Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal
Volume 3 Issue 1
Momina A Khan
University of Saskatchewan
Momina A Khan is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Curriculum Studies at the University of
Saskatchewan. Her current research focuses on autobiographical narrative inquiry, hybrid identities,
minority children, parent knowledge and mandated curriculum with a special emphasis on un/
underrepresented voices of minority parents’ in schools and curriculum.
Abstract: Looking inward as a mother, I see that autobiographical narrative inquiry has further
deepened my understanding that my children’s dual identity (Muslim Canadians) is not breaking
them apart, rather putting them together. Looking outward as a researcher, poetic representation has
given me a voice where, instead of fearing silence, I am able to “inhabit a more ambiguous and
flexible sense of self” (Boler, 1999, p. 176). I am able to act as an interpreter between the chaos of
my experiences and an assembly of unbroken monologues and sporadic dialogues. Finally, looking
through as an amateur poet, I practice poetry “as a method of inquiry to move into [my] own
impossibility, where anything might happen—and will”
(St. Pierre,
2005, p.
973). I create
opportunities for meaning making and insights as my stories and poems resonate for others, and in
how my stories inform, enhance, and deepen parents’ and educators’ knowledge and
conceptualizations of an inclusive school community.
Keywords: autobiographical narrative inquiry; poetic representation; minority mother; mother stories,
dual identity, inclusive curricula
Unpacking Self and Silence: Looking Inward, Looking Outward,
Looking Through
Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal
Volume 3 Issue 1
Looking Inward: Unpacking a Mother’s Love
The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before, the woman
existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.
(Rajnesh, cited in Tate, 2013, p. 167)
Figure 1. Momina and Irteqa Khan. Peshawar, Pakistan. 1996
Mother,” a tiny voice whispers from the womb.
“Your tender caresses and
euphonious whispers assure me that this world is beautiful and welcoming…. what can I do
other than rejoice in this cozy niche of mine?” This is the voice I conceived of and felt as a
mother, well before my child had taken his first step in the world. When the time came and
his lively cries were heard, the little baby now outside, weakly opened his eyes to see the
world. As soon as the nurse congratulated my husband and placed our child in his hands,
my husband kissed our son’s forehead and cleared his throat for the deliverance of a sacred
rite. Tilting our child’s tiny right ear to his lips, he delivered an adhan1 brightly and resonantly.
This rite symbolized our son’s entry into the human world and into a Muslim family, and laid
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a straight path for him in terms of humanity and religious faith for the rest of his life. In that
moment, with the adhan resounding at the forefront, Allah2 became his.
Allah is the Greatest,
I bear witness that there is no God besides Allah,
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah,
Come to prayer,
Come to success,
Allah is the Greatest,
There is no God besides Allah. (Adhan, n.d.)
Hunger and the attachment bond drove the child to me as his mother, with whom he
began an outer-body relation of love, expression, and reliance. When I held my child, kissed
his head, and thanked Allah, tears unconsciously flowed from my eyes. I envisioned my own
mother, my father, siblings, and family who were seven seas and thousands of miles away in
Pakistan. From that moment on, so far away from family, we became our child’s everything:
his father, mother, grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins. What was different for our fourth
child was that, unlike his older siblings, he was born on Canadian soil, among Canadians,
and during a Canadian spring. Every new day as he grew into a young boy in his Canadian
home, my son was nurtured by our love as parents, Urdu3 lullabies, visits to the mosque,
and traditional cuisine. During celebrations of Eid,4 he received guests to our home with his
cute “Assalamu Alaikum”5 and “Allah Hafiz,”6 mimicking the accent of his siblings, subsisting
comfortably in the sanctuary that was his home in Canada.
Then, a day came when he stepped foot away from us and into a new world, his first
day of school. For this child, whose everything was us and us alone, it was difficult and scary
to let him go. My mind was inexplicably brimming with questions this day:
How can I leave him with a teacher who does not know anything about him?
How can she possibly understand him as much as I do?
Will she be able to recognize the difference between his shyness and his struggle to
express his thoughts and emotions?
Will she have time to understand his silence as he cannot speak and comprehend
Will she put enough effort to get through all the layers of his identity, to learn about his
family background, and try to know him?
Will she know how precious and vulnerable this gift I am sharing with her is?
One day my son came home from school and spoke to me in our secret language,
the language of mothers and children, a language in which eyes speak more than words. As
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I studied his eyes and face, my son took out his lunch box from his backpack, and started
eating. He was hungry. Once he was eating comfortably, he said, “Mama, please don’t pack
me potato cutlets for lunch from now on.”
