Literacy development is vastly viewed as a linear experience that starts at a young age with rudimentary teachings that continually expands over time to more complex and in depth literary values. We grow up in an education system that offers the same readings as that of our parents, to be brought up with a set of basic universal literary understanding, but where do we find our own personal experiences? Some use their passion for sports as an outlet of introspection, building relationships with coaches and growing with their teammates through the countless battles fought together. For others literacy is understood as notes in a music book, each song as an expression of their character and an intricate insight to their world. For me? It was the emergence of a new culture and family which would rearrange my linear literacy development into that of a roller coaster. Each day serving as a reminder of what has been lost but more than ever to be gained in this new world.
Humans are creatures of habit, finding comfort in the predictable routine of daily life. We are immersed into the patterns of life as an adolescence, waking up at 6:30 am and waiting outside in the unforgiving weather conditions supplied by mother nature for the 7:05 school bus. Watching the clock for the bell to ring for the end of 6th period so you can rush into your after-school plans with your friends. Of course, we all have our different patterns of life, varying with interests and age, but what happens when the patterns of life get torn to pieces to initiate change? To truly grasp the value of change, you must first understand the prequel. That is where my story begins.
I never think too much about my youth. It’s hard to reflect on memories that have been purposefully blocked out. The times I do remember were impoverished and stricken with cries for a family that were met with nothing but the rattling of rickshaws and street beggars, lost in the literal sense. The only comfort held was the company kept by children with similar backgrounds, deviating from broken homes or forcibly disowned. I would never know the reasoning behind my family’s negligence, other than being trapped in the pandemic that is West Bengal’s indigence. The only biological ties I have to “family” is a DNA test from my orphanage, detailing my immediate ancestry. Son to Putul Kumar Chetree, and Khadeem Miller; Half Black, half South-Indian, yet fully orphaned. Family would be introduced to me as the angelic caretakers of Society for Indian Children Welfare orphanage. They sought for my well being in a time where unselfishness rarely sees the light of day in the state of overpopulation. I owe them my life for taking me in, giving me another chance and asking for nothing in return. My reflection of childhood is not to gain a sense of sympathy but to give a better understanding of my background for cultural transitioning. To truly appreciate the sun you have to embrace the downpour of rain; I am fortunate enough to have endured the rain first and to have never turned back.
I have always pondered about the process of adoption, the ins and outs of selecting a child that would now forever be considered family. How does one decide? For my parents they said they knew right away just from looking at me, but I think that’s something every adoptive parent has to say. Never having the opportunity to interact because of the distance between us did not stop them from traveling across the world to pick me up, albeit that is not the conventional way of third world adoption. I think they just wanted an excuse to indulge in the traditional street thali. My caretakers told me I would be taken away for a while by some nice white people, of course I didn’t understand what they meant. Calcutta was my home, and America was something I had never heard of. That was all about to change in 2006. Seattle would be my home, growing accustomed to a new city where a low of 100° F isn’t the norm, and rain is as abundant as the stray dogs wandering the streets of Calcutta.
I wouldn’t use cultural shock as an appropriate term to describe my welcoming to America, because I was too unaware of my surroundings as a 5 year old boy to comprehend the new world that was given to me. I would describe my transition to the U.S. as the creation of a new character. The orphan who witnessed abandonment, poverty, and neglect would never come to light again, though he would carry those burdens with him in his new life. The changeover was never easy, it took time and counseling to incorporate my past as part of my present, but there is power in accepting yourself through every turn in life. Becoming the greatest version of myself meant accepting the past, present and future. I saw my upbringing as an pivotal phase to my path in America, instead being proud of the lessons that had been taught.
I am most thankful for parents that were able to accept me for who I was, and not forcing me to become who they were looking for in a child. I came to America speaking Hindi and Benagli. In my first week they hired an Indian speech therapist so I could be confident in speaking my native language while continuing to learn the basics of the English language. To this day I can fluently speak Hindi, Bengali and English because of my parents open-mindedness towards literacy awareness and development.
In Learning to Read, Malcolm X addressed his annoyance with the inability to express his thoughts because of the lack of literary understanding; “I became increasingly frustrated. at not being able to express what I wanted to convey in letters that I wrote”. Much like a child learning to speak, not knowing how to properly communicate. The feeling of being unheard often follows with moments of anger which was an infinite commonality in my path to English literacy. I would scream and yell in Hindi because I felt unheard, unaware that my words were falling on deaf ears. It was my youthful ignorance that would lead to many tantrums, thankful for parents that were patient with my development, as many literacy sponsors can attest to patience being a key component in educating.
My foundation to true family was unique in the sense that introductions are rarely initiated midway through early child development. Normalcy comprises of the family’s presence as we take our first breath drowned out by the screams and cries of excitement for the creation of life. The parents euphoric feeling of witnessing their baby’s first steps or hearing their child’s first words. Those were experiences I would never have, but my whole life had been nothing but irregular. Though the change to normalcy may be viewed as easy; those aspects of change that mend our lives to create imbalance is what makes us the most vulnerable. But being vulnerable is one the greatest gifts life can give you, as I have learned through my short time. For vulnerability has given me life, family, and appreciation of love.
It’s difficult for a child unknowing of the situation to have any say in the matter of rehoming, The realization of the adoption concept did not come too easily. I waited every day for months for the trip back home to Calcutta, not in anticipation but in disbelief of where I was. Love and support only runs so deep, the culmination of my family meant acceptance not from my parents, but acceptance from within myself. I was met with struggles of identity, because I cared what people would think. Living in a community where diversity runs solely through me.
The process of literary understanding creates a life full of opportunities that only grows more unique with time. A passage with no destination creates for a journey of memories, good and bad. It is our responsibility to savor these experiences and grow along the way. I certainly have made my fair share of mistakes, but regretting anything in life is taking away from who you are today, and what you hope to become tomorrow. Taking time to reflect on life, it is an understatement to say that I am blessed to be where I am, but that my story has only just begun. I have never envisioned how much of an impact literacy could have, though writing has always been my passion. I would consider Boise State as my greatest literary sponsor because it has opened my eyes to the possibilities that come with growing as a student and writer.
X, Malcolm, and Alex Haley. Learning to Read. New York: Grove Press, 1965.