Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project is a graphic novel written by young, South Asian women who are survivors of violence. Their stories are painful to read; the pressure to conform to multiple ideals and the resulting family conflict and inner struggle are unpleasant to witness. They show us graphically what they want us to see—their lives, in plain lines, but utterly complicated.
The women who wrote the book happen to be South Asian, but the message from their book transcends: Pay attention. Make the invisible visible. Listen to us.
I have had to endure my own journey with this book. When I first flipped through it I heard my blood loudly in my ears as I saw my face in the faces of the girls drawn in thick black lines. I remembered growing through the pain of cultural multiplicity as a young South Asian American, and started calling up the stories of others I’ve known who have struggled with anxiety and depression around navigating these same tensions. Wow, these young women did this. They wrote it all down and were not ashamed. Good for them.
But then I got defensive. These are my people—South Asians—and these girls were showing the world how unattractive our families and our lives can be. We really shouldn’t put that on view for everyone to see, right? What will other people—or even our own people—think of us?
I spent time thinking this through with family, colleagues, and friends, men and women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and came to feel that this conversation is as important as it is inevitable. We have to start talking like we are human—good and bad, loving and brutal, conforming and deviant, grateful and angry, faithful and questioning, beautiful and ugly. Just because we are racial and ethnic minorities, we need not be ashamed of the wholeness of our beings. Many of us feel that in the face of dominant culture we must protect our image, maintain solidarity, and avoid publicly questioning our own people. But that has led to the silencing of too many voices, afraid to be shunned for talking openly about their communities and their experiences. Some divorce themselves from their personal experiences, talking in highly professionalized ways, or whitewash the truth so that it is palatable to others.
We need honest and meaningful opportunities to speak about violence in our communities if we’re really going to end it. I have been afraid to raise my voice as an Indian woman, a child of immigrants, a sister and a wife and mother in a multiracial family, because I am proud of my roots and I don’t want to hurt or disrespect my family or community in any way. But these young women are helping me to have the courage to start seeing that criticism and pride, pain and love, truth and belonging really can exist together. I can now see that along with essential legal protections, this is absolutely critical to ending forms of violence, like forced marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting, that are impacting thousands of people from many different ethnic backgrounds across the country.
The authors of Heartbeats are about to launch a tour across America, bringing their book and their voices to you through a multimedia performance, and asking that you raise your voice with them. Whether or not you understand or agree with them, their call for honest, open, complicated, painful engagement is a courageous one. I am honored to be a part of this conversation, and I ask you to join us.
Follow along on social media with #HonorYourHeartbeat and learn more about the tour here.