Migritude: Poetically Confusing

The term “immigration” does not only lead to the people that moves and lived in new places. Immigration, according to Prashad, is also an idea about “mobile capital and immobile race” (p. ii) in the era of imperialism. He also said that even immigrants do not only talk about the ones who live across the country. In his opinion, immigrants are also the ones who were forced to join the immigration by the colonial ruler and later became the victim of racism, like what happened in Europe and United States. From this background, the story arrived in Shailja Patel’s work entitled Migritude.
 
In short, Migritude tells about migrants and the migration from India to California. What makes this work special is that Migritude does not only talk about the life of the migrants, but it also talks about the ideas of migrants and the term “migration” itself. After reading this book, I can tell that the aim of the book is to tell and inform the readers about it all, also to persuade them to see wisely on the story. Despite the well-structured content, I still found that the book is quite confusing to read. The book is divided into four chapters. This review will talk about only two chapters of them, which is chapter I and chapter IV. 

The first chapter is divided into two parts. The first part happened in Nairobi, Kenya. In the first part, the storyline is divided again in six titles. The first one called “Idi Amin”, which talks about the starting point of the story, when Idi Amin, the military dictator of Uganda, cleaned up Asian population in Uganda. In this mini-story also the author explains how important jewellery is to the Indian migrants. The second is called “The Jewellery”, which talks more about the jewellery and how the people take care of it at that time. It also talks about how jewellery means a lot to the owner, which is like their dignity. The third is called “History Lesson”, talks about another side of the history, which tends to hide the bad things and shuts the untold story, the one that really happened between the English and Kenyan. The fourth is called “Swore I’d Never Wear Clothes I Couldn’t Run or Fight In”, which talks about how saris mean as the Indian women’s dignity and beauty, but in a way looks like a trap that limits them in movement and power. The fifth is called “I Never Wanted Daughters”, which talks about the radical thoughts about having daughters. Daughters were seen to be something dangerous and “not worth the childbirth”. The last title called “Shilling Love Part 1”, which talks about how both Kenyan and English had made the Asian migrants felt like they were nothing, worthless, and even they confused of their identities. This title is written in a special way, which is a poem. 

The second part took place in the United Kingdom and United States. This part goes in a timelined storyline too, divided in ten titles. The first, “The Making”, tells about exactly how the migrants lived for a living. It talks about the injustice between the minorities and the majorities, and also the discrimination that the minority got from the majority group. “Under and Over” talks about the feelings that the minorities had, as they felt insecure and lost their self-esteem for being dismissed from the society. ”Australia” is written in the format of a personal letter, as it is Patel’s mother’s message to Patel. The mother told her daughters about her life back at home, also gave a little advice on life and information about Australia that had been a migration destination those days. “The Sky Has Not Changed Colour” talks about the Kenyan rape victims, which were not only women and girls, but also boys. “Maasai Women Rioting” only informs that there were Massai women rioting, suing the British soldiers for the sexual discrimination. By reading “Dreaming in Gujarati”, I can tell that language and words that are spoken by the speaker represents the ideas of the speaker that even when English was used, the minorities felt colonized. “Dad’s Visa” tells about how hard it was to get a visa for migration at that time, due to the security of the country. “Shilling Love Part II”, like the part I, is written too in a poem format. “Mangal Sutra” informs about the mangal sutra necklace as a symbol of “good will” and a protection against evil. The mother gave the necklace instead of their future husband because the daughters decided to not to be married, then told them about marriage life. “Born to a Law” talks about how the author felt as she felt her living was just a part of the system so-called “law”. 

