May 18, 2019

Families, Reimagined: Blossoms and Hearts by Kunal Mehra

In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we present our "Families, Reimagined" art series! Organizations like APANO have long recognized the diversity of families and have been working to expand definitions of family in legislative policy. To explore this expansive notion further, we commissioned six artists to create original artwork responding to changing definitions of home, family, and community. Today's piece of original writing comes from artist Kunal Mehra. Read on and join us in celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander artists.

Blossoms and Hearts

It was a beautiful spring morning, the kind that haiku poets used to muse about. The fog had lifted and the sun was starting to peek out.

I was lying on a blanket under a cherry blossom tree, the wind freeing the blossoms every now and then. The smells of warmth, hope, sunshine lingered around me, almost lulling me to sleep. My reverie was unexpectedly disrupted by the sound of a couple speaking Spanish. I sat up and stared at them. At first, they didn’t seem to notice it, but I could tell they were starting to feel awkward.

“Where are you guys from?” I asked, still sitting down.

They pretended to ignore me and kept up their conversation. She moved closer to him as they held hands.

“I’m just curious because you’re speaking Spanish…that’s all,” I said.

“We live in this town.”

They got up from the bench and started walking away.

Lazy wimps, I thought.They come here illegally and then speak their language in front of us.

I closed my eyes and tried to forget about it. It didn’t happen, Tyler. Those two are still in whatever country they were born in. Jessica and the kids are in your home, safe. You don’t need to be afraid – your family is safe from them.

My breaths slowed again. In the distance, children’s laughter kissed the warm grass along with the blossoms. The river wove its way through the city. A falling blossom slowly made its way down and touched my lips. I let it linger there, its soft pinkness hesitating at my boundary.

And then, that soft beautiful thing started talking to me.

“What was that all about?”

“I’m just trying to keep my family safe!”

“And you think these people might be a threat to your family?”

“Yes – a danger to my family. But they’re also threatening our culture, our way of life, the kind of family that we’ve established in this country.”

“But what if you thought of them as part of your family? And as part of this country’s family?

“Why would I do that? All that will bring is more chaos and more change. Besides, why would I make myself vulnerable to strangers who are threats to my safety, time and money?”

The blossom rested on my lips. As I exhaled softly, it would drift up a little bit into the air but then settle down again. I almost let it in, curious and hungry for what this strange new being might taste like.

“How’s the blossom?”

“It’s kind of strange and new. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten this close to a blossom.”

“Since you’ve never tasted it, why don’t you try it now?”

I opened my mouth, hesitant.

“I hope it doesn’t hurt my stomach.”

“I don’t think anyone’s ever been harmed by a cherry blossom. How is it?”

“Feels kind of delicious.”

“Nice. By the way, you still feel that way about that family question I asked you?”

“Why do you keep bringing it up?”

“Because I think reconsidering might actually make you feel happier.”

“Yeah, whatever. Maybe it will. How would I know?”

“You just let in something beautiful and new that you thought might harm you. How is expanding your circle of family any different?”

“What? Those are two completely different things.”

“They are, but I think your feelings about both were sort of similar: you were anxious and fearful of it first, but as you relaxed and trusted me, you found out that it was nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it ended up feeling beautiful. What if the absence of fear - or even the tiniest step in that direction - made you want to invite them into your family? Maybe we will all have dinner together some day?”

I rolled over to one side. The park had gotten more crowded. Joggers sprinted by. An old man was staring out at the river with his hands tucked in his fleecy pockets. A family of four was posing for a photo under the trees. “Hola Manuel, come here!” shouted the dad at his kid who was sprinting away. They had a selfie stick, but they didn’t seem happy with the results.

“Would you like me to take your photo?” I offered.

“Sure. Thanks! Actually, now that I don’t have to hold that selfie stick up, I can have a little more fun with my boy. Ready when you are.”

I stood up, his phone in my hand, ready.

“One, two, three!”

On the count of three, he threw his little baby boy up into the blossoms. It all happened so fast, I don’t quite remember exactly what happened, but I think in those few seconds, the boy touched the blossoms ever so briefly; the dad scooped up his little love as he drifted down; the mom clutched their daughter close as they both held wide grins on their faces; and I, newly minted and vulnerable, spacious and anxious, confused and joyous, whispered thanks to that soft courageous delicate heart of mine.

Kunal Mehra lives in Portland. He likes to write, take photos, hike, make movies and listen to fun music.

Artwork by Ameya Marie

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