AN Essay Contest HOSTED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
DOTDASH MEREDITH & REAL SIMPLE
14 Girls Write Now mentees share mini- and mega-moments of clarity in these personal essays.
Take Space, Make Space
By Jasmine Kapadia
Take space, make space.
Before every poetry performance, I repeat this mantra—a reminder of how poetry has solidified my identity.
Growing up, being half-Taiwanese-Chinese and half-Indian left me feeling like I never quite belonged. I’m fluent in Mandarin, but can’t even say hello in Gujarati. I’ve been to Taiwan every summer since birth, but only twice to England, where my Indian relatives moved after partition. In Taiwan, my excess melanin and thick lashes set me apart. Neighborhood aunties compliment my Chinese, (“so good for a foreigner!”), peppering my mom with questions about my ethnic makeup.
In Taiwan, people see me as other: half-Indian. At school though, I’ve never truly felt connected to my Indian peers. I don’t do traditional dance or attend huge weddings, and at Indian restaurants, my low spice tolerance ensures I leave more full of ice water than biryani.
At annual international fairs in elementary school, I was always torn over what flag to walk behind. In first grade, I walked in a qipao behind the Union Jack, and cried when I didn’t understand the jokes other kids cracked about Wales. In second grade, I walked in a lengha behind the Taiwanese flag. (A kind parent asked if I was in the wrong place).
Every time I chose a flag, it felt like I was picking one of my parts over the other. Because I never solely fit with that part, I always felt like I’d made the wrong choice.
Poetry found me in second grade, becoming a safe space to grapple with my confusion as I settled into a weekly writing routine. However, I soon craved voices I could relate to. In school I learned about Robert Frost and Shel Silverstein, and while I admired their work, their experiences as white men didn’t reflect my own. I began actively seeking out BIPOC poets at libraries and bookstores. Encouraged by their writing, I started incorporating Chinese into a few poems. However, I kept these to myself, not considering them as “real” poetry due to their bilingual nature.
In eighth grade, I found the YouTube channel Button Poetry, which shared the performances of Spoken Word poets. This style of poetry thrust BIPOC poets into the spotlight, providing the representation I craved.
Muna Abdulahi, Robyn Sidhu, Safia Elhillo: I was fascinated with how they embraced and highlighted their identities through poetry. Sidhu in particular struck me with their poem “My Pronouns Are,” in which they explored the overlap of their gender identity and brown background.
By high school, poems like these helped me realize that I, in all my intersectional glory, could call myself more than “a girl that wrote poetry.”
I could call myself a poet.
Armed with this realization, I began writing more than ever. Instead of trying to limit the amount of culture I let into my poems, I tried to incorporate it wherever I could. Eventually, I found the courage to share these culture-saturated poems at local open mics, my city hall, and book readings, until one day I even found myself performing at an international conference.
The “take space” in my mantra reminds me to own the space I take up at performances and slams. “Make space” urges me to create my own voice, and to be my own representation. Now, when I write about being Indian, and lapse into Mandarin in the middle of a metaphor, the audience doesn’t question the switch—because maybe that’s my point.
While I used to feel fractured when it came to my heritage, poetry has helped me realize that these fractures are, in fact, who I am.
My Simple Realization: An Essay Contest & Story Collection
14 Girls Write Now mentees share mini- and mega-moments of clarity in these personal essays. This contest was produced in partnership with Dotdash Meredith and the team at Real Simple as part of the SeeHer Initiative.
Jasmine Kapadia is obsessed with lip gloss, Beyoncé and Rupaul’s Drag Race. She is a 17-year-old Asian American poet. Her work has appeared in Good Morning America, Kissing Dynamite and elsewhere. She’s a poetry editor for Indigo Literary Journal. Jasmine hopes to produce a chapbook of work and eventually a full-length book of poetry.