I met Sumeeta through my TweetChat on Tuesdays called #writestuff. She’s been one of those people who started popping up in the beginning. It just so happens she’s also from my homestate. Take a moment and let Sumeeta tell you about finding her identity in Wild and Wonderful West Virginia.
When I was a six-year old child living in the southern coalfields of Bluefield, West Virginia, I was mercilessly teased and bullied by the next-door 16-year-old boy, who hated me because I had parents of “different colors.” His father made horrible racist remarks about my parents, who were East Indian and White Causasian respectively, and I now assume that this boy was following suit. My father said not to waste his time on such “uneducated people” while my mother became friends with the mother of the household, and the bullying eventually stopped through her intervention. Unfortunately, the intervention did not occur before the fight happened.
One day, I was in the back yard playing when the boy and his best friend climbed a tree overlooking our yard with a large red bucket. He began taunting me and I ran over to defend myself and was greeted with a face full of garbage, dirt, and animal feces. I got angry and started throwing the dirt and garbage back at them. They laughed at me, and through my tears I found the strength to fight back. For me, this situation perfectly describes my life as a biracial writer in Appalachia—the ongoing fight to define myself in a region that is noted for being wild, undefinable, and unpredictable.
Even in those heady days of my chaotic childhood, I knew I wanted to be a writer. My father insisted that I read the encyclopedia to enlarge my vocabulary and my mother would buy me any book or notebook I wanted. Through the years of writing, much of which has been lost, my work focused on identifying self. Who was I? How do I relate myself to the context of my surroundings? I was a natural-born Appalachian, but considered a foreigner in the land of my birth. Like most young people, I wanted to get out to some place more sophisticated like New York or Los Angeles– A place where people would appreciate my otherness, and allow me to demonstrate my talents. Yet, despite opportunities to leave, I never took them. It was many years before I understood why – my connection to the land.
Any writer who grows up in Appalachia will tell you of a special connection to the land. While sometimes the people are sometimes not open to differences, the land itself, with its wild, beautiful, and sometimes unpredictable nature, invites any brave soul to venture into the mountains and discover their soul. Through the last few years that I have been writing, I have always written about my connection to the land—the slope of the mountains, the crispness of the fall, and deadly breath of winter. When I leave and return home, it is a true homecoming. The sight of the mountains always welcome me back and inspire me again. Living in Appalachia has not always been easy, but I would never live anywhere else. It has made me the writer I am today.
Sumeeta Patnaik is a writer and poet living in West Virginia with her family. She has a doctorate in Education, and works for Marshall University. Sumeeta likes to write about cultural and identity issues.