A Ledbury Critic as well as writer, poet and editor, Sarala Estruch’s family history is filled with stories of migration, war, and cross-cultural and interracial love, marriage, and conflict. Her paternal grandfather (a Sikh who was born and brought up in India) travelled to Bristol in the 1940s to study, where he met her grandmother (a Christian who was born and brought up in Bristol). They fell in love, got married in Bristol in 1952 and moved back to India, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Her maternal grandfather fled the tyranny of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in his native Catalonia to settle in the French colony of Algeria in the 1940s, where he met her grandmother (a second-generation migrant from Naples). To Sarala, uncovering untold histories – whether personal, familial, or national – is important, and a vital part of the poet’s work.
In an interview with Asian Voice, she spoke about her family, interracial relationships, migration and her work.
Q - How different is it to grow up in a family environment that has vivid memories of migration and, most importantly, boasts of interracial love at a time when the world could really do with some ounce of tolerance towards all cultures?
I can’t quite say how “different” it is because it is all I have known; I don’t know what it is to not grow up in a family that has vivid memories of migration and interracial love. This has formed my outlook of the world and has shaped my belief that tolerance of and respect for all cultures is crucial.
Q - Could you share an anecdote about migration and interracial love that has always stayed with you?
I have three such stories that have created who I am today: my paternal grandfather (brown Indian) met my maternal grandmother (white English) in Bristol in the 1940s; they fell in love, married, and settled in India. My mother (descended from white Europeans but born and raised in Algeria) met my father (half-Indian, half-English) in London in the ’70s. I, myself, met my (Black Jamaican) husband when I was doing volunteer work in Jamaica in the ‘00s; we now live in London with our two children who are real ‘global citizens’.
Q - As per your knowledge of your family history, how did your ancestors cope with grief and bereavement back then? What is it that we can learn from them today?
Everyone copes with bereavement differently. In Say, I write about how we need to talk more about grief and bereavement, especially with children. There is a belief, particularly among older generations, that children should be shielded from discussions of bereavement and grief, but, in my experience, excluding children from these discussions actually hinders their ability to healthily process grief.
Q - In your latest collection, you talk about "exploring the limits of language". Could you please elaborate on that?
Languages develop so that we can communicate with others the things we see and experience; an attempt to ‘name’ the world and our experiences in it. But language is always behind, always attempting to name the unnameable. There are countless things we see, think, and feel every day that we have no language for. Grief is one of those things; it is so complex and ever-changing – from person to person and from moment to moment.
My book, Say, grapples with personal grief and intergenerational grief, and also seeks to connect with people around the world since we are all now going through a time of communal grief as a result of the continued losses we are experiencing as a result of Coronavirus. I am trying to forge a language with which we can begin to talk about these things so that we can share our grief so that we can begin to heal.
Say also explores intergenerational trauma, such as trauma that has been passed down as a result of brutal events like the partition of the South Asian subcontinent. For so long, survivors of Partition didn’t speak about the traumas they had experienced; it was too painful to talk about, but there was also a feeling that language couldn’t adequately convey what they had experienced. This is what I mean when I talk about ‘exploring the limits of language’ in my book.
Q- When people from different cultures come together to spend a lifetime and also end up migrating, where do they actually belong? Is home a place or do you find it in people?
For me, home isn’t a place; it’s definitely in people. First of all, it is in yourself – the love and respect you give to yourself, your self-care – and then ‘home’ is the people you share love and respect with, and who share their love and respect with you, too. Home is caring for yourself and others, and feeling cared for.
Q - What according to you are the biggest challenges and possibilities of cross-cultural and interracial relationships, and mixed-race identity? What role does colonialism play here?
There are endless possibilities for developing new ways of thinking, being, and connecting in cross-cultural and interracial relationships, and in mixed-race identities. Some of the biggest challenges to cross-cultural and interracial relationships, and mixed-race identities are fixed and exclusive (or purist) notions of nationhood, culture, and race, along with white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and colourism, which are a direct result of European colonialism.
Say by Sarala Estruch is out from flipped eye on 21st October.