Often times, in the modern world, stories of survival, triumph, and ultimate victories over heavy odds help inspire us to reach within ourselves to accomplish our own long-term goals and objectives. The dreams which weigh on us as days turn to weeks, turn to months, turn to years may seem more and more unattainable as the sheer weight of their growing burden on our conscience makes them seem like distant fantasy or even worse, childish aspirations that no longer apply in the adult world where we must earn a living to support ourselves and our family.
For those of us who are first or second generation immigrants in the West, this same path is riddled with a multitude of pitfalls, diversions and distractions, and difficult challenges as we try to stay true to who are from our inherited backgrounds to the values we develop in our interactions with the world we live in.
Laila Rashidie, or Laila Re, is a uniquely gifted poet and activist based out of Toronto. Her first published book of poetry, “Pieces to Peace” is an eye-opening and inspiring work that gives us a view into what it was like to grow up as an immigrant Afghan girl becoming a woman in a new, rapidly changing world, going from confusion to hope and from disillusion to confidence and perseverance.
Knowing Laila, as we do, here at Mouqawamah Music, we acknowledge and appreciate her contributions in the activist community as an organizer and a connector who is staunch in her support of immigrants, women and social justice. She has traversed a difficult and arduous path, embraced her struggle and become stronger as an activist and a woman along the way, inspiring others to follow their own dreams.
Her “Pieces to Peace” is both emotionally charged and visually descriptive. Throughout the short but potent work, we navigate along with her as she develops her unique identity in this new world, encountering excitement, wonder, love, pain, heartbreak, sadness, and hope to fulfillment. We are there with her as she opens to love, experiences the pain of loss and begins the process of healing in self-discovery.
We recently spoke to Laila about “Pieces to Peace” and the following is an excerpt from that interview:
How did your creative process change for you when you decided to publish a whole book of poetry?
I actually made sure the creative process that I had prior to the conception of the book idea didn’t change my essence or purpose. I was writing poetry on my blog “Bella Eshq” since April of 2013 as a creative outlet, the poetry book idea came to be in January 2014 through a former mentor after he read my poems. He is the first person who encouraged and supported me to put together all of my poems in one piece to self-publish. He guided me on the structure of the book, which was to have at least 100 poems. I would say my creative process became more disciplined in terms of making more time to write and taking my purpose more seriously. I felt really encouraged but I also never expected the book to happen, I just went with it organically. My mentor believed it was really important to share my art with the world and give my experiences too because there are many souls struggling like mine. I had doubts and questioned if I wanted to even reveal my personal life but it’s a sacrifice I believe I made for the better.
It took a whole year to finally have it published; it is 117 poems in total in chronological order from April 2013 to July 2014. Initially, I was trying to write a novel titled “From Pieces, To Peace.” However, I was so immersed in my healing process through poetry, I was writing poems regardless with or without the book idea. I wasn’t able to write that novel during that time because I was consumed by several internal conflicts that I resolved through those poems on that blog. The name of the blog means Beautiful Love, when I first started the blog I was a total emotional wreck so I was trying to really become a beautiful love. My pen name at that time was Bella Eshq and also Laila Love. I feel like I’m ready to work on that novel now, now that I have more self-love, clarity and peace of mind. I mostly write shorter poems now on my Instagram. (@lailarepoetry)
You reveal a lot of the difficulties and your vulnerabilities being an Afghan growing up in Canada. What have you learned from all these experiences about yourself, and about life?
I’ve learned that I am home wherever I am and I need to be at peace with that. I, like most Afghans, have some degree of constant sadness due to being suddenly displaced from our native land. Even though I escaped when I was a toddler, those were my roots linguistically, religiously and culturally besides ancestrally. I always thought as a child that I was temporarily living in Canada and returning with my family one day. I think many of us are going to get hit hard with the reality that we will be raising more new generations in our new nations. Afghanistan is still a war zone and at war after 4 decades. That reality hit me hard when my mother passed away from cancer in December of 2010. I have come to accept that this is home now, which was really depressing. I still and always will feel like I was cut off from a beautiful civilization and history. We are the first generation in millions to have had to flee Afghanistan. We’re all learning as we go day by day how to settle, adapt and “integrate” for the long and permanent term but still preserve and respect our roots. That’s the limbo that creates the instability and the chaos in me growing up in Canada. I feel like I was not letting myself grow or change cause of this guilt of betraying or compromising what it means to be a true Afghan or Muslim. However, I learnt that I am in constant growth and so is culture. We are all walking contradictions and that is okay. If I make mistakes, that is okay, I am learning. I can only live my truth. We cannot be boxed into labels; culture and society is what we make of it. We are humans living under multiple labels, as well with labels that are opposites of each other. That’s reality, and that’s what it means to be human; both simple and complex. I’m okay with all of this, life really doesn’t promise us anything but death. There can be miracles but not always mercy. Life owes us nothing, so I have to be and create my own happiness and love. Writing is me just being proactive artistically with my growth. I’ve been growing with every poem about who I am and what life is.
There is a vastness and depth to the feelings and emotions communicated in “Pieces to Peace.” There is a lot more to the story and we can’t help but feel that this book of poetry is the first saga in a meaningful lifelong path. We anticipate being one of first outlets to support and promote her work in the future and highly recommend the first chapter in what promises to be a brilliant tapestry.
Stay in touch with Laila Re as she continues her journey:
Blog: Bella Eshq