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The Voices of ASU on Diaspora

The State Press' newest series features poems from the ASU community answering to whom, what and where they are connected

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The Voices of ASU on Diaspora

The State Press' newest series features poems from the ASU community answering to whom, what and where they are connected

Header image by Biplove Baral

The following poems were submitted by members of the ASU community as part of The State Press' newest poetry project, where each set of submissions is based on a specific theme.

In an effort to bring light to the variety of cultural experiences at the University, we asked ASU students and employees to describe what being part of a diaspora means to them.

For a multitude of reasons, people have traveled far from their homes. Diaspora — a term used when referring to populations that have moved from their places of origin — has led to greater diversity in the cultural experiences we share. But as our traditions continue to evolve, our sense of belonging and the idea of "home" become more complex.

Whether those who have experienced being part of a diaspora have returned to their homeland, there can be a feeling of disconnect to family history, evoking inner turmoil. This has manifested into language barriers, changes in familial expectations and confusion surrounding loyalty and nationality.

To further complicate these nuances, there are many forms of diaspora. Some individuals are one or more generations removed. Some are from more than one cultural background. Each individual experience is influenced by upbringing — and no two are alike. 

In the end, diaspora can mean a lot of different things. Yet, it continues to beg the question: To whom, what and where am I connected to? In search of an answer, many children of diaspora desire to reconnect with their past. 

Our next theme will be announced over social media in the next couple of months. We look forward to reading your work for the next edition of our poetry project. 

Click to open and scroll to view the poetry. 


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because dreaming costs money, my dear
By Carolina Quintero

where are you coming from     always coming from home

  • her spanish is solid like honey
    sounds candied with authenticity
  • futile tongue tastes of metal
    swallowing copper for ten years now

where are you returning to     there is a home here

  • mouth rooftops extinguish the American dream
    when her kids make her tongue the greatest comedian
  • mijo sticks his tongue to the roof of his mouth
    trapping the sour feeling of spanish—

pull up to the right for inspection     home seems far away now

  • he watches his dented words become hail
    not escaping to contaminate her sweetness
  • mijo and her scavenge for the American dream
    dirt drinks their bloody fingernails

they cut my tongue into thirds     mijo cannot fake surprise

  • he lets his tears clean
    the dirt under their nails
  • she understands politicians
    who wear discount tags
    on their hearts
    spit aliens out with naked
    heels raw with contempt

not from here   not from there   not from anywhere

She's American
By Monaliza Hernandez

On the terrace of our worn-down tin-roofed home,
the American flag flies out of place.
It is July, and my father insists
on celebrating his American heritage.

Our ancestry says otherwise.

At school, we're told to only speak English.
"You'll be more valuable," they say.
Frightened of being punished and fined,
we speak in hushed voices.

Splashes of water hit my feet.
I bask in the warm sunlight.
Across the pool, my mother calls me into the shade.
"You wouldn't want to get darker," she says.

My pass to the American Dream
is tucked between the pages of my passport
Flight PR 102. Gate N6. Seat 71C.
Manila to Los Angeles.

The plane ascends
Through the porthole,
I wave goodbye to all I have ever known.
My mother stays behind,
yet her comments linger on.

Once there, who will I become?

The school bell rings. They tell us
to stand and face the flag, to pledge
allegiance in a crowd of unfamiliar faces.

Loyalty to my country unfaltering,
I stay silent in my seat.

Homeland

By Sami Al-Asady

My selves, they fold and bend like the
Hibiscus that grew in our garden,
Like Baba's black-charred tomatoes on sheesh,
Spitting red juice from its lava core:

  • My parents' foreign lands etched into the
    Tissues of my being—the mass graves I
    Escaped, born a citizen in the Land of the Free,
    The Land of the Brave, Lady Liberty

Kneading my selves into a single dough,
Just like the Burek Mama crafts—
Sunlight from the kitchen window,
Shining on the white of the flour,
Bright yellow eggs whisked into a larger circle,

  • Rounded by my multiple selves.

A reconciliation of homes
By Sonya Sheptunov

THERE'S A PAPER IN MY HAND
FRAYED, SOFT, WORN WITH AGE
FOLDED AND UNFOLDED
A RECORD OF HOMES; I'M A HERMIT CRAB
ALL MY SHELLS ARE IMMORTALIZED

A LONG-FORGOTTEN NAME
STARES ME IN THE FACE
BLUE EYES, BLONDE HAIR. A GIRL
WHOM I ONCE WALKED WITH, HAND IN HAND
THROUGH GRASSY FIELDS AND COBBLED STREETS

YOU GROW UP LEARNING OF HOME
THROUGH FILTERS; INORGANIC
INTANGIBLE, JUST OUT OF REACH

YOU LEARN TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE OF IRON; FORCEFUL, BRUTAL
IT TWISTS YOUR TONGUE AND SCULPTS YOUR MIND
AND WHEN A STRANGER COMES ALONG, SO FAMILIAR
FLUENT IN THE LANGUAGE OF SUNFLOWERS
THE SEA OF WORDS YOU WANT TO SAY DRIES TO SAND ON YOUR LIPS
AND THE PRECIPICE BETWEEN YOU YAWNS WIDER
A DESERT BURIAL OF THE WORDS YOU CANNOT SPEAK

YOU LEARN ABOUT HISTORY, PREJUDICE, INDOCTRINATION
A HEAVY FISH, SLIMY
SWIMMING THROUGH OIL AND WATER
EXPOSING A NUANCE SO BRIEF, JUST ENOUGH TO FREEZE YOUR MIND
IN A STATE OF ETERNAL DOUBT; CONFUSION
COULD OIL AND WATER COEXIST?

