Open a book… seriously.
It’s Latin American Heritage Month and I decided to do something about how little I know about Latin American culture. In fact, I’m more disappointed that I didn’t think of this sooner.
My three favourite ways of interacting with a new culture and learning about a community I am not familiar with are through music (and dance by default!), food and literature. Literature is my favourite by far because I think when trying to understand another person’s background it is very important to listen to them and listen to their experiences. People will write with passion and fire about the things they’ve seen, the places they’ve been and the lives they’ve lived. It is necessary to listen to people and not just make assumptions about their experiences and lives.
Read that again.
So as a young Nigerian woman, all I’ve ever known about culture has never really extended past the borders of Nigeria (I mean yeah, I know about American culture [which is basically Black culture but whatever] and British culture [mainstream culture is also largely influenced by black and brown youth]) but I want to make a concerted effort to understand the experiences of others because that is vital in developing an independent perspective of life.
More importantly, I’m learning that there is so much strength in these words; they’re like fire to nitrate film…
I’d tell you to go watch Inglorious Basterds to get that reference but I’ve evolved past the glorification of white-washed content. Especially when it’s made by creepy, incel racists.
Another thing I’ve picked up from reading largely POC authors is that they just don’t hold back. They write with such eloquence and vivacity and I’ve honestly never felt this alive just by reading these words and this is more than just being able to lose myself in these stories, this about just feeling myself light up. I can also identify and connect so much with these stories. I mean, obviously I’ve been reading a lot of Nigerian books and I know exactly (in some cases) what they’re talking about but when reading Fruit of The Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (this is what I’m currently reading) which centres on this family in Colombia in the 90s, I see much of my family and my upbringing in this book. It resonated deeply with me because this family and mine share the same experience and socioeconomic status that deeply defined how we navigated living in an unpredictable country.
And I’ve never really able to understand where my identity lay as someone in a painfully middle-class lifestyle in a country where that itself was hard to describe. So it does warm my heart to relive some of those experiences through a metaphysical window.
We find so much of ourselves in books; everything from the process of selecting a book to the moment when we turn the final page. By the time we’ve emerged on the other side, we may not be a whole new person but something sits with us for a while and it takes a while for this new perspective to fade into the garden shed that is our memory. It fills our hearts up and attaches itself to our skin like a shadow. It’s the person whose life we’ve just peeked into and its the insight we’ve gained.
Pick up a book, pick up some more books because in a world like this we need to reach each other where they are and listen.
But I should add, esoteric, Mein Kampf-style books are not what we need. They aren’t what you need. Don’t go looking for radicalisation.
Stay tuned for a reading list from me!