From a Newtown Literary contributor: Luna Ranjit
Writer Luna Ranjit’s work was featured in issue #16 of Newtown Literary. Below, she reflects on Nepali representation in the Queens literary community and the joy of seeing a fellow Newa poet (Rajan Maharjan) published alongside her in the same issue. For more, check out her blog on Medium. You can also find her on Twitter @LunaRanjit.
Growing Literary Roots in Queens
As the Nepali community has grown rapidly in Queens, our food, particularly momos, has made inroads into the culinary scene in the city, bringing droves of foodies to Jackson Heights. However, the community has remained practically invisible in the literary circles. The Nepali community does have a literary presence in Queens, but the literary talents in the community have not entered the mainstream English-language spaces.
Newtown Literary had, to my knowledge, published only one Nepali writer in its first fifteen issues. When I got notification that my poems had been selected for the Spring/Summer 2020 issue, I was excited about adding one more Nepali voice to the literary scene in the borough I have called home for more than a decade. When the sixteenth issue was finally announced, I was thrilled to see another Nepali name—Rajan Maharjan—on the cover.
I was especially happy that it was not just another Nepali, but a fellow Newa poet. Nepal is a very diverse country where 123 languages are spoken. There are probably as many small and large organizations in Queens representing different ethnic groups and geographical areas of Nepal. However, due to the one-language, one-people policy promoted during a period of autocratic monarchy, Khas Nepali language and Hill Hindu upper caste norms have become the de facto “Nepali” identity.
The one-language policy systematically suppressed other languages and literature of indigenous communities, including Nepal Bhasa of the Newa people, originally from Kathmandu valley. Activists fighting for language rights were jailed and exiled. Stories, memories, and even languages disappeared.
Nepal Bhasa is among the few languages that managed to sustain its literary traditions. However, even within the Newa community, caste hierarchy has meant that only a few last names are represented. Rajan and my ancestors were farmers and artisans, respectively, that provided services to maintain the lives of the leisure classes—names rarely associated with literature.
For both Rajan and I, it was our first literary submission. The publication dedicated to our new home had opened a new door for us, just like it had done for many of our neighbors before us. I hope our experience will inspire others to share their work, especially those who have not seen themselves represented in the world of print.