FAR AWAY AND LONG AGO AN IRON WALL HAD FALLEN
TWO LOVERS MADE A CHOICE
NOT TO RUN, BUT TO GO TOWARD
A LAND VENEERED IN HOPE
A HEAVY FEELING POOLS IN MY GUT
WHEN TWO DAYS SHY OF TWENTY YEARS
A GIFT ARRIVES ON MY DOORSTEP (IT'S MY LIFE)
A DEBT I CAN NEVER REPAY

THERE'S A PAPER IN MY HAND
HOMES THAT I'VE OUTGROWN, SCRIBBLED
A ROADMAP OF THE PATH THAT LED ME
TO THE LIMINAL SPACE ON WHICH I STAND
INVASION. A WORD SO INTIMATELY VIOLENT
HOME BURNS AN OCEAN AWAY
SHRAPNEL, BRICK AND RUBBLE
BURYING ITSELF IN HEARTS, SCREAMING
I VIEW THE WORLD THROUGH THE GLASS, UNSCATHED
CRYING SILENT TEARS, AFRAID

I LOOK EAST
UPON A FLOOD OF FACES FLEEING WEST
EACH FACE A HOME
TO WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

Idaho summer days
By Sonakshi Sharma

stretched out until 8pm,
me and my neighbors Caitlyn and Rachel playing hockey with someone's shoe in the safety of our Boise cul-de-sac.

Mama was on the phone with her sisters and Papa was with Dadi in the backyard planting cilantro. Erita was doing whatever American-born 2-year-olds do.

Of course, I had Kumon and piano practice with the only other brown kids in our town the next day. And of course, Caitlyn (with a C) couldn't even say my name when I saw her in Lowell Scott Middle School's hallways.

I knew that when Nani died, Mama wouldn't be able to go to her funeral in India. I knew it would split her apart like a pyre, like the waves did with her mother's ashes on the Ganga River, like the senate-born immigration system promised.

I knew that in a couple of years, I would inadvertently mispronounce an English word in high school and my classmates would laugh fully, through their throats, and I would wonder why Mrs. Bleu hadn't added that word to my ESL lessons. I knew this would stay with me for the rest of my life.

But it was 8pm in August/September and I knew if I tried, I could make this puck-shot last forever, forever across the rounded American asphalt, past the American houses, into the American park, over the American pond, out of my (American) heart.

Thoughts on my mother-tongue
Mary Joseph

Before my mother could teach me the alphabet of a language
Of a land she left behind years ago
My brother had already taught me what I needed to know:
Curse-words
With the precision of a sniper
I could call those around me
A dog, useless, pig and ugly
Devastating egos, and my parents, with each verbal shot
How strange to be taught how to harm
Before the foundation is laid
To carry weapons you have never even seen

English was deemed the necessary baseline
The ocean surrounding me and my family
While we clung on to our boat made of our mother tongue
I was never taught how to row
And yet I picked up a paddle anyway
It did not fit my hands the way it is supposed to
The language I was meant to learn first
Does not fit in my mouth the way it is supposed to
Can you even be robbed of something you never had in the first place?

I cannot find myself within my mother tongue
I search behind syllables this American-born mouth mispronounces
Past the condescending laughter of family back home
Past the mistranslations of an overused google translate app
It is like searching in the dark with a broken flashlight
I search and search but all I can conjure
Is small talk and curse-words
But nothing to prove I exist in my mother-tongue

Yet English has a place for me
Has a name for me
Non-binary
And while I am happy I know who I am in English
I cannot be satisfied with being able to exist in only one language
My mother tongue rejects my identity
The way my mouth rejects her presence
The difference is she never even tried to fit me in the first place

The language of the land my mother left decades ago
Has no space for me to exist as I am
And yet, I love her still.

I Started Liking Green
By Mary Violet

living in the desert where water and the highway are close. sonic cousins through white
marriages. No one looks at the oak's descendants anymore, those leafy spinsters.

They shed their attempts at connection on leashed dogs who are unaware
of their role as trademarks of domesticity. Birds don't get labeled as "purebreds,"
their wings don't get yanked by youth who weren't taught boundaries.
Birds get amber chests and freedom. I get misinformation, power washed
histories. I was trained to avoid flight, but as I notice these birds the
length of my index finger, I can't help but wonder if I would be proud
to have a body

if yellow was wrapped around my chest. I look up and
become the recipient of shedding. Maybe trees are the only falling things
that don't look helpless. The Sun continues to be another star that's rationed off.

