Featured Painting: ‘Landscape of Many Colors’ by Uzma Rizvi
Observations and reflections while driving through the countryside, the back roads, and the small towns of America.
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Travel by road is always liberating and exciting. You are driving towards the horizon, winding through valleys, farms, and towns you never knew about.
We, as a family, have taken many road trips across America and it always takes our breath away that the surrounding land is witness to so much history and countless intriguing lives. We cannot help but let our imagination run with the ever-changing scenery.
Sights and sounds beckon us
We envisage unblemished Native American villages with smoke billowing from cooking fires, children learning to hunt with their fathers, and women cultivating the land. How well they must have known every meadow, tree, and pond that we meander through today. Just like us, those families must have celebrated festivals, shared jokes, and sang songs.
Where are they now, and how would their progeny have fared if not brutalized or conned by ‘explorers’? The picture becomes dark and dangerous when we think of them fighting for their motherland. We cannot imagine their anguish when they were torn away from these vast, sweeping homes of their ancestors. Sadness descends on our car at such moments.
Soon, our attention redirects to the beauty of the landscape unraveling around. The dense woodlands and rolling hills have incessant stories to tell, and we are ready to listen.
More walked the land
We visualize Black slaves toiling on farms and plantations. We can hear their melancholy songs, and harrowing screams when thrashed. We hear chains clanging and babies crying for mothers working in the fields. We try to feel their yearning to take off like birds into the sunshine of freedom. We become quiet in contemplation.
Then we can see waves of migrants and settlers, braving the challenging terrain and the ephemeral weather. Forging relationships in their new homeland, they must have yearned for their relatives back home in the old country, kin they will never see again.
Today’s big stories
Jolted into the present, we gaze at tiny or sprawling country homes and huge silos. Broken old trucks and weather-beaten barns remind us of prosperity turning into economic despair. Dusty, small town neighborhoods and farms show where most Americans live and work hard, away from gleaming suburbs.
We look into the eyes of frail old people and curious children. We pay silent, respectful salutes to tired workers and exhausted mothers for their labor. We even give a stare back to some cold, resentful eyes.
We sincerely want to know what they are thinking and what their lives are like. We want to chat with them, get to know them better, swap stories, and share a meal… But we don’t. We can’t. We are just hesitant that we will put them off in some way. Will they perceive us as travelers being nosy? And sometimes, we are afraid we will encounter some racism.
Where will it all lead us?
Did those before us ever picture that one day a family of South Asian origin would walk in the same paths, drive over the same roads, as they did? And can we predict who will tread these routes after us?
What does it all mean to us, and what are we contributing to this history developing around us? How will the future view and understand us?
My family’s road trip insights are fueled mostly by the personal accounts of Native Americans, African Americans, settlers, and immigrants that we came across in books, articles, and movies. We learnt about them only because they or their descendants attempted to honor and record those struggles, triumphs, and emotions. We, too, recognize the need to tell our stories, our small and big experiences, in our own words, in our own style, so we can leave a mark on the slate of life.
Recording our realities
There will always be hurdles in such endeavors. Most of us will be busy earning and raising families. We will encounter indifference and disinterest from many quarters, but we cannot lose the opportunity to convey our side of the narrative.
Some of us must try to weave our stories into this ongoing lattice of fascinating chronicles. We must hope that these little beams or lanterns will ignite the imagination and understanding of future travelers and inhabitants.