Speaking in a curious voice as I reminded him how much he loves potato cutlets, I
asked, “How come you don’t want to take them to school anymore?”
He said, “’Cuz no other kids in my classroom bring them for lunch.” In that particular
moment, I found myself dwelling in a contested space, experiencing I am sure the same
mysterious feeling my son felt each time he opened his lunch box at school.
I dwell in contested spaces
the betwixt and betweens
constantly surprised
by twists and turns
views and vistas
fission and fusion
Morning, as usual,
in the kitchen
beckons the thrumming of pots
boiling of earth’s edible wares
the fry pan sizzles
aroma of masala lingers in every nook
pinch of savory spices and herbs mixed
tantalizing desi fried potato cutlets ready
the gardening of lunches, and
clicking of a gratified lunchbox
In sleep wiped from early eyes
making a motion down the stairs, as usual,
asking about his lunch for the school day
What are you making, mama?
Fried potato cutlets, your favorite
(refusal to accept the known)
No, I don’t want to take these to school
(request to embrace the unknown)
Can I have pasta instead?
But it’s what you love, my son
I do, but I don’t
opening the lunch box at home
is different from opening it at school
No one, none of my friends, brings it for lunch
Unpacking Self and Silence: Looking Inward, Looking Outward,
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Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal
Volume 3 Issue 1
Moment of silence, awkward spaces of mothering
unsettling emotions, into the abyss of the bizarre
in between spaces filled with uncertainty
realizing my son is making sense of his duality
grade two, a process of self discovery
seeing self in relation to self and to others
Identity negotiations in a cold white land
Stem from what others think of me
Others’ from whom I look different
in a struggle of self legitimation
not only color, race, religion, and language matter
but also and even
a potato cutlet
In my son’s refusal to take a potato cutlet in his
“My bonding with my
lunchbox, I heard the unspoken words, “Mother, this world is
so very different from the one of which you inspired me to
babies began when
dream. It judges me on the basis of ‘who I am’ and treats me
no other bonding
based on the stratification of my color, race, religion, ethnicity,
beliefs, culture, language and accent.”
existed for them,
from conception to
In my heart I responded, “I know my child, how torn
the umbilical cord,
you are between your two worlds of identity. I promise you
that I will teach you how to see the beauty in broken things. I
from feeling the joy
promise you that I will teach you not to let your silence make
of them kicking up
the loudest noise. I promise you that I will teach you it is okay
to feel weak and scared because, when we feel the weakest
their legs inside me
and the most defeated, we are not breaking apart, we are just
to the fear of quiet
transforming into who we are meant to be. I promise you, my
son, that I will relay your message of identity struggle to
movements, from
everyone who has a role to play in your life until you learn
hearing silent calls
how to stand up for yourself and speak through your own
inside my womb to
loud cries after they
I am a mother who has carried each of my four babies
opened their eyes in
in a cozy niche inside me for nine months; my blood runs in
them. My bonding with my babies began when no other
the new world.”
bonding existed for them, from conception to the umbilical
cord, from feeling the joy of them kicking up their legs inside
me to the fear of quiet movements, from hearing silent calls
Unpacking Self and Silence: Looking Inward, Looking Outward,
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inside my womb to loud cries after they opened their eyes in the new world. No one in this
world can understand, love and protect them more than I can, as a mother. I am a mother of
four Canadian children who, for the past 18 years, have called Canada “home.” As a minority
parent raising children with multiple identities, cultures, nationalities, languages, and beliefs,
I have experienced, through my lived stories, how complex integration and the process of
blending and balancing identities can be. My experiences have shaped my understanding in
a narrative manner; either being a law-abiding Canadian, or a mother helping my children
with homework, or a former educational assistant in the school system, I have diligently
followed social, political, institutional, dominant, standard, and structured stories presented
to me. Somehow faithfully following along led me to practice structured silences without fully
knowing it. My children’s experiences of being colored and minority Canadians on the school
landscape and in the school curriculum bumped into my silences.
I vividly remember times in my graduate education classes when teachers would
share their stories and experiences of children and families. One colleague said that the goal
of teachers should be to treat and see children equally, to teach them in a “colorblind” way.
In that instance, I began constructing meaning out of my personal lived experiences as a
minority mother. I wanted to request, as a mother, to please invite me into your classroom,
create a space for my voice, and present me with the choice of whether or not I would like
you to teach my child in a colorblind way. I wanted to tell that teacher that I would like her to
be colorblind when treating my children equitably in relation to others, but not when teaching
them. I wished to let her know that “color” is a significant aspect of their identity and makes
them who they are as an individuals and Canadians. I wanted to tell her that when educators
ignore the differences in their students' identities or “assume that their students are ‘normal’
i.e., expect them to have the normative, privileged identities or neutral, i.e., without race,
sex, and so forth which is often read as ‘normal’ anyway” (Kumashiro, 2000, p. 29), they
miss the opportunity to create inclusive classrooms.
