Category Archives: Inside the Migrant’s Mind – Poetry and Love

Empty Tinfoil and Tenfold Erasure – A Poem

The streets have changed we last said hi. We didn’t even have a chance to say bye.

Abandoned blocks bursting with a newfound energy that most call a problem and sometimes even call the police on.

Usually I join in with the beats of the outdoor dance parties, today’s fog, however has created an unusual sense of serenity and solemnity.

His empty tinfoil sits in left hand, red and crevassed with pain and too much labour. Unappreciated labour. Unappreciated and erased history. You weren’t his saviour.

His right hand, acting as the delivery man – delivering this man into a deep sleep but one knocking on death’s door on the daily. He does not fear death for the concrete floor feels warmer and softer either way.

Rest easy for a minute, brother. You need to rest up for the struggle.

But where is rest (what is rest?). A block away another Black man is face down on the ground. Again. Surrounded by uniforms. His screams, I still can hear those screams, falling on deaf ears today made less audible by the protective person equipment worn over their two white masks. One masking their history of brutality, today all  masking their ability to speak in their usual codes and condescension. Who needs the extra protection today?

He screams, high-pitched screams, because he is again down, again down. They formed a barrier around him, shielding the view of passersby folk – pretty much everybody is passing by. Three cop cars, two ambulances, ready to strap him into the gurney today, maybe the grave tomorrow.

The grave offenses of this society, the grave pain of those suffering. I stand between two struggles, stuck wondering whether my lack of Naloxone training and lax notions of proper witnessing make me just another culprit, another player, another tool of their society.

They paid me this month. They probably paid you double. They paid me to keep me away from troubles. Paid me to keep going through this life with a stumble, a mumble, fumbling to position myself properly at the intersection, the crossroads.

Between the man with the empty tinfoil and the tenfold erasure of the Black man being held down by an institution too often not held accountable to past and present wrongs.

I saw you. I shouldn’t have turned and walked away without saying hi. Or bye.

“Too Often Silent and Therefore Complicit” – A Poem on Anti-Blackness

Dear M:

I still call you my first Black friend. But having a Black friend ain’t never enough but an excuse to divert from the reality of anti-Blackness in my own life.

I can’t just give you daps while denying the fact that:

  • When I was a kid, I never pushed back against those who told me not to hang out with you or that your background would be a negative influence on me – based only on human bias and a lack of understanding;
  • When I was in high school,  took your music and turned it into my hobby, without initial acknowledgment of the music’s roots in the struggle;
  • When I was in college, I tried to tune out but said nothing when a friend of mine, also darker skinned but with light-skin passing privilege within his community, thought it appropriate to drop the words that has caused generations of pain – making it a point to sing out the word in every song we played cards;
  • To this day, I often stand idly by continuing to watch television shows where you are expropriated for comedic purposes or to illustrate flaws, wrongdoing, crime as if who you were did not matter. Characters in Blackface and constantly stating “I don’t want to be Black, I don’t want my skin to be Black.”
  • In my work, when I operate so blatantly in a system of Anti-Black racism that barred you from coming to Canada, and is still systemically ensuring you are kept outside of our borders and our detention facilities. Trying to always play saviour;
  • In my community, when I come into your circle as an other and speak as though my experiences trump yours, and it is my place to share my academic knowledge of our condition to demonstrate I should have a seat at the table – it’s not making a difference to the seat that you don’t have;
  • When I have privilege and voice and see Black sisters in the game, but I spend my time seeking approval from the white man and forgetting your existence;
  • When I can speak out, but when elders and loved ones in my community who do not know better nor and who I have not taken time to educate, demean your history and existence, and I say nothing. Once someone said your community should only have an alley and I just swallowed my disagreement. That’s not what allies do.
  • That I have benefitted from writing about Race and bringing a critical lens into my work, while Black sisters are doing the unpaid emotional labour, and both Black sisters and brothers are dying just on the basis of existing.
  • That I am often too-silent in the face of authority and whiteness.

I’m too often silent and therefore complicit.

My words and performative work mean nothing if I do not acknowledge past shortcomings and change them. Stumbling and all.

I cannot absolve my own responsiblities simply through #hashtags and rallies, quotes from Black scholars unreflected in my own very (in)actions.

I need to change my very approach, my brother, and I ask for your forgiveness as I find my way to better support your liberation.

Written in honour of the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet and in acknowledgment of the anti-Blackness in my life and the outer and inner work I need to do.

