Asghar, a poet and the screenwriter of the web series Brown Girls, examines identity, trauma, and violence in her debut, If They Come for Us (One World, Aug).
Being concerned with issues of justice, do you consider your art a form of activism?
I don’t think I consider myself an activist, because I have a lot of respect for people whose lives are driven by organization around political issues. But I do think that my art bends toward social justice, and there’s a lot that I care about in terms of my artwork, in terms of making a more just society. I think it is really important for artists to consider the world that they want to live in when they’re creating, to make their art fit that world and be that world, rather than recreate the same power structures that they see around them.
How does being a woman of color affect your view of being an American?
There are so many ways in which people try to eliminate your humanity. In the book, I think about statehood, nationality, sexuality, gender, race, and religion—the way we construct identities and then realize that those identities are not enough to explain who we are. I think of identity as a way toward freedom, so when I think of the term “woman of color,” I feel a lot of joy, and that’s something I have to be active about. In an America dominated by white supremacy, it’s really easy to internalize self-hate as a woman of color. But women of color are making really amazing art and are really amazing activists; I feel a lot of pride and happiness around being a woman of color in America, even though it can be really hard to deal with.
Do you think the generational trauma that many of your poems deal with is inescapable?
I don’t know a lot about generational trauma except for what I’ve observed and experienced, but I don’t think there’s a lot of dialogue around it, so we end up repeating the same mistakes. There’s no real way to publicly reckon with what it means to have generational trauma, about the ways that we could be publicly having dialogues and actually healing versus being in a rush to get rid of something that we don’t fully understand. And not just deal with it on an individual basis but as a nation and as a society so that we’re in a better place to heal together.
Were there other concerns you had while constructing the book?
I was thinking a lot about what it means to be responsible to different people and to those people that I know as family, and to my people as a whole. In dealing with a historical topic like partition [of India and Pakistan], there’s a lot of pain and trauma. It’s complicated; I want to talk about partition and specific things that happened in my family, but I also don’t want to further divide South Asian people and different religions. I also thought about what it meant to write about violence that I didn’t experience but members of my community and family had. It was important to end the book with an anthem of solidarity and protection.