Monday, May 12, 2014

"If I stay here, my story will remind people..." : Thinking about Forgiveness in Rais Bhuiyan's Interview

Listen to Rais Bhuiyan talk about forgiveness

Tu-Uyen is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Classics, Latin and Asian American Studies. She also concentrates in the Cultural Studies strand of the Identities and Communities Bridging Disciplines program. You can learn more about Tu-Uyen in our Meet the Interns post as part of our First Person series, introducing some of the people behind the TAVP archive. 

This post is part of a series titled Digital Archives Internship (also tagged as Archiving the Death Penalty) where TAVP interns publish their reflections on processing the TAVP collection. 

If I stay here, my story will remind people...": thinking about forgiveness in Rais Bhuiyan's interview
by Tu-Uyen Nguyen

There were mounting medical bills and no safe place to live. There was not enough money to buy medicine. The only way to survive was to work double shifts at Olive Garden and skip both lunch and dinner. This was the financial landscape in which Rais Bhuiyan lived after being racially profiled and attacked as a terrorist. Through it all, Bhuiyan was separated from his family and friends while he healed from the assault.

I am transcribing Rais Bhuiyan's oral history for the Texas After Violence Project, and I have approximately five and a half hours left. Some--although not all--work days start like this: I am not in the mood to begin transcribing. It's the second cup of coffee. I am struggling to get motivated but I am tired from doing laundry all morning. My brain feels drained from working until the end of my midnight shift the night before. I drag my ears to listen to Bhuiyan speak for long periods of time. Our natural speech patterns are not robotically packed paragraphs but rather, human: false starts, interruptions, stutters all make the transcribing process a feat of endurance in itself. 

However, the moment of truth comes when Bhuiyan begins to talk about forgiveness. My ears perk up. At first I think about how forgiveness is just another cliche because of its ideal role in various religions, a trait of outstanding citizens. 

But the tide soon changes: Bhuiyan describes how his forgiveness did no good because Stroman was still executed. The coffee is kicking in only now when I relish this cynical aspect of human experience. Bhuiyan survives a murder attempt and moves forward with his life through seemingly "fruitless" forgiveness. Bhuiyan's ideal of forgiveness is familiar to us because we hope that it will be the time-proven, moral, and righteous response to those who have hurt us. Yet, it is the paradoxes of forgiveness that Bhuiyan expresses that remind me why I am interested in the Texas After Violence Project.

For Bhuiyan, the journey of forgiveness is entangled with his American Dream and I wonder how that shapes his values. For him, the United States is a place where you can "make a difference" (38 in transcript) that matters to the world. It is one of the reasons he feels strongly that he must stay in Dallas, in Texas, even after an assault that marked him as "other" and threatened his life:
Since I wanted to make a difference, I thought it better to stay here because it's easy once you are in the system to make -- to bring change.  But if you're an outsider, it makes things harder to come and bring change. So I thought, Well, it shouldn't be an excuse to leave Texas because I have a lot of friends in this state and I can tell proudly that I'm a proud Texan. Though I wasn't born here I consider myself as a Texas as well... And also if I stay here, my story will remind people within the city of Dallas and Texas that, you know, that he was shot, and he went though all these things and things have changed (65 - 66 in transcript).
Listen to the section from Bhuiyan's interview that Tu-Uyen cites

By transcribing Bhuiyan's words and processing their meanings, I interrogate my own values, how I understand the values and ideologies that shape the United States, and how I understand the relationships we foster with one another. We must move beyond thinking of these interviews as objects in an archive "gathering dust" because then we forget their attachments to the living and how they got there: our classmates, neighbors, and community members or worked to process them, and Bhuiyan himself whose survival was essential to the creation of the object.  

As interns, we are not just transcribing to passively duplicate or translate his speech onto Microsoft Word. We are "clerical ambassadors" to our communities, participating in the construction of a visual and textual artifact that will inform the dialogue about hate crimes, Islamophobia, the death penalty and the criminal justice system for generations to come.

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