Throughout this election season, NPR and its member stations have been having a national conversation called "A Nation Engaged." The project has looked at central themes in this year's election, including this week's question:
What does it actually mean to be American?
We put this question to some promising young spoken word artists, and we'll be sharing their poems with you all week.
The first is a poem entitled Apology to My Father by Sakila Islam, a sophomore at the University of Michigan.
Apology to My Father, by Sakila Islam
My father has the pride of a thousands suns
The kind of pride that leaks out of him as he walks
The kind of pride that radiates from him as he talks
The kind of pride that’s so bright that I can’t even look him in the eyes sometimes
My father’s pride is as deep as the ancient green forests behind his Bangladeshi home and as strong as the rigid jackfruit trees that stand tall even during the monsoon season floods.
And that’s why I know that he will never accept my apologies.
You came to this country with only the clothes on your back and the hopes and dreams of your family in your pocket
Hopes and dreams so heavy that they weighed you down with every step you took, putting so much pressure on you that you kneeled to the ground in prayer time and time again
I’m sorry that this country will not accept you
I’m sorry that your skin is too brown, too similar to dirt to be worth anything, if anything it’s only good for their cheap labor
I’m sorry your English is too broken, like jagged shards of glass—maybe they’re too afraid of cutting themselves on your sentence fragments so they clench their fists full of insults before even getting to know you
I’m sorry your faith is too strong, that it’s become a threat to the people around you. Instead of realizing how beautiful your voice sounds coming from the minaret of a mosque, they silence your needs and turn a deaf ear to your problems
It’s been two decades since my father came here, and he’s begun swallowing his pride like diabetes pills
Doctor’s orders: be unseen, unheard. Unless you were born in this country, you’ll always have second priority while sitting in the waiting room
But my father’s sight has gone bad from turning a blind eye to the people who mock him so many times, that he can’t even read the fine print on his prescription.
Maybe that’s why he takes a little too much, overdosing on becoming a pushover, in a society that has no problems pushing him over the edge, father
I’m sorry I’m writing a poem to you in a language you’ll never fully understand
I’m sorry I don't even have the ability to properly tell you how much I love you because they didn't teach me your mother tongue in the school I was adopted into
I’m sorry this country is such a cruel lover to you, binding you to it with blackmail
I know you’re only in this destructive relationship for the sake of your children
And your children, with one foot in America and the other in Bangladesh, know you can’t fight a war when you’re standing at the border
So when people fire insults, they follow in your footsteps, overdosing on silence
Swallowing the pride of a thousand suns, and becoming shadows that can only carry
Sakila Islam is a Bangladeshi immigrant and graduate of Detroit Public Schools. She's currently a sophomore at the University of Michigan.