Poem: Swagatam, Chicago


Image source

Swagatam Chicago


A spare room, bare bulb,

spicy curry: dama bat.

Smiles, laughs,

languages collide

between the Bhutanese,

the Korean, and me.

A stuffed monkey,

an English book.

This is how it feels–

America, new to them

and me.

Swagatam, Chicago

I wrote this poem in 2011 after a semester of visiting a Bhutanese refugee family in Rogers Park, Illinois. They had lived (grown up, married, and had a child) in a Nepalese refugee camp for about fifteen years before being granted refugee status by the States.

As a college student, I hadn’t thought much about the experience of coming to the US for the first time, but this family, whose names I never wrote down but whose faces are burned into my mind, changed how I looked at our world.

I’ve lost contact with the family but I hold onto the memories of this Hindu Bhutanese family (three generations in a one-bedroom apartment) and the smiles on their faces and hope in their eyes.

I weep for the refugees being turned away at airports, immigrants being told they can’t come to this land of freedom, and permanent residents being questioned about their nationality or citizenship.

Refugees are seeking a better life; let’s welcome them. Regardless of the country/religion/background they come from, let us be swagatam, tarḥāb, welcome.

Translation guide for Hindi:

Swagatam: welcome

Namaste: hello

Dama bat: thank you