By narrating my mother stories of my children’s experiences with the school curriculum,
inquiring into them, and imagining possibilities and transformations, I become awakened to
the particularities of excluded epistemologies, power relations, hegemonic institutional
structures, intersections of my children’s identity narratives, and the tensions they
experience in regard to the mandated curricula for all children. Through my stories, I
challenge the validity of existing policies, practices, and attitudes. I wonder what happens
when children’s sense of themselves is under attack by a dominant narrative that does not fit
coherently with their own. I wonder what it means in terms of identity making to be excluded
so readily and so regularly that the only comfortable space is the space that excludes. What
does it mean to identity making to recognize yourself as positioned on the outside looking in
(Clarke, 2014, p. 117)?
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I question!
Why does a thin piece of fabric on my head carry the weight of the world?
Why does my name switch to Alpha, Bravo, or Charlie at airports?
Why does my skin colour speak louder than my spoken words?
Why does my accent receive more attention than my English skills?
Why does my ethnicity appear quicker than my humanity?
Why does my difference lock my place as the ‘other’?
Why does my higher qualification adhere to odd jobs?
Why does my faith become politicized as an extremist ideology?
Why does my positioning face subjugation to systemic power and privilege?
Why does my identity become tormented in a dichotomy between home and land?
Why does my racial identity bump into racialization of identity?
Why does my citizenhood demand a certificate of assimilation?
Why does my hybrid identity undergo ceaseless rupturing?
Why does my silence make the loudest noise?
We question!
When can we be ready to affirm the identity of all citizens?
Who can we engage in combating the biases and assumptions?
How can we sculpt the colourless face of every race?
Our quest and attempt to honour Humanity Matters,
We seek to find answers!
Questioning is a powerful way of learning because it not only mediates the temptation
to plunge in with our opinions, wonders, conclusions, and proposals but it also initiates a
wrestling with our personal biases, assumptions, preconceived notions, and ideologies.
Questioning is an introspective way to gain deeper insights into our lived experiences in
order to understand ourselves better, and to also understand our existence in relation to
others. I question and wonder:
How does a minority mother explain to her children the meaning of “exclusion” when
she sees her children’s identity being shaped by “structured silences” (Greene,
1993) offered through curriculum?
How does a mother compose an answer for her Canadian born and raised children
when they are being consistently asked where they are from?
How does a mother respond to a question when her “Muslim Canadian” children ask
her about why Muslims are targeted the most in the Western world?
How does a mother prepare her culturally diverse children for a world that will not
care for them unconditionally?
Unpacking Self and Silence: Looking Inward, Looking Outward,
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As a mother, I know that one of the cruelties my children may encounter, over and above the
typical slings and arrows of childhood and adolescence, is racial prejudice.
autobiographical narrative inquiry into my mother stories, situational and contextualized in
nature, explores the role of school community in affirming identities of children who are
bearers of multiple nationalities, languages, cultures, and beliefs.
Where Are You From?
Every time you ask, I pause
no longer annoyed, I seek
You persistently ask me, “Where are you from?”
I am an ‘ethnically diverse’ Canadian.
You question me about my origin.
I am a ‘hyphenated’ Canadian.
You remind me that policy calls me multicultural.
I am a ‘multicultural’ Canadian.
You label me a promoter of mono-culturalism.
I am a ‘racialized’ Canadian.
You consider me an advocate of differentialism.
I am a ‘Pakistani’ Canadian.
You suspect me as a dubious subject of patriotism.
I am a ‘Muslim’ Canadian.
You brand me a hallmark of fundamentalism.
I simply assert… I am a Canadian.
You innocently ask me, “Where are you from?”
I am a Canadian.
I operate in a pluralistic mode
Neither White nor Indigenous
Neither ‘half’ nor ‘bi’ nor ‘multi’
I am one ‘whole’ of an in-between identity
I live beside, between, and among you
in a space between ‘your’ home and ‘their’ land
a little like you, a little different from you
I am only one, but I am one of you
Unpacking Self and Silence: Looking Inward, Looking Outward,
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Ah, don’t forget to ask me again, “Where are you from?”
