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"Atlas" by Shawn Wimalaratne

Supporter of Adhikaar Aotearoa, Shawn Wimalaratne (he/him), writes about their fascination with Atlas'. He talks about the themes of homosexuality, immigration, and the strength of family.

From a very young age, I seemed to have a fascination with the Atlas. I had this giant map of the world that draped over a wall in the guest room of the very first house we (my family and I) lived in when we first immigrated to New Zealand. I never took an interest in video games or outdoor sports in my tweens, so my idea of mental distraction was lying on the bed that sat below the large plastic map, dreaming of fantastical adventures, guided by my big toe. While my younger brother kept to the stereotype of partaking in the ‘gentlemens’ game of cricket, I was trekking through the amazon in my eat, pray, love fantasy. 

I presume I was enchanted by anything related to an Atlas due to the regular visits from my great uncles and aunties from far-away western worlds while I was still living in Sri Lanka. They would come over bearing gifts of chocolate and their second-hand clothes, there was a certain smell that wafted from their freshly opened suitcases that I could never put my finger on until my family would visit from New Zealand and open our very own luggage to distribute treats. 

Something that I noticed now that I reflect back on from times my relatives would visit from abroad, was that in their eyes they would feel a little sorry for us that we never got to leave (Just for context I was born in Sri Lanka and I lived 12 years of my life on that island until moving to New Zealand in 2008). I would often eavesdrop on my grand aunts advising my Nana and mother on how to raise me, they would watch attentively my every habit in my day-to-day routine and then comment and feedback to my mother. They would discuss this while sitting cross-legged watching gleefully as presents are handed out from their luggage. 

I recall listening in on a conversation where my Nana’s oldest sister was advising my mum to stop sending me to a speech and drama institute on the weekends, or it would turn me into a ‘sissy’. I felt diminished, not for myself but for the position I had put my mother in. I used to have such a ball at these classes and grew very close to a teacher who I referred to as ‘Aunty Ann’, I think she knew I was a stark contrast to all the other boys who went to the Catholic Boys only school I was attending. As soon as mama dropped me off at the front gates of glass, it felt like I was running through a portal of sorts, running toward my little utopia where I hung up my made-up cloak of heterosexuality and slip into my queer stilettos.  

Shawn at age 10, in "feminine" clothes for a school play. He absolutely LOVED this day, for the first time in a long time he was able to express himself all in one go. You best believe he went HARD.

Shawn at age 10, in "feminine" clothes for a school play. He absolutely LOVED this day, for the first time in a long time he was able to express himself all in one go. You best believe he went HARD.

My mother never let those comments of ignorance seep into her mind, she was and still is one of the most resilient women in my life. She still continued to support me in my classes and never missed a beat when it came to local speech and drama competitions or examinations. She fed into all my strengths and catered to my weaknesses, she was the shield that protected me from the harsh critiques of the other parents, mama took all the hits for me. 

I seemed to have trailed off my initial goal for this blog post but hey, I unpacked something that I had thought I stuffed deep in my mind.

I am very new to this whole blog thing but it has been somewhat therapeutic to just let it all out into the universe. If you’re reading this and can relate on any level to this memoir, I strongly suggest you write out your own clogged memories you find hard to come to terms with. You don’t have to share it, do it for you.

- Shawn Wimalaratne

This article is republished with permission from Shawn, from his blog, Ceylon's Finest.


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