Seeing a culture of fear, poet explores the immigrant dream
Tishani Doshi says she worries about the “culture of fear” that has developed toward immigrants in the United Sates and Britain.
Doshi grew up in India but went to college and worked in the U.S. and the U.K. before returning to India several years ago. This past spring, she visited both countries during the American primaries and just after the British vote to leave the European Union. She said she was shocked to see the “us versus them” rhetoric so nakedly on display.
“You think you live in one kind of community and then there are elections or a vote like Brexit and you realize that there are huge rifts in society that come out of fear— fear that has been artificially created and manipulated.”
She blames politicians for playing to very base emotions, scaring people that immigrants will take their jobs or incite violence. “That kind of talk is very misleading and very dangerous.”
Doshi has long reflected on the idea of immigration and creating a new home in new land. In 2008 she was commissioned to write a series of poems about migration and movement. One of them, “The Dream,” is directly based on her impressions when she first moved to North Carolina.
“I loved that there were all these houses that had front porches and there were no gates. The houses themselves seemed so welcoming. Unlike India, there were no gates around the American houses— they were all just so open. In India there is a boundary around everything.”
But the poem is also about what immigrants do to create a sense of home in a new place.
“You want to hold onto something old, but you want to create something new. You want to make the new place feel like home, even though you’re not in your home. There’s a constant tension between the past and the present.”
Her previous collection of poems, “Everything Begins Elsewhere” (Copper Canyon), was all about the idea of place and movement and making a home in a new country. She is currently at work on a new collection, titled “Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods.” Doshi says her newest poems deal with being a woman living in India.
The dream has always been simple —
a porch for the old folks
to sit out in summer,
a garden for vegetables,
a picket fence to keep them in.
The dream has always been about safety.
So even as we sit alone
in our high-rise buildings
and basement apartments
where the outside world comes
to sit at our windows
like a tattered, yellow thing,
the dream is always
on the horizon —
Poet, writer and dancer Tishani Doshi was born in Madras, India, to Welsh and Gujarati parents. She earned a BA from Queens College in North Carolina and an MA from the Writing Seminars from the Johns Hopkins University. Her first book of poetry, “Countries of the Body,” won a Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Doshi’s first novel, “The Pleasure Seekers,” was shortlisted for the Hindu Best Fiction Award and has been translated into several languages. She is also the author of “Fountainville: New Stories from the Mabinogion,” a retelling of the Mabinogion myth. Her honors and awards include an Eric Gregory Award and an All-India Poetry Prize. She lives in Tamil Nadu, India.