Your question helps
it invites me to think, wonder, seek, and know
it staples together the narratives of my diasporic moments
it offers me a chance to love living on the periphery
it stirs an inquiry into myself in my own autobiography
it clarifies my response to the crisis of representation
it challenges me to effectively talk back to power
it drives me to resist dominance and authority
it forces me to foresee inquiry in a failed experiment
it convinces me to crave confusion
it inspires me to unmask inequalities
it braces me to embrace mystery
it prompts me to compose poetry
it solicits me to make sociology
it assists me to restore humanity
Questions matter.
Looking Outward: Unpacking a Researcher’s Inquiry
Narrative inquiries are always strongly autobiographical. The
autobiographical narrative inquiry is personal lived experience - that is lives and how they
are lived
(Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). Clandinin and Caine (2012) employ the terms
autobiographical or narrative beginnings to refer to the personal stories narrative inquirers
explore to
“make evident the social and political contexts that shaped our
understandings” (p. 171). Inquiry into the researcher’s own narrative of experience includes
“living, telling, retelling, and reliving” (p. 70) in order to understand ourselves in deeper ways.
With understanding ourselves comes understanding others (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).
“People are individuals and need to be understood as such, but they cannot be understood
only as individuals. They are always in relation, always in a social context” (p. 2). As Eisner
wrote (as cited in Connelly & Clandinin, 1988), "Experience is what people undergo, the
kinds of meanings they construe as they teach and learn, and the personal ways in which
they interpret the worlds in which they live" (p. ix). Our personal and practical experience
teaches us how to respond to situations, crises, representations, and interpretations. The
meanings that come from these experiences generate transformations within us and lead to
our future movements. The narratives of my experiences from immigration to citizenship,
from multiculturalism to eurocentrism, and from parent involvement to parent engagement
on my children’s school landscapes, are narratives which emerge from my “personal, social,
practical, and political experience” (Connelly & Clandinin, 2006, p. 447) and which result in
my knowledge of schools, curricula, and the world.
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We live in and we live by many stories throughout a lifetime. Storytelling and unpacking
those stories emerged as a resource enabling me to revisit my past experiences, reconnect
to my present experiences, envision my future priorities, weave webs of significance and
cohesion, and create meaning out of what otherwise might have remained an unbearable
and unquestionable sequence of happenings. “Our stories are authored from the particulars
of experience and are expressions of our personal practical knowledge” (Olson, 1995, p.
122). My everyday experiences in personal, social, institutional, political, and ethical settings
reflect, create, and contribute to broader socio-economic and socio-political conditions as
they are expressed through grand narratives like immigration, multiculturalism, capitalism,
eurocentrism, neocolonialism, and racism. Through inquiry I unpack my mother stories, the
layers and depth of the moments I live and relive in order to raise consciousness and
unmask personal and institutional realities.
Knowing comes from experience while wakefulness comes from experiencing the
experience. As an individual I am both unique and separate, being isolated in my own
“continuity of experience” (Dewey, 1938). At the same time, being part of this world situates
me in the context of interaction with the social world, granting me a collective identity.
Identity negotiations as a culturally diverse Canadian encouraged new insights in me about
retelling my stories in new ways. I seek to write and unpack my mother stories and to
present this analysis to all Canadians to attain legitimation of my Canadian “born and raised”
children’s identity.
Often in my stories, I situate myself in my incessant state of negotiations: dialogues of
dilemmas, moving back and forth, inward and outward, between right and wrong, black and
white, fairness and injustice, belongingness and alienation, exclusion and inclusion
essentially in dialogues belonging to the “in-between” spaces in which I reside. In the act of
unpacking these stories, unpacking brings forward the most focal moment of my story, and
makes visible the multiple climaxes where I, or others, either dissolve or evolve as
characters in that story. Unpacking is a critical stage where we either melt into our fears,
vulnerabilities, insecurities, and silences or a stage where we evolve beyond who we have
been, and into who we are meant to be. Unpacking a story requires attention to extreme
detail and intricacies of the moments in which we live, those we hold on to, and those we are
trapped within.
As Caine, Estefan, and Clandinin (2013) state, “These in-between spaces are filled
with uncertainty and indeterminacy. They are places of liminality; the betwixts and betweens,
which, we argue, require attention to context(s), relationship(s), and time to explore
narratively” (p. 580). Through dwelling in these spaces of liminality, I became awakened to
how my children and I are positioned on both school and Canadian landscapes. Being in a
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state of intense liminality developed my understanding of who we are to ourselves and to
each other. Without this process of analysis, I would not have seen an inquirer in myself.