Dear Anxiety – A Letter

Dear Anxiety:

I have a hearing in less than two hours. I am writing you to spill my heart and in hopes that I put you to a resting space in the very back of my head. You have occupied a place at the very front for too long. The only reason I have not talked about you is that this profession that I am doing and that I work in doesn’t embrace you, silences you, works through you. I have worked through you for five years now and done well. Why expose you? Well – because I see you in so many others. We’ve been in this together for too long, but talked too little.

By long, I mean probably since I was born. I would not have known it then. No tell tale signs other than a father who was an overworrier but that’s what good fathers do. He probably had anxiety too but never told me and we will never be able to discuss it anymore.

I probably noticed you first when I was in those math for exceptional students realizing how unexceptional I was. Struggling to solve problems, with the tutor and the rest of the class near finished. Heart racing, sweaty, stumbling and mumbling my way through being asked to explain my reasoning.

I noticed you again with piano. I had dreams one day of being a great pianist but one day (and wasn’t half bad), as I was heading to the last grade of my studies, my teacher told my father – he’s got skill, but he’s got an issue handling pressure. Perhaps that comment (or pressure) led me to quit. Escape always on the mind.

I noticed you in high school. Every time I was to recite a poem or perform Shakespeare in front of an audience, you would kick in. Stage fright. Lines, what is the next line. I thought about all the classmates judging me for my failures, my less than stellar grades (a result of exam anxiety) also leading my parents to judge me. Trapped. 

I remember in University, when I was to deliver an important part of a Fraternity ritual, I choked. I forgot my lines, in the darkness, my brothers in the room. I noticed you too when I was taking my driving test (one that took a few times to pass) I would sweat for days on in. In the back of my mind, this hearing, this case.  I avoided you. I took on paper-based classes, courses that allowed me to organize things and work with my hands, because I knew if there was an exam or some sort of ‘test’ I would be hooped. The power of prediction let me somehow pass and move forward.

You kicked in with the LSAT. I have not told people this but the reasons I had to take the exam three times and still only scored a 66th percentile is you were always holding me down. I cancelled my result the first exam. The second time, I left half-way through after a panic attack mid-way through where I ended up mis-aligning my scantron. I remember googling a career in the military that evening, giving up. I am grateful that I never did.

And law school – I put my hands up only a handful of times because of you. My swallowed saliva still hurting from the things I have never said. I almost failed a PLTC assignment because I stuttered introducing my name and lost track of what I was saying while saying it. It’s like an out of body experience I cannot explain.

Everytime I present I have to hold a piece a paper, or some notes, because without the blanket I feel like I’m without a cable suspending me, a seat belt holding me in place. When I speak, I often go too fast, mind whizzing faster than the words can catch up. With the words I have I could be an amazing orator, but the pressure usually failst he performance.

I remember you this morning, telling me again that today’s another big day. Lives are at stake. Don’t fail.

Whatever I do as a parent, in this next life, I will present failure in a different light than I was taught. Failure is beauty waiting to happen. Success’s first step.

It was not easy to put this on paper. I am more public than most about my life because I read each of the emails and messages I get from readers finding a piece of what I am experiencing in what they do. I do overpost accomplishments likely to veil the moments in between where I feel in constant flux.

For example, I have been trying to write and start a novel for a year, but the fear of investing time into something I do not feel accomplished enough to write, holds me back. Reading the work of others and admiring their brilliance has been my coping mechanism. Coping is everything.

You are also a beautiful feeling because you open doors to empathy. I see you in the clients I advise, who struggle with anxiety due to their pending hearings, their lives at the whim of Government decision-makers, the effects of separation. It takes one to no one.

Yes – maybe I have let my guard down. Maybe some future client, employer, political, or judicial hiring committee looks at this tomorrow or twenty years from now and goes – I don’t want to take on the risk and imperfection.

Today I declare my imperfect self. Behind all of that perceived success, happy clients, speeches, and talks there is an anxious kid. The same anxious kid that has occupied this body for 31 years.

He will never be calm. His anxiousness leads to amazing spurts of creativity and brilliance. But he suffers every day for it too.

I accept you.

WT

 

Corona’s Down Time Made Me Realize…..

On the surface level, you see accomplishments/accolades/doing things I wasn’t supposed to do at my age, and frankly undeserved privileges in many circumstances.

Below the surface, you have unresolved traumas from personal loss, memory issues/shattered glass, a reforming people pleaser, lifelong conflict avoidance, a rebel often forgetting his cause, the effects of past experiences of racism/feelings of inadequacy, lifelong anxiety, and seasonal depression.

