celebrate our voices / / BAN THE WALLS . . .

The statement below (written collaboratively by Diya Bose, Alicia Vogl Saenz, and me) was read in the order of writers above: Jamie Asaye Fitzgerald, Alicia Vogl Saenz, Elline Lipkin, Manuela Traude Gomez, Diya Bose, Lynn Harris Ballen, Lisbeth Coiman, and me (Sehba Sarwar); photo by Ayesha Kamran.

 “Before we begin, we pause to acknowledge that this library sits on unceded land of the Tongva peoples. We realize that this acknowledgement, on its own, is not enough; but it is a necessary first step. Let us take this moment as an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which we can participate in decolonial practices.

I recognize I am a guest in the homeland territory of the Tongva. I extend my respect and gratitude to the many indigenous people who call these lands home.

With the rise of global fascism, restricted border crossings, and land grabbing, we gather today in solidarity with communities across the globe to recognize their struggle and suffering. 

Today, we stand with the people of the border region between Mexico and the US.

We stand with citizens of Jammu and Kashmir and condemn the actions of the Indian government.

We condemn racialized, settler-colonial violence around the world and stand in resistance against prisons of all forms: be they the open air prisons in Kashmir and Gaza, migrant detention camps, or the prisons of mass incarceration. We stand with the stateless, houseless and incarcerated in Los Angeles and elsewhere. 

Today’s gathering is dedicated to the support of citizens around the world who struggle for their freedom to express their voices and to cross borders.

Thank you for joining us in celebration of words.”

We opened our reading, celebrate our voices / / BAN THE WALLS, with the above statement, taking turns to step up to the mic and read.

When I first planned the event, I invited friends from my newfound LA literary community—as well as my daughter Minal and her friend Sofia—to read alongside me and celebrate the publication of Black Wings. But given the atrocities being committed by the US government on the US-Mexico border, the occupation of Kashmir and Palestine, and erupting violence around the globe, I made sure that the afternoon included protest.

On Sunday, August 25, Pasadena Central Library was filled with friends and members of my new-found community, who were treated to a rich array of text by writers with histories in Ecuador, Eastern Europe, South Africa, Venezuela, Hawaii, Mexico, India and more. Each writer rose to the occasion and read powerful work that tackled borders and protest.

On one side of the stage, my friend Kishwar Jaffer sold t-shirts that were mailed in by poet Emmy Pérez who has launched Poets Against Walls in McAllen, Texas. By the end of the afternoon, t-shirts were sold out as were copies of Black Wings. Together—in a gathering reminiscent of the post-9/11 Words for Peace series that I initiated in Houston—we cut cake, ate samosas and snacks, and celebrated birthdays, friendships, and dissent.

Visit my Flickr site to see more photographs.

Friends who brought their brilliance to the gathering by setting up snacks, selling t-shirts, and organizing music. From left to right:
Kishwar Jaffer, Misbah Dadabhoy, Ruquiya Khan, Ayesha Kamran, Farezeh Durrani, and Annie Athar (seated in front); photo by filmmaker
Faroukh Virani, a friend from Houston, who used to document Voices Breaking Boundaries’ Words for Peace series 
and is now also based in Los Angeles