to society is a very narrow
windowthat just happens to be open now.
It's not that millennials own some special
ability. It is important to be sure the chance to
make a difference isn't squandered.
Referring his own generation, author
Stephen King wrote, "We had a chance to
change the world, and opted for the home
shopping network instead."
Millennials have that same chance. Take note
from those that did grasp at the opportunity for
change and left a lasting impact on the world.
Regardless of the cause, if enough energy is
put forward, there will be an effect. Become
engaged and change the world.
- Tyler Scott can be reached
EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBERS
David Harris, Rachel John, Nivedita Karki, Jordyn Kay,
Aarica Marsh, Megan McDonald, Victoria Noble, Melissa Scholke,
Michael Schramm, Matthew Seligman, Paul Sherman, Allison Raeck,
Linh Vu, Meher Walia, Mary Kate Winn, Daniel Wang, Derek Wolfe