Need to make time for a lot of inner work moving forward.

The volume of my work and the depth of my community engagement may have to take a tentative backseat. I was using both as a shield and armour from having to do my own work on myself.

It’s hard to contemplate billing/making when life’s demands on income have correspondingly increased but I need to think on the longevity of the life I want to live and the things I want to accomplish.

It’s hard to put pen to paper, make dreams out of reality when you haven’t truly figured out who you are yet and what you carried with you to this point. I’m doing a much needed inventory check.

Asking kindly for patience while I navigate through learning myself better and preparing for my future roles in life – the most important of which is yet to come. <3

 

The Conversations For Us and the Conversations Between Us

We’re in a world stuck between two conversations.

One conversation is for us. The other is between us.

In one you are telling us what we should do, how we should act, setting the lines between acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, targets and our KPIs.

We’re always performing for you.

Always telling us we’re close to violating your rules. For violation is your key to power (enforcement) and it is only through drawing those lines are you able to keep us boxed, locked, and trapped. You need your head held high, foot stamped down on our already beaten down bodies to feel good about yourselves.

The other conversation is the ones we are having. Conversations about escaping the box you built, cutting open holes to break through, to see some ‘light’, questions about our collective condition but also, to your dismay, also about hope and prosperity beyond profitability. That all those languages and phrases you told us to stop speaking, food to stop eating, dreams to stop dreaming are actually the keys to escaping the prison you built for us, bars forming in our minds every time we do the simple task of living.

You don’t hear these conversations in full from the outside. You try and get bits and pieces and utilize what you think you know to serve your aims but I hate to break it to you.

Your messenger, agents, pawns, rooks, spies, and related people will always be outside of our conversation because you keep our people outside of yours. Your conversations are also the louder ones on big, broad stages, about institutions and where we direct funds, while we chat through hush silences, quiet daps, nods, and no hand(less) gestures on the way to cash our meagre checks at the bank. There may be a conditioned hesitation, hunched backs, broken eye contact – but our souls are still strong and our hearts even stronger than ever. You won’t destroy those.

Difference between our conversations is one of external power – the ‘I’m better than you and can enforce the rules, type of power. ‘Our conversations are about resistance, the we may be disempowered and excluded from your high tables and private consultations, but we still have each other to eat with, consult with, dance with – and believe in.

We may not have fancy plates and utensils but we have our hands and our spices. We’ll get ’em dirty too, rearranging and challenging the ‘man-power‘ of your societies by putting the ‘a’ at the front, while remembering the ‘X’ at the back. Take a minute to think about that one.

Your conversations ultimately comes down to individuals, ours is about the collective. We may be pawns, you may have have your rooks lined up ready but we have numbers and we’ll take our little steps as they come and eventually bring back our Kings and Queens, those dreams I alluded to earlier. The ones I stand with when I am surrounded by Queens in the packed malls of Flushing or Kings in the streets of Harlem.

You will realize you are the rooks of collectivity, of connectivity. You may have technology and laws, that you put in place to maintain the system but we have the root source – our minds – that will rethink your laws, build on your technology, and bring the world together in harmony while doing so.

We realize what you have done by telling us it’s not a black and white game of chess, constantly trying to argue the beige future before us is inevitable, so for the time being you need the reigns – for you are the light (right…).

Well – no – we are the light. We are the descendants of African Queen and the Mughal Kings. We don’t accept your dreams for our future. We aren’t prepared to wait future generations to make this happen.

Give us back what is ours. Either you invite us to our conversation or you be excluded from ours forever.

 

A Second to Breathe – A Poem

First: A Catch-Up

In lieu of doing something substantive at this stage (check out my Twitter for that) I want to do a bit of a remedy piece. These past two months due to the changes at the Firm and the influx of work, I have been writing submission letters, memorandums of arguments, presentation, and papers, instead of blogs. I hope that when I head to Cuba in a week I can catch up a bit on my blog writing and as well when I am travelling most of March for conferences. 

This year I will be presenting at:

  • AMSSA (online) – 14 February 2020 on pathways to permanent residence for migrant workers;
  • Keynoting the 40th Annual Chinese Legal Community Banquet – 12 March 2020 (tentative date);
  • Metropolis Conference – Winnipeg – 19 March 2020 – 21 March 2020;
  • Cornell University – 23 March 2020;
  • Canadian Bar Association – National Immigration Conference – 2 April – 4 April 2020; and
  • Ottawa Immigration Conference – 7 May 2020;

I start teaching in UBC’s CILPP program at the end of March and again in June, am rebranding/building an immigration-specific legal clinic at LSLAP (ongoing). 