Chapter four of the book Migritude, called “The Journey”, contains of, which I can call “the story behind” the Migritude. Basically, here readers can find the real setting of the book and the author, the ideas and thoughts of the author, and the people who participates in the project. There is a Migritude timeline, which lays down the important years that need to be highlighted as it relates to the story and the book itself. There are also two interviews, which, according to Patel, are also important to be included in the book. She stated that a good interview works best like a good poem, because it can bring up the thoughts and ideas that haven’t been discovered before. The first interview, which is done by Emanuele Monegato, basically contains of questions that most of them are about the comprehension of the content and story of Migritude, although there are some critical questions too. However, from the answers, readers can know and understand more about the author’s perspective and ideas in writing the story/poem. The second interview, which is done by Vanita Reddy, is more likely the same, but the questions were not fully addressed only to the book. The interviewer questioned the whole Migritude project, including the book, stage performance, and even author’s website and published interview. As the end of the book, the author put some subchapters that act as credits, which are “Acknowledgements”, “Migritude Theatre Production”, “Production Credits”, “Image Credits”, “Publication Credits”, “Production / Book Partners”, and “Donors and Contributors”. 

What amazes me the most is the well-structured format. By only seeing the first and fourth part, it can be seen that this book is divided and ordered based on a timeline, which is from the past to the present. It starts from the first chapter of the book, which contains two parts: “Nairobi, Kenya” and “United Kingdom & United States”, which talks about what happened in the time range year 1972 to 2004, the past events. Goes on to the fourth part, the part contains of the story and ideas behind the Migritude project, which is revealed in this present time. Although this part shows the timeline of Migritude and the interviews about the background, still these information and explanation came after the time setting of the story (which is a real/author’s story). That is why I really agree to author’s decision to put “The Journey” on the last part. 

The purpose of the author in writing Migritude is to inform the readers about the life as a migrant and in a way also to persuade the readers to broaden their perspective about the untold facts from these past events given by the book. In my opinion, the well-structured format reflects the purpose of the author. The way that the author put the past stories on the first part, I think, shows that the author wants to give and inform the story first. That way the readers can see, imagine, and feel what has happened at that moment. After telling the main part, the fourth part acts as the second introduction (beside the prelude) and the conclusion. “The Journey” gives the readers information about the timeline of the Migritude journey up to the present and gives more explanation about author’s perspective towards the stories. That way the readers can broaden their perspective and ideas about the story through author’s opinion on the interview section. Also, the information and opinions from this part may answers readers’ questions after reading the story, so the readers can comprehend more. 

However, beside the structure, the ones that make the book interesting are the poems. Take a look at the two parts of “Shilling Love”. This story is written poetically. Despite the fact that this makes the book interesting, to put the story in a poem format might be the weakness of this book. After reading the book, it can be seen that not all of the stories are written poetically. It means that the book does not limit the readers into only poem-lovers. To be honest, I am not finding myself to fond of poems, but the story in this book makes me to read more and more, up until I found these two poetic stories. It took me several times to read them repeatedly, in order to understand what they mean in relation to the story. It is quite shocking actually to read the poetic part, after reading the stories that most of them are not written poetically. Sounds funny, since most of the stories are easy to read, and then get confused by the confusing parts. 

More things that I found confusing are the symbols. Since quite half of the book contains of poetry, the author sometimes uses many symbols in expressing or stating something. For example, on the prelude part, “How Ambi Become Paisley”, when the author talks about what “ambi” and “paisley” means, while explaining author’s purpose about Migritude in a symbolic way through the words “ambi” and “paisley”. I found both words are still confusing even after reading the definition at once. It took me several times (again) to read and comprehend them. If I do not understand the definition, how can I understand the “symbolic” purpose too? The same goes to the “Shilling Love” parts. I have to read it times to get what the “shilling” word has to do in the story. There are still other symbols and not all of them I found confusing. Like in “The Jewellery”, I get the word “jewellery” implies the understanding that it is like someone’s dignity. However, some unfamiliar words like “ambi” and “paisley” make quite hard time for the readers to digest, especially when the words are used as the symbol of something. 

One thing that make this book worth the love is the good structure, which puts the book based on the timeline of past to present time. The purpose of the book is also supported by the good structure, so the author can reach the goal at the end of the book. Despite the good structure, however, I think the book is still confusing. Been questioning about why would the author tells “Shilling Love” parts in the form of poems, because over all the easy-to-read stories, meeting the poetic parts makes it a hard time to read. Also, the symbol words, especially the unfamiliar ones, make some statements hard to be understood. This book is actually a book of poetry, which is then performed as a theatre performance. However, turns out the more poetic it is, the more confusing it is.

 

Image Credits: spu.edu