Unpacking my mother stories awakened in me the courage to sit with my struggles. It
is not easy to sit with one’s struggles and almost equally impossible to push past them. A
series of questions followed my emotions: Is it safe to unpack my stories? Will the people
around me understand me, or further silence, isolate, and judge me? Will I be able to take
those words back or is it going to be people’s property to interpret the way they want? Will I
be prepared to face the aftermath of people’s interpretations? Do I have the right to share
my mother stories of my children? Will sharing my mother stories of my children make them
stronger or even more vulnerable? Is it a safe space and place to unpack my stories? Is it
the right time to unfold my stories publicly? Do I have enough words and strong enough
English skills to unpack hard matters with softer words? Thomas King (2003) states:
…once a story is told, it cannot be called back. Once told, it is loose in the world. So
you have to be careful with the stories that you tell. And you have to watch out for the
stories that you are told. (p. 10)
I weighed the meaningfulness of unpacking my stories for myself, my children, and all of us
as a society. Simultaneously, I weighed the significance of unpacking my story as opposed
to the implications of holding it in. “When the stories we tell differ from the stories we live, we
may live a cover story of self-deception” (Crites, cited in Olson, 1995, p. 132). Though
fearful, I felt prepared to unpack my stories, yet I still found myself wrestling with what to
uncover and what to conceal in those particular moments of unpacking.
dissonance will break through and pull you into an intense involvement” (Bateson, 1994, p.
5). As I sat at my kitchen counter unpacking my stories, I realized that the authorship and
ownership were strictly mine, and that
“authorship not only expresses itself through
narrative, it also develops through narrative”
(Tappan & Brown, 1989, p.
192). This
realization inculcated in me the strong sense of responsibility and empowerment to put the
entirety of my translucent thoughts to transparent words on paper. In the transfer from
thoughts to written words, I experienced the transformative power of the single word
“unpack,” which gave birth to inquiry in my life’s narrative. The moments of “unpacking”
taught me that it was not my story that had to be unpacked, rather it was an inquiry into the
vulnerabilities, insecurities, and silences of my past, present, and future which were hidden
among the endless words of my narrative.
Through this process of unpacking my mother stories, I learned to uncover my
whispers, my long self-imposed and structured silences. I learned to question, to resist, and
to create a “counter story” (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002, p. 32). I learned that “we are a species
whose main purpose is to tell each other about the expected and the surprises that upset the
expected, and we do that through the stories we tell” (Bruner, 2002, p. 8).
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It was when my eldest daughter embarked on her journey to school that stories that
upset the expected began to enter our home. Stories created by the context of school
bumping up against our home context included requests that I drop her at the school door
instead of near the classroom, a refusal to take traditional foods I had cooked for lunch, and
English becoming the preferred language spoken among my children. As time went on and
more of my children entered school, these kinds of new stories continued. They included my
children’s correction of my Urdu accent, their desire to dress up as ladybugs, unicorns, and
tigers for Halloween instead of wearing traditional gowns, and how excitedly they awaited
Christmas - memorizing carols, pleading to go to the mall and to purchase a Christmas tree
- and asking when Santa would come to deliver presents. When my children began
correcting my English, I wish it had dawned on me that Urdu language was escaping our
home. Instead of speaking more Urdu, I naively spoke English as much as possible in hopes
that my children would find acceptance in school and be able to connect with their peers and
teachers. Many questions began arising for me and I began to feel my repositioning as a
mother. I asked myself many questions, such as: Why is Halloween celebrated? How should
my children participate in it? How do I understand the excitement my children feel for
Christmas in comparison to Eid? These kinds of questions caused me to embark on a new
journey full of surprises and wonders about the values and beliefs by which I should raise
my children in their new home of Canada. I puzzled, “How do I as mother make sense of the
hybridity of my children’s identity?” “How do I help them to understand their multiple worlds
and the often in-between position in which they find themselves?” These questions also
caused me to wonder about how my children’s teachers were making sense of these same
questions on the school landscape. Were they awake to them too? Puzzled by them?
Struggling with them? How were my children being reflected in school curriculum, language,
literacy, pedagogy, history, and celebrations?
King (2003) quoted the Nigerian storyteller Ben Okri as having said, “We live by
stories, we also live in them…. if we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change
our lives (p. 153). The older my children grew, the harder the questions became. Early on,
my mother story was shaped by the fact that my children, who spoke, read, and wrote fluent
English, and were academically high achieving in reading and writing comprehension, were
placed in an EAL class for their first four years of school. I was puzzled by how their color
seemed to speak louder than their comprehension skills. Later on, my mother story was
further shaped by my younger daughter’s friends, who asked her why she wore a hijab7 and
wondered aloud what her hair was like. I, in turn, wondered why what was on her head
seemed to speak louder than what was in her head. Even later, my story was further shaped
when my daughter, who was graduating high school, questioned the nature of festivities like
the Graduation Banquet and After Grad Party, asking how young Muslim students
graduating could be a part of them instead of feeling excluded and alienated by them. I was
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struck by how her religious choice not to partake in dancing or drinking seemed to speak
louder than her right to celebrate her graduation with her peers.