Did I mention my full case load as well?

To junior lawyers out there (as I slowly step out of my first five-years): don’t do this. Say yes, but don’t say too many yesses. As my mentor and now Justice Edelmann always told me: “operate at 80% capacity, as you never know when you will need that extra 20%.”

With all that said – time to engage in a little poetic break in this piece titled “A Second to Breathe”

A Second to Breathe

I need a second to breathe

I see these face masks, wondering whether it’s real or fake tasks

Too many asks, but not enough answers

Caught myself slipping at McDonalds with my poor manners

Impatient all the time, like getting rid of click-bait banners

Caught between five stars, and the star-spangled banner

I understand her, she’s wanting to make a move

What am I doing caught up dancing to my own groove

It behooves reality that the handcuffs are being applied so liberally

But not literally, only when there’s too much non-white colour in the vicinity

I’m confused by these pipelines, right after we say yes to undrip

It’s like saying don’t drink and drive, and justifying your two sips

Half these cats around me preparing for their next job to quit

Too many people hustling around carrying other people’s sh*t

How do I preach it’s about liberty or all about justice

When in reality, it’s always just about us and just his

How do I tell these students, not to worry when it’s just a quiz

When these laws get rewritten faster than the answers of a math whiz

I no longer know what’s reasonable, seemingly achievable

What rule of law means, when most the people are not regal

When whistleblowers get ignored, but they listen to those sounding their own begals;

When we feel like society’s seagulls all trying to be eagles;

What’s the meaning of my role in this process, I ask you;

Are we just here peddling in lives,

Or are all we making honey, in this mutually shared hive.

I’m sick and tired of wallpaper but that’s what I’ve become;

They got me thinking so individualistic, I forgot I was someone’s son

I forgot there’s a sun, been too much rain these days;

There’s so many routes, we forgot about pathways;

Damn, I need a second to breathe. Actually maybe a minute.

Cause this world has got my head spinning all up in it.

Forgiveness.

 

I promise to blog soon. Once I get through this home stretch. In February. I hope all of those currently going through a rough time are able to get ample rest this weekend. With all that’s happening in this world, we all need a getaway. I hope you find your own little piece, wherever that may be.

PEACE.

 

 

A Glass of Green Tea – A Poetic Narrative

A glass of green tea is a beautiful thing.

Greatly unappreciated – subsumed by the old, mashed up, fermented teas sold in these overly bright-coloured commercial shops that line my city;

A city that often makes one lose their identities;

I miss the young shoots standing upward in thrice filtered water;

Elegantly dancing as if in a well-rehearsed synchronized swimming routine;

Tender, slightly bitter – the memories of those lost days;

I can’t remember the year, but the tea was of that same age;

Hand-picked by a distant relative, shared in limited supply in carefully curated tin cans;

Gifted to me as a I returned back as a stranger to the town that carried my ancestral name;

The warmth of the glass, the hot steam fogging my glasses, liquid burning the roof of my mouth;

I remembered being surrounded by those who were supposedly my family;

Those I only met that day, previously unseen and foreign to my existence;

What brings two people together or a group from across oceans?;

To this table of dishes even more plentiful than the seats surrounding it;

The taste of stinky tofu fried, with simultaneous stench and savour;

Pickled vegetables from the months of painful potted preparation;

The meat fry, a tradition, for this time of year now the basis of a dish stewed and steamed;

The fish a staple, a bottle of local brand beer accompanying the lighter fluid, rice wine;

All around me kids, babies, a community, our town, my family;

Communal tables, low stools, barely inches up off the ground;

Fireworks the distance sounds, stray dogs, and motorbikes

Not colour but contour, roads surrounded by dikes.

I am not from here but part of me from a past was;

Now the product of fading five-second memories;

…..

Fast forward years later, what seems like a lifetime ago;

I had to go to work today, unlike Green Day – I was not on a holiday;

I see a lot of people who remind me of the cousins I feasted with;

Perhaps everybody is going for some sort of a feast tonight or at least have a bite of something that reminds them of who they are;

But they aren’t sharing their planned menus nor extending their invites. This seems like just a regular rainy day;

We all left our separate ways, barely even greeting each other in our own mother tongue;

I am at a table of four but today there’s only three;

Today I sit with a tea bag, lacking flavour. I ran out of the good stuff – it’s back to the bulk;

The tap water started out an unearthly nuclear green. But it has now been watered down by cup three;

I would be drinking a beer if anybody cared to ganbei;

I’m wondering why my culture has been watered down over time.

