Friday, 15 November 2013

Reconciliation: A Personal Journey

Reconciliation in the context of post-war Sri Lanka is something I have dedicated several years to. But it is only recently that I’ve begun to realize how much reconciliation is a part of my intimate-personal narrative as well. It is a journey dictated by love; an effort to love society in its wholeness, beginning with learning to love myself in my completeness.

As I walk back into the ancestral clutches of an Island past-on to me. I see the Island's society as it may perceive me and my blood; worthy or unworthy of their honor. I seek to reconcile this disharmony.

There are parts of me that I can pipe with pride. My mother, the child of a high-caste Kandyan who was educated in English and spent his afternoons with his glasses at the rim of his nasal reading English newspapers because he couldn’t read Sinhala. My grandfather was the son of a great lineage where doctors, lawyers and government officials were born. And he married my grand-mother of the same black-smith caste.

But, there are parts of me I whisper under my breath to the unsuspecting. I look pensively through their eyes after having spoken to see if I’ve been accepted. The part where I am the daughter of a father that grew up on a small plot of land in the low-income ‘hoods of Kotahena. His mother educated only to know Sinhala. She was a proud indigenous woman that ran her own Kadai, but she had no Victorian sensibility.  She was known for her aggressive and almost manly nature. Ministers would come in search of her to round up votes in the area. An Arachi by sir name, when I hear stories of her, I feel she carried her village chiefdom tact into the urban city.

The little I do know of this side of my family has been picked up in bits and pieces. The history of this side of my family is often left un-spoken. I know very little of my father’s father. They were always at odds, for as long as he was alive. And it was only in his passing, when returning for his funeral, that I discovered my grandfather’s brother’s sons were known as house-builders.

I don’t know when I learned to hide the part of me that revealed ancestry that lacked wealth or western education; the things that a Euro-centric-minded individual would de-value.

But as the love child of these two converging human narratives, I am subjected by the very nature of my being to learn to love these sides of myself equally for the social poise or lack thereof.

Thus, Reconciliation is coming to terms with why parts of me are deemed worthy while others are not. And in that search for personal healing and acceptance, I have aligned with the stories of the marginalized and their stories of oppression. Somewhere in their critical analysis of their histories, I hear mine as well.

I am Educated enough to know better than to sweep the past away, rather than to come to terms with the shame I and others have been taught to carry. A few post-colonial history courses set me off course to rediscover a part of me that I was taught to disown, devalue. To learn to fall in love with a part of myself, I had been taught to not share; the part of me that would set me at the bottom of an imagined social hierarchy.

And in returning, as I grow in my courage to speak, as I grow in my courage to be in my wholeness, I watch the way I engage with society transform. My path is that of one who claims her inferiority as her shield, discomforting those who live under a shield of imagined superiority. I hold it above my head watching in curiosity whether the ocean of social perception will part or submerge; colliding into me in unity, in a deep remembering of innate oneness. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Fallacy of Sinhala Privilege

The Sinhala are privileged, I’ve been told.

 So one must respond; how do you know? Did television and papers say so?

Spending time in Sri Lanka, I have found that the current Sinhala supremacist state broadcasted via media is much different than the experience of being Sinhala on the ground. 

Neo-colonial appropriation is as strong as ever, as is the lack of interest in indigenous heritage. It takes more than being Sinhalese to receive social value and worth.  There are more people in this country appropriating western forms of dress and professionalism to gain social worth, than there are people trying to appropriate authentic Sinhala customs.

Traveling beyond Colombo out into the south, where Sinhala families predominate. Native Sinhala tongue is common and Buddhist temples fill the streets like corner stores.  

                                Photo by Natale Danko 2013
“Let’s not forget, we live on a globe where economics and a neo-colonial underpinning impacts the world; where wealth, prestige and a corporate glow gets you love, value and worth.”

But, it doesn’t look like it matters how good your Sinhala sounds or how authentic the Sinhala garb; bare feet with a sarong.

Political economy runs things out in the rural parts as well. Wealth, prestige and a corporate glow promise  more value and worth than touting your Sinhalese lineage.

So these days I take this claim that the Sinhala are privileged and frown, especially when it's related to social worth. Sure, there are a few that identify as Sinhala who are extremely privileged in Sri Lanka. But, there are also the many that are underprivileged; under-paid and devalued.  How does one account for this?

It is essential to have an over-lapping dialogue about privilege. There are places where the concern about inequity in the nation overlap and goes beyond the dialogue of ethnic difference.Exclusively engaging with one’s ethnic group, will only give you a limited understanding of the ways members of the Sinhala community, especially those who retain indigenous practices, are de-valued as well. You will miss out in hearing the stories of the Sinhala migrant worker, farmer, fisher-man, garbage cleaner, the man who sells pineapples for a living, house-wife or under-paid employee. Inequitable access to “Privilege” is a common burden and struggle that members of all ethnic groups experience.   

As one observe human beings in Sri Lanka, the way they create value structures in their minds, the way they define some with more value and worth than others... yes, ethnicity is at times a cue. But social roles, behaviors, the color of your skin, the sex you were born with are factors that too deem you inferior or superior. 

And, I have found that the social cues that promise privilege in Sri Lanka often supersede one's ethnic affiliation. Something I see everyday as I observe the continued struggles of individuals who identify as Sinhala. 

Photo Natale Danko 2013

This piece specifically refers to the following statement:

“The social, political, and economic arrangements of a society can place some people in a privileged position relative to others, particularly with respect to important goods, like institutional representation, economic resources, and even less tangible goods like “respect” and “welfare”

My piece explores whether tangible goods like economic resources or less tangible goods like "respect" and "welfare" are promised to those who identify as Sinhala in Sri Lanka.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

We are more than this body and these silly ideas. We are absolute, endless possibility.

