As a boy, my father lived in three Muslim countries before they were obliterated. Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. Before their night skies were blasted green with American fire as seen on CNN, before the terrorists hijacked their cultures and bastardized slow, careful calligraphy into talons demonic.
Our family name is Hussain. I learned that it was a cursed name in the fifth grade, when Clinton ordered airstrikes against Baghdad, and my teacher wanted to know if there was any relation to the dictator. I was into Pokémon Red for Game Boy Color back then. Why did an otherwise intelligent adult, whose vocation was to educate me, want to know about my supposed allegiance to a dictator thousands of miles away?
Then 9/11 happened. And my life in white America got darker.
In high school, there were fewer than half a dozen brown girls in the entire school. Even still, our teachers would mix up our names, or hand back graded papers to the wrong girl. This happened throughout the year, not just in the beginning when they were learning students’ names. That’s when I learned certain identities lend themselves to invisibility. I still haven’t figured out which treatment is worse: Is it better to be seen yet judged, or purposefully unseen and deemed unimportant?
I couldn’t be myself around anyone around me, so I took to writing poetry, where I could be free to tell the stories that needed telling. To redefine the many contradictory identities that clash within me on my own terms, rather than passively allow different factions of society to define them for me.
My identities have their own sounds, their own music. Their music isn’t the echo of vapid mispronunciations spoken ad nauseum by news anchors who can’t correctly say the names of the countries we’re currently bombing. Their music isn’t the clang of comment sections on YouTube, where somehow even informational TED Talks turn into heated, frenzied debates about Sharia law and it’d be better for everyone if Muslims were killed. I just want to watch David Blaine almost drown in a tank full of water on Oprah or regurgitate live frogs into a glass on Jimmy Fallon, without the keyboard warrior ethnic cleansing. Is that too much to ask?
My music rings like bells in a nondenominational house of worship. It’s Peter Gabriel and Roger Waters live in concert. It’s riding Splash Mountain at Disney World. It’s living among terrifying sorcerers and hired mercenary wizards in Glen Cook’s “The Black Company.” It’s arguing with the random guy at the supermarket that Superman sucks and Batman is better. Yes he is.
Most importantly, my music is the day I raised my right hand and took the Oath of Office. My music is the music that harmonizes dissent. It makes you listen to what others have to say.
It makes you make room for me, a sliver of moon peeking through clouds.
Published in Star 82 Review.