Lineage of Rain by Janel Pineda is about immigration and the way in which people will judge you based on their own narrow perspectives. It’s about the backflips and foresight taken by the people immigrating just so they can distance themselves from the idea of being an other. Pineda is able to build our empathy because, in the same way she writes about skirting expectations, she also leads us through this experience of trying to acclimate into a new culture.
Still, when I left LA, I knew to order the Sicilian Pistachio flavor
of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream
knew to talk Stones or Springsteen with my white friends’ parents
knew to mention the Huntington Gardens at my first Oxford dinner
where a professor asked me why the libraries in LA
allow such “unseemly” people to enter them
where he wondered aloud how I “managed”
to be sitting at the same table as him.
At the beginning, there is a definite focus on optimism. She’s pointing our attention at the good stuff, even in the face of negative moments. Some bad happened? Here’s the silver lining and why this is actually a net positive. I thought this was interesting take because I haven’t really encountered this. The books I tend to read lean into the wounds—not in a pitying or woe-is-me way, but in a raw and honest attempt at communicating with the reader. So, this shot of positivity surprised me, but as I read further into Lineage of Rain it made sense on larger scale. Pineda isn’t injecting a false sense of optimism into her collection, but rather the whole narrative arc is meticulously designed, starting with the positives before masterfully shifting into the reality. Pineda guides us to a bigger truth about the immigrant experience. We’re not just reading about it on the page, but through these poems we’re living it with her. It’s truly a knockout when it comes to building empathy and allowing us to walk in another person’s shoes.
She also talks a lot about English and how her family adopted and interacted with the language.
Like the work of a brujeria, English
into thinking the US perfect
For grandma, everything americano
was soaked in English and she
wanted to bathe in that language’s
ocean, no matter how bloody
she pretended it didn’t look.
The speaker understands how her grandmother viewed America, and how she was willing to look past all the bad stuff (like, say, the history of how this country has treated marginalized communities) because this was now home. This was where opportunity presented itself and allowed her the freedom to be a new person. What Pineda does so well in Lineage of Rain is take seemingly conflicting emotions and marries the two. Our world isn’t black and white—it’s not now, it wasn’t decades ago, and it’s not going to be in the future. The reality is our world has a lot of gray areas where we have to blend mixed emotions to have it make any sense.
I could give up and throw
Some big keywords at you.
War. Migration. Diaspora.
Don’t all the traumas of my blood
begin there? But they’re too heavy
for your heart, let me go back to the birds:
It’s this brash honesty when we realize the underlying struggle the speaker is continually saddled with. Change is hard and there’s no clear and easy solution to it. I can appreciate the fire Pineda writes with and her ability to get us to latch on to her language, guiding us through difficult topics that are important enough to shout out. This is a powerful, engaging, and humbling collection and I hope everyone has the pleasure of picking it up.