Sometimes all we ever want to hear are the happy endings. We live lies; lives. Filled with glamour and facades, covering the confusion that may lie beneath it all.

We cover up.  Dare we let others see … feel … those moments of deep suffering.
We all fear judgment; the burning eyes of others piercing through us. Fearing they may see our inadequacies. How we aren't always perfect.

So, we invest our lives in putting on layers and layers of ideas and concepts. And, we hide ourselves behind it all; letting others only see the things which are acceptable or likable.
And we suffer when we do not meet the standards we set for ourselves or that society has made us set for ourselves.

Why do we fear to reveal our insecurities, our weakness, our imperfections? Is it because of our pride? Or is it just a child like wanting of love combined with our fear of being loved less at the expense of being found unworthy?

I have watched countless people I love suffer silently. Their souls consumed by a dark madness, most of it driven by the inability to achieve ego driven charades. I watched as they spent their lives trying to prove to some absent person their worth.

Helplessly in love with them, my soul would cry out that I loved them for immaterial intangible reasons.  In my eyes they were whole.

Watching such suffer. I grew disillusione
d by this materialistic world. Spending lives to maintain a standard. 

So I began to reject it all. And found solace in things in which status did not matter. I embraced my being beyond academic credentials, employment and nice clothes. And, in this bare state, I found myself and beautiful heart-filled companions.  We sat on plots of grass closed our eyes and emptied our minds of all these stupid thoughts.  I re-learned to be.

To find those that love your true authentic self, you have to sacrifice all the layers we hide behind. Stand bare before the audience and see who accepts you. We need to embrace the things that make us suffer, it's what leads you to the things that matter. We need to speak it without fear.  Those who deserve your company will stand by you.  Hold you and push you and ultimately help you find yourself again. 

We need to stare shame- or our fear of it - in the eyes. Sometimes if you stare for long enough your warrior will awake. Nothing can hold us back. No status, no judgmental stare. We can transcend it all. We are more than this body and these silly ideas. We are absolute, endless possibility. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Tropical-practical-dress replaced by impractical acts to impress.

In the land of my forefathers, to dress as my forefathers may (before customs were remade) has become something of shame.

A heritage I was denied for so long, I searched to belong. But I returned to find an Island getting it wrong.

I paced my uncle’s tropical home in a female’s version of a sarong, a simple act of conscious freedom. Or so I thought.

My act led only to whispers that reached my mother’s ears at home in the west.
And so she called and reprimanded and persisted I wore the pants she packed.
And so I was told, while standing in our ancestral tropical home, to keep playing the shame game.

But there I was, searching for my natal influences and tired of being ashamed.

“Why can’t the customary (before customs were remade) be contemporary?” I thought. I fought.  

But I could not be heard. In a sarong my words held no worth.

Invaded minds can be blind to the subtle ways we despise our ancestral guise. 

And instead we praise our imperial prize.  

And I don't seek to blame, rather I seek to simply reveal this endless game.

These subtle ways we control and patrol one another. 

Tropical-practical-dress replaced by impractical acts to impress.

And I can’t help but see ( though I mostly act to please) the remaining Illusions as a product of a colonial invasion of our imagination.

A continuation of our desire to keep proving our superiority through thoughts we were taught.

And so slowly in dress I embraced this silent inferiority, in hopes of re-birthing creativity - an expression that should not be lost universally. 

( A reflection on my travels to Sri Lanka in the Fall of 2012) 

Monday, 25 February 2013

To be normal. Are you really sure we're tolerant of diversity?

The part of MY personality which has constantly tried to "fit in" or "be normal". It tried to conform to mainstream culture, denying my Brown Androgynous Childish Soul. 

As of late, I've been trying to find ways for this part of myself to exist in equanimity with my westernized identity. To be truer to my whole being. And what it has revealed is something very quirky and eccentric within me. 

Anyone that denies that many of us (if not all) have been subjected to socialize ourselves in public (denying deep rooted parts of ourselves) to "fit in" to a Eurocentric industrial drone (and the social norms and mainstream culture it encompasses) in our schools and offices are a little naive. 

You may think we as Canadians are tolerant of Diversity. But have you ever really inhabited a diverse way of being in public and experienced how people react? Have you ever been in a situation where you actually accommodated another person's diverse way of being? 

Or rather, are you a person who easily defines people and things which are different as 'weird' and 'crazy' because it made you uncomfortable not because they caused harm? Are you someone who believes there is a normal way of being we should all be subjected to inhabit? 

Are you really sure we're tolerant of diversity? 

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Love Yourself.

See The Joy I have, No One can take away from me...
No one loaned it to me or hired me to do it. 
Rather, I was born with it and choose when I use it. 
It emanates through me like a piercing divine light.
And it emanates through me for the price of nothing.

Play, Dance and Draw. Love yourself. Release Your Inner Child!

God's given me a lot of Joy for free. Given me a voice to sing, hands to create, a body to move. And I've been putting it to use. 

See cause I know, every thought and action Fun and Awesome resides within me waiting for that perfect moment to reveal itself. 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Back in Toronto. Back on Stage. Hoping for a Canadian Cultural Renaissance.

As 2012 drew to an end and 2013 was just to begin, I knew I wanted to be on stage. I wanted to be on stage donning a sarong around my waste, singing a melody appropriate for the Island of my forefathers while speaking words I learned in the land of my Birth - Oh, Canada.

So I sang, I sang of how we as Canadians need a sense of brotherhood, kinship. That we shouldn't be divided along racial, ethnic or class lines. We should find something that unites us. Something that breaks down the imagined barriers.

And so I pray that Toronto as a whole experiences a cultural renaissance which takes the best of the East and West and makes it relevant to our contemporary lives.