As Caine, Estefan, and Clandinin (2013) assert, “In a narrative inquiry, stories are not
just a medium of learning, development, or transformation, but also a life” (p. 578). As we
compose narratives, then, we are also composed (Clarke, 2014, p. 114). Through inquiry
into my mother stories, I began to realize my state of being. With time, I began to see that
the stories that entered our home from the outside changed the climate within as well -
some days storms, some days rain, some days sunshine, and some days wind. There
became a nonstop duality of speaking English and Urdu, valuing Christmas and celebrating
Eid, displaying one half of the closet with casual pants and t-shirts and the other half with
traditional shalwaar kameez,8 eating pasta and pizza but also appreciating biryani9 and
Haleem,10 lip singing to Western pop music but also sitting in silence when the adhan was
recited. It is out of this nonstop duality that my mother stories emerged. I realized that I was
in the midst of my own fluid story, which involves the experiences of my four children who
are struggling daily with the ambiguities and pressures of blending and balancing their
national, ethnic, and religious identities as Canadians, Pakistanis, and Muslims. By moving
backward and forward, inward and outward, between the spaces of policy and practice,
home and land, belonging and alienation, us and them and, multicultural and dominant
narratives, I became a parent-researcher.
As a researcher, I have learned “new ways of decentering [myself], of breaking out of
the confinements of privatism and self-regard into a space where [I] can come face to face
with others and call out, ‘Here [I am]’” (Greene, 1995 p. 31). I have become awakened “to
new ways of storying experience and constructing knowledge (Olson, 1995, p. 131) through
unmasking oppression and openly dialoging with the world. I have dared to invite readers of
my work into a space of “wakefulness which allows us to proceed forward with a constant,
alert awareness of risks, of narcissism, of solipsism, and of simplistic plots, scenarios, and
unidimensional characters” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 182). As eloquently expressed by
Greene (2000), “If we keep our own questions open and take intentional action against what
stands in the way of learners’ becoming, of our becoming, the spaces for freedom do
enlarge” (p. 13). As Canadians, we all must continue to explore the complexity of our
positioning on Canadian landscapes. We must ask ourselves how to create ethical and
honouring spaces for silenced voices in curriculum in order to unearth the weeds of
oppression and move closer to the development of a just and democratic Canadian society.
Unpacking Self and Silence: Looking Inward, Looking Outward,
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Looking Through: Packing it all up with Poetry
(When the Words Begin to see the World)
Unpacking my story lead me to inquiry, whereas inquiry initiated in me the process of
listening, feeling, and seeing new ways of how the words and the world interact. Inquiry
taught me how to gather the scattered thoughts from every nook of my body and how to fold
them nicely. Inquiry inspired me to play with the words sans hesitance. The consistent fight
between Urdu words of my native language and English words of my additional language
was unstoppable; it still is to this day. I find myself continuously kicking around words in my
head, pulling them apart, putting them back, switching them with other words, balancing
words with rhyming words, and twisting and weaving them incessantly, sometimes in search
of rhythm, flow, and specificity and, at other times, to unveil ambiguity, tension, and wonders.
Stronach (2011) wrote that “casting around in ignorance, confusion, (and even despair!) is
very much the process of coming-to-think” (p. 308). As I seek to make sense out of the
chaos of words, emotions, identity negotiations, experiences, and thoughts that swirl around
my head without end, I am constantly reminded that my life is inextricably intertwined with
language, rhetoric, and literary device whereby I disclose (and conceal) what I know about
the world and my experience in it. I am caught up in language, in word-making, in meaning-
making, constantly striving to create the world, or at least a sense of place in the world
2004). Initially it felt chaotic, cluttered, incredibly difficult, and painfully
overwhelming. With countless listening practices, self-talk, restless thoughts, sleepless
nights, grammar fights, frequent word tensions, sentence flipping, and idea spinning, finally
playing with words freed up my mind and gave me access to the cave of wonders where
imagination resides. Inquiry unlocked the doors of imagination where I can finally see the
world with closed eyes. I learned that inquiry did not exist between A and Z, or Urdu and
English, or outward and inward, or backward and forward, or past and future, rather it got me
everywhere; it began to flow in my every breath, it began to run everywhere in my body and
blood. Poetry began to rewrite my story. “I rarely think of poetry as something I make
happen; it is more accurate to say that it happens to me” (Kingsolver, 2002, p. 229). Sullivan
(2007) indicated that there is a delicate architecture in poetry that includes concreteness,
voice, emotion, ambiguity, tension, and associative logic. As my inhibitions began to go, the
ideas kept flowing and, finally, I found a new and deeper understanding of my own being.
