Roots

i am sitting in the driver’s seat of the car when she tells me she can no longer understand the language she was born into.

her eyes still bear the weight of their heavy lids, cheekbones still too found and high for her palm-flattened nose, but neither bring the Kanji into focus.

I ask how long it took to learn English, how long it took her to spoon out every piece of her heritage, sucking out the marrow one forgotten character at a time, how long it took her to start signing things Kay instead of Kiyoko.

20 years ago I stole her name – bloody and silent in sickness, I was given the name Kiyoko. An homage to a woman who had left the name to fill her footprints to America like rainwater. An homage to a woman who’s drivers license and birthday cards were both written in English. An homage to a woman who cloaked her name in a veil of assimilation, living quietly beneath her skin.

2 years ago she took back her name- spooning it into the throats of those who still called her Kay. That is when I know that even if she cannot remember the meaning of the kanji she squints over, America has not swallowed her. That even the most thorough baptism cannot scrub a woman clean of the waves of cane, snakes the size of a man’s thigh, the peak of her island with the ocean visible in every direction.

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