I recently read an excerpt of work by Tiphanie Yanique: Getting Past my Past, and I was hooked. Her book is called The Land of Love and Drowning, and I can’t wait for it to come out. I particularly like how she writes about her childhood growing up poor, but only poor in material things, definitely enriched in spirit.
At the center of it all is home, where it rightfully should be. Home for her is still sacred, a place where she was as a little girl, bereft of parents, who “landed” with loving grandparents. “At our house, bread with butter was a meal. Sprinkle some sugar on it, now it’s a dessert too.” Her grandparents had taken Tiphanie, her brother, and their cousins, raising them in the beauty and “roughness” of the Virgin Islands. Her grandparents, firm believers in education, had placed the kids in a private school. At school, Tiphanie was vague about where she lived in the “Round da Field neighborhood.” Of course, like all good classmates, kids know everything. Tiphanie describes a certain encounter with an angry boy: “That was the way to talk to me. A knife to my neck. Like that was a language I could understand.”
In this excerpt, Ms. Yanique examines values, what perhaps we think is important (image, appearance, materialism) and what truly is important (family, belonging, respect). As a young girl, she waits on a corner for her friend and the friend’s dad to pick her up to go to the movies. He had cautioned her not to be late, “I can’t wait for you…” he told her. Her uncle stood with her on the corner until it was obvious that she wouldn’t be picked up, “They didn’t value you,” he tells her while she thinks, “And maybe that was because I wasn’t valuable.”
Tiphanie poses a hard question about someone who would ask a young girl to stand alone at night on the corner in a rough neighborhood. “As if I would be safe enough there. As if a girl on a curb at night anywhere in the world could be safe.” She touches on the emotions that many people feel, growing up in impoverished and working class areas the world over. “I still have a poor girl’s insecurities. I still have a rough girl’s grit. Nothing heals you of childhood.” Nothing may heal you, but you also never forget the beauty and strength of a loving home, if you are lucky enough to have one. “My grandfather built that house with his own sweat… I felt that house saved me.”
This wonderful, eloquent woman, who is now also a professor, encourages her own students to examine the core of who they are. “When I find students who I imagine must have the same responsibilities and insecurities I had, I try to pull them up and push them forward.”
Getting Past my Past is a great story segment, all about taking who you are and where you are from and owning it all, because like a wonderfully luscious layer cake, all those things, good and bad overlap, the sweetness and the sadness, the successes and failures, heartbreak and happiness, the droopy side of the cake, still delicious, masked by beautiful swirls of creamy frosting. I believe I would highly recommend Land of Love and Drowning.