Poetry came into being for me and for the first time my words began to see the world rather
than me. Poems began to come into being and started to rewrite me within me. Poems
became my voice, a way of expression, and reliving from moment to moment. I began to live
and relive in a different place in my same body.
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I am a Story I Tell Myself
I live by my stories.
I exist to tell,
to discover my story.
Everything in this universe is a contradiction.
Messy moments embossed in a fluid path,
numbing and disembodied sensibilities,
lost time never returns but the past can be recalled.
Time to unpack, to reveal the concealed.
Trying hard to pull myself out of dissonance,
the crushing weight, the hollowness and questions,
my settling words into the new configuration.
Scratching scars to help the itch stop,
it burns even more,
An inquiry arises, a path to recovery begins.
Reliving the moments of experiences,
echo, repetition, and patterns interacting,
rhythms and a beat aligning,
gazing at harmony in contradiction,
moments of silent emptiness.
Seeing and hearing the world,
in a new dimension,
I live in my stories.
“lived experience is lived in a body, and poetic
representation can touch us where we live, in our bodies. Thus, poetry gives us a greater
chance of vicariously experiencing the self-reflexive and transformational process of self-
creation...” (p. 143).
An urge and intuition to write poems echoes and symbolizes the birth of my Canadian
identity and experiences with which that birth is correlated. Orr
(2002) advocates the
“enormous transformative power” (p. 6) of poetry and story-making because they help us “to
live” (p. 21). Poetry forces me to look and think twice, not just over the poems themselves,
but at myself, my children, the world, life, and the people around me. Poetry to me is an
enriching medium in which I can wrap up all of my natural, distilled, and chaotic thoughts,
microscopic experiences, and grand narratives while achieving a powerful sense of
fulfillment. It portrays particular qualities of being, elicits metaphorical wondering,
synthesizes various modes of perception, unravels imaginative openness, and shows a way
of paying attention (Wormser & Cappella, 2004). My existence as a naïve poet has grown
between my two homes in which I have transitioned my writing from a right-to-left beginning
(Urdu) in the east to a left-to-right ending (English) in the west. Through poetry, I find my
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truest expression of soul, self, and thought. Poetry invites me to breathe, to attend, to slow
down, to embrace the healing of body and spirit and imagination (Leggo, 2004). The poetic
representation is situated in my understanding, retelling, and reliving of my pivotal
experiences and cross-cultural encounters. In my attempts to retell through poetry, and the
narrative unpacking of this poetry, I engage in reliving those particular moments in that
particular time and place. By metaphorically connecting each of those moments to my
poetry, I dwell in the in-between spaces filled with moments of full consciousness where
newness and possibility come into the world. My inspiration comes from my second home,
Canada, my children’s experiences of dual identity, the Canadian people, and unpacking and
inquiring into my stories. Behind every poem I write is a role which I embody as a Canadian:
a mother, a researcher, a Muslim, a vulnerable being, and simply, a writer.
As a parent-researcher, the themes I seek to explore and present to my readers
include the human complexities quilted within diversity, the multiplicity of Canadian identity,
the quality of equality, the rising tide of intolerance, the politics of color, the significance of
ethical values and morality, and the challenges associated with raising Canadian children
with multiple identities, languages, nationalities, and values in this era of identity politics.
Poetry convinced me that having “awful thoughts” (Britzman & Dippo, 2000) is necessary as
they stir emotional nuances and develop evocative renderings of the way things are. “They
can break us out of the numbing routine… our thoughts can question their own grounds and
then wonder over the relation and difference between thoughts and things” (Britzman &
Dippo, 2000, p. 34). Poetry keeps replacing all of my whys with hows by teaching me to
distrust neatness and accept messy moments embossed in a fluid path of identity for seeing
and hearing the world with various lenses. Poetry as a contemplative, intentional, and
transformational process can assist “both the authors of the poetry and the audience of the
poems to reach praxis or the process of being moved to action, to affect change, and to
better the next experience” (Roberts, Crawford, & Brasel, 2014, p.168).