I’m wondering why I don’t have anyone to talk about this with;

I dream of that tea, that flavour, that depth;

Whether in another world I would be surrounded by elders;

By a heated coal fire, sharing stories of days past and ambitions for tomorrow;

Today I barely keep up with news present;

They fill our minds with our supposed backward practices;

They tell us we’re infectious and that we don’t belong in nice homes;

We walk zombie-like through these white corridors at work;

Pompous posturing in this supposed post-everything world;

For breakfast I had bland coffee and a bag of candy;

I can’t pretend this shit is all good and dandy;

When it’s through other people’s misdoings, that they shelf me and brand me;

Turned from fresh leaves into ground sand, into ground up orange pekoe;

An unnatural colour tainted like when vanilla hits your chai;

Perhaps I will return one day to the tea fields;

So I can pick the shoots myself and dance once again;

 

 

Race was Yesterday’s Problem (An Immigration-Themed Poem)

Screenshot from FreeDictionary

Race was yesterday’s problem

We’ve apologized to you people

Made promises we (somewhat) still try to keep

How many thousands more dollars do you need?

They are your grandma’s pains of yesterday

Why today do they run so deep?

We’re a Charter-abiding nation

We’re multicultural not racist

To demonstrate we’re impartial at decisions;

Look at the way we do our overseas missions

We focus on geography, on fraud, on intention

Race or ethnicity is nowhere in mention

Our locally-engaged staff can apply what they know (because, they know)

Our processing times – they ebb and they flow

We need to vet certain applicants more

Historically, there are issues with certain communities

We’re not directly saying that whiteness is immunity (at least we can’t write this down)

But how do we not know these kids are not yours (without a DNA test)?

How do we know this bank account isn’t hiding that your poor (tell me where your parents invest)?

How do we know you aren’t just here to give birth?

How do we we know you aren’t hiding your net worth?

These networks you people have – always cheating the system;

That’s why we need AI – ‘impartial (white male)’ algorithms;

We’re an institution of transparency – like a light filtering prism

You bring your stories and we turn them into study of ‘-isms’

If you are palatable, we keep you out of our prisons;

If you are exceptional, we might milk you for your wisdom;

For most of you, frankly, you are better off hidden

Live your life on ‘our’ land – just consider yourself winning

We’ll take care of politics, of decisions, of direction

We’ll find you once every four years when we’re having elections

And what is this you tell me about the ‘intersections’

Is that at the mailing address you are always hiding your taxes?

Stop blaming racism, playing that card

Overanalyzing Blackness, Othello’s role in the Bard

Just assimilate to the way we do things, go pick up a hockey stick.

Tell us what your watching on Netflix?

Sh*t – like your food smell on the bus.

Why are you putting up such fuss?

About your racialized self (even Google knows it ain’t a word)

Race was yesterday’s problem

But it’s todays for everyone else

 

Slow Down My Friend (A Poem)

Slow down my friend

I see that mind moving at a million miles an hour

The chip on the shoulder – the connection to the strained brain

Navigating both sun and rain, dark clouds lead to gaps in weather

Whether you are stuttering and faltering, apologizing for forgetting

But really you are apologizing  for the fact that you cannot begin to share all that is weighing you down

You are an imperfect person in this world demanding your perfection

You viscerally look weak in their eyes so you try and mentally exude strength – you are a rock not shards of broken glass

But it’s strength you never had, that was constantly extracted from you like a precious resource

You are an ocean losing it’s own water, a dream losing it’s own subconscious, a mission losing its own commander

Slow down, none of that matters

For yesterday you saw your mom smile for the first time in years

You were there when your daughter cried her first tears

You sat with a good friend that the whole world ignored

You ate food that they used to say was meant for the poor

You took one step further through a supposedly locked door

Slow down, to realize you’ve come so far

It doesn’t matter that back in the day they said you were sub-par

That year after year they ignored the light of your star

That you always took the middle back seat of the car

That you struggled to even pass or be even with the bar

You’ve sped through so much of your life or had those moments sped up for you

Growing up without your father

A sister who doesn’t speak to you

No sense of what love is in your life any more

A home that is empty every day of the week

Words trapped in the throat that you are so anxious to speak

You can’t liberate yourself when you are busy trying to keep up

Slow down my sister and brother, sip slowly from this cup.