There can be a lot said about love, particularly, the love that is born in war, in trauma, in utter destruction.
In America, people say “I love you” rather easily I think. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s dropped easily within conversations, among short farewells. It’s a good thing. Love is a force that stabilizes, that sustains.
On the contrary, it is often said about South Asian peoples that in everyday life “we don’t show enough love”. I have heard a lot of fellow desi immigrant kids say “We never saw open gestures of affection between our parents”. I think for the larger part, it is true.
But I think, somewhere woven in my upbringing is this core belief that love should be done rather than said. It is easy to say three simple words, it is not that easy to actively do them.
So how do you do love?
The simple answer is: I don’t know. But there are a lot of examples around me. My grandfather often tells this story of our grandmother when in their younger days, he’d stress over his files and accounts and would get frustrated when they weren’t computing right. And she’d come around and shut them quietly and would tell him to relax for a bit before he went back to them. And he’d say, always with this smile, that when he’d go back to those files after a relaxing nap, they’d always compute perfectly the first time.
And in that moment, in that story telling moment, they did love to each other. She told him to take a break. He would retell the story, appreactingly, affectionately.
I’m not going to say their love is ever lasting, sustaining. He wasn’t always good to her, and he didn’t realize it. But he tired to make amends at the end. But there are these windows, always these glimpses that I see.
My grandmother is a very hospitable, caring person. I don’t think she’s ever let anyone out of her house without food. She’ll always pack me with extra roti rolls whenever I leave home for college. Always takes care that not only I’m well-fed, but I’m well fed on my favorite foods. She does that with everyone.
It’s a very simple act if you think about it. Making sure that someone is sustained. But it speaks volume. I think the last time she told me actively that she loved me was when I was a bratty child. But even now, even when she shies away from words, from too open shows of affection, she does love.
Immigration, and we’re talking about “voluntary” migration here, is a violent process. It displaces people, tears them apart from families, from their social networks, from their language, their foods, from their everything. Migrant peoples often put on a brave face, try and make a new life. And often, these people are already suffering historic trauma. Burdened by legacies of colonialism, their environments too often perpetuating various elements of other emotional and psychological abuse, many migrants don’t really know how to love.
But they bear love. In broken ways, in scarred ways, glimpses through a window.
Trauma is re-emphasized through generations. And so their children grow, trying to make sense of it all, in an environment already hostile to them, in an environment where social support is already minimal. They act out, they stay, they gather broken pieces and try and put together a mosaic or they get up and escape. Against all odds, against all the taunts, they shore up their sanity-ies, make something out of themselves to move their communities forward.
Migrants and their children bear love, do love, rarely say it enough. rarely celebrated enough. They make me want to tear my hair out, and simultaneously humble me.