Distrusting Neatness
Because we are constituted in color
because we are created in our living stories
because we see ourselves in everyday experiences
we constantly tell, retell, and relive our lives
when mysterious moments arrive
with sharp poignancy in a new place
away from home and in a strange culture
separateness, alienation, loneliness
when fact unveils its real face
a heightened sense of self evolves
the frailty of being human
alert awareness of risks
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of who we are to ourselves and others
unfolding stories of the self
and deconstruction of the social self
the imagined now, some imagined past
or some imagined future
experiences growing out of experiences
rather than trying to fix the mess
distrust any neatness
repositioning in the continuum helps
now writing, rewriting, and reimagining the story
searching out and valuing the complexity
marvelling at richness that comes with the mess
by changing the story we live by
We change our lives
(Inspired by text readings)
Parini (2008) claims, “The poem is also a labyrinth. One makes a journey through the
poem, from beginning to end, moving within the space of the work, its boundaries, tracking
its labyrinth or pattern” (pp. 100-101). Like each living day, we seek the way in a labyrinth.
Poetry can show us the way (Leggo, 2016) - a journey of story writing to story unpacking, to
inquiring into a story, to poetic representation. In this entire journey, the labyrinth in which I
maneuver, poetry is the “way,” where instead of being surprised in speechless moments, I
discover possibility. Eisler (1987) tells us:
The human psyche seems to have a built-in need for a system of stories and symbols
that "'reveal" to us the order of the universe and tell us what our place within it is. It is
a hunger for meaning and purpose seemingly beyond the power of any rationalistic or
logical system to provide. (p. 183)
We construct our narrative knowledge through telling and retelling, writing and rewriting our
stories in order to make comprehensible meaning of our experiences. Instead of searching
for logic, and getting stuck in structures and binaries, I am learning to be “willing to risk
thinking again and again” (Britzman & Dippo, 2000, p. 34). I now understand that “learning to
see differently requires a willingness to live with new fears (Boler, 1999, p. 182). I agree with
Bingham (2004), “Poetry is scary because it whispers transformation - of self and world” (p.
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Closing Thoughts
In the process of writing and rewriting
I am ready to risk
thinking again and again
hearing with obsessive ears
willing to loose myself in chaos
an urge to change everything into words
as I turn my gaze on the written words
they turn their gaze on me
thoughts and experiences are looped
I come to see that it’s not only about me
it is also about the play between
Words and ideas
Thoughts and things
Thinking and doing
it’s breaking me out of the numbing routine
it’s not reinventing the narratives
rather capturing the essence of experience
playing with words freed up my mind
giving me access to a cave of wonders
I meet imagination there
I smell possibility
I feel stillness
I hear silence
I touch earth
I see myself
my words can see the world
(Inspired by text readings)
that autobiographical narrative inquiry has
deepened my understanding that my children’s dual identity is not breaking them apart,
rather putting them together. Looking outward as a researcher, poetic representation has
given me a voice where instead of fearing silence, I am able to “inhabit a more ambiguous
and flexible sense of self” (Boler, 1999, p. 176). I am able to act as an interpreter between
the chaos of my experiences and an assembly of unbroken monologues and sporadic
dialogues. Finally, looking through as an amateur poet, I practice poetry “as a method of
inquiry to move into [my] own impossibility, where anything might happen—and will” (St.
Pierre, 2005, p. 973). “Becoming unsettled is partially a resistance of linearity, an interruption
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of the autonomous humanist self.
(My)self, conceptualized as tangled and mangled”
constitutes non-linear possibilities. The intersecting fragmentation and dispersal of selfhood
is “something other than a conscious, free decision to shape shift” (Aamodt, 2016, p. 35). I
have learned that poetry is “an awareness of the disorderly and chaotic world we inhabit [as]
a fundamental aspect of being human” (Orr, 2002, p. 16). As a result, I am willing to let
myself drift into “the perpetual and elusive process of becoming” (Gide, 1970, p. 197) in
order to enable myself to live well for existence and coexistence.
The author wishes to thank her supervisor Dr. Debbie Pushor, ARI editors, and anonymous
reviewers for their invaluable feedback, suggestions, and support as this article was drafted
and revised.
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"Adhan." (n.d.). Retrieved on Jan 23, 2017 from:
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Adhan is the Islamic call to worship.
Allah is the Arabic term used by Muslims to refer to God.
Urdu is a language spoken in South Asia specifically in Pakistan.
Eid is a Muslim religious festival.
Assalamu Alaikum is a standard salutation among Muslims which means, “Peace be upon you.”
Allah Hafiz means, “May God be your guardian,” The vernacular translation is good bye.
Hijab is a head covering worn by Muslim women.
Shalwaar kameez is a traditional outfit worn by women and men from South Asia.
Biryani is a south Asian mixed rice, spices and meat dish. It is popular in Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia.
Haleem is a stew composed of meat, lentil and pounded wheat made into a thick paste. It is popular in Middle East,
Central Asia, and South Asia.
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