Listen to the Sound of My Voice

Jiri Hera / EyeEm

Not long after journalist Minelle Mahtani began hosting her own radio show in Canada, her mother was diagnosed with tongue cancer. In a poignant essay for The Walrus, Mahtani explains how she was suddenly confronted with the painful reality that, just as she was finding her voice, her mother was losing hers:

I remembered the words of poet Rita Wong. “Habitual placement of the tongue changes the mouth. When the tongue is still, are you quiet enough to hear the dead? Quiet enough to hear the land stifled beneath massive concrete? Quiet enough to hear the beautiful, poisoned ancestors surfacing from your diaphragm?” All the stories of my ancestors, buried in my mother’s mouth, stories I would never hear again.

For years, I saw my mixed-race self as solid proof of the promise of mending. Now, my body felt torn apart: voice, sound, soul gone fugitive. My mother was a poised, sophisticated Iranian woman. Her skin was light and she was Muslim. My South Asian father was dark skinned and Hindu. These descriptions do nothing to fully capture their characters, of course. But this is what people wanted to know, always want to know. People knew I was something different, exotic—that awful word—they just weren’t sure what. My mother’s presence had always steadied me, provided me with the faith and sanctity to honour my family’s complex and colonial histories. What would I do without her voice?

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