Family History
By Autumn Byars

I've been stuck here
longer than I've been alive.
I watched my mother crawl from her
own cave of darkness,
and then tore out
of her womb two turns too soon,
screaming and breathing anyway.
By seven I sat at the council's table
and at eighteen I died,

But nothing can smuggle me across
the border in the back of a truck
the way they did my grandmother
I am the country,
both the dictator inducing the famine
and the peasant starving to death.

Every time I look in the mirror
I see myself split
into an infinity of selves and
my eyes roll back
and I have named the valleys
in the lining of my skull.

Somehow I am the family who
cannot afford a burial,
I am the unrelenting priest, and
I am the dead child.
Perhaps I am becoming
the religion they adopted out of desperation.

When I stand on my back,
I can see
the flames of Dresden
in the distance and
in the valleys
of my knees, my mother
contemplates drowning herself.
Behind me there's
a string of small Texas
towns that bear my name
because I slit my wrist
and let the blood drip over a map.

When I heave and shake, all
that comes up is milk
because my mother's uncle
sold his farm,
then bought the farm,
and now a thousand tiny babes rest
beneath my breast bone,
every one of them
an artist and poet.

Deep in my lungs,
my grandfather's grandfather mines
for coal and it's leaking
out the back of my neck.
The tip of my nose
is my pulpit,
where I preach in the ghost
of a language I never knew,
while my children sit
dutifully in rows
in front of my naked body,
and I'm breaking

and splitting,
I can hear the war cry of the Gauls
even as my navel is the Rubicon,
and behind them
are the Celts who
haven't yet left for
the island in the center of my eye.
I'm ankle deep in
the Tiber, which is
the Danube, which is
my father's beard,
which is lost somewhere in my hair.

Loki's secret cave is actually in my chest,
and though I am not him,
I am the poison dripping
off the snake
and the god's rotting nose
and Sigyn's left eye
and the memory of what's coming
and I've always known:
the end times must come from me.

Desired Destiny

By Ema Angulo-Rodríguez

In my younger years, when my thoughts were not that profound,
when even in the shallow waters at shore I would drown,
all of the pain and the struggle that I saw,
much of it through the eyes of the adults who cared for me and showed
me love, ignited a blue flame in my core that cannot be snuffed.

I began to dare to swim farther into the oceans,
to pursue my desired destiny.
And then I found myself here,
as a displaced teen who left behind dear family.
Although I surrendered the future I would've reached had I stayed,
I'm set to arrange my own fate, wherever I am.

I won't be taken by the current that drove me away;
even when traversing uncertain paths, I know
the destinations I would walk barefoot
for countless miles to get to.

I dive into these violent seas up ahead
because I know that despite all the water I may take in,
a brighter future is at their end.


This month's poets

Carolina Quintero is a senior at ASU majoring in English (creative writing) and justice studies. She is the president of Pi Lambda Chi Latina Sorority Inc. and poetry editor for Lux Undergraduate Creative Review.

Monaliza Hernandez is a first-generation college student studying nursing in her sophomore year. Although much of her classes are heavily based on science, her passions are in performance, liberal arts and social justice. She aims to dedicate the rest of her life in the service of others.

Sami Al-Asady — a child of Bosnian and Iraqi war refugees — is studying political science and civic and economic thought and leadership. He sits on the Secular AZ Board of Directors and is a published op-ed writer.

Sonya Sheptunov is a queer, Ukrainian American student at ASU studying journalism and mass communication. Sonya is a proud child of immigrants who has lived in many places, currently residing in Phoenix for university.

Sonakshi Sharma is a junior studying biology and astrobiology. She's fascinated by the life/not-life boundary and life forms in general. When she's not running code, she's taking pictures of especially green patches of grass on campus and uploading them to @sunburban on Instagram.

Mary Joseph is the assistant director of Forensics, the ASU speech and debate team. They are also an instructional professional for the Hugh Downs School of Communication. They moved to Tempe from New York City this past August and have loved it ever since.

Mary Violet is a queer, interdisciplinary artist who tries to connect poetry with more visual mediums such as collage, screen printing and fashion. When they're not writing, they are focusing on their clothing brand, Warped Cherub, or trying to pet strangers' dogs.

Autumn Byars is an artist and poet in the third year of her BFA studies. She comes from a family full of German immigrants and grew up practicing customs from the old world. She unironically enjoys sauerkraut and steamed cabbage.

Ema Angulo-Rodríguez is a psychology (BA) and Spanish linguistics (BA) double major. Due to the sociopolitical instability of her native country, she suddenly became an immigrant at 15. Now a junior in college, she tries to navigate life in the foreign United States and reflects on what it means to belong anywhere through her poetry.

Illustrations by Biplove Baral

Designed by Zach Van Arsdale

Edited by Rachel Lee, Sophia Balasubramanian and Sam Ellefson 


Have questions about any of the poems you read or want to submit your own? Send an email to echo.statepress@gmail.com.

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