I understand the need for comparitive titles, so I will bring up Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates now, only to say yes, this is a similar format of epistolary work, wherein a parent speaks to their child. Where Coates references James Baldwin and teaches his son (and the wider American public) about the fact that Angela Davis is always right—freedom is a constant struggle—Chariandy’s tone is slightly different, his approach too, and that makes sense because Chariandy is both Black and South Asian. He’s Canadian. His daughter is Black, South Asian, and White. They’re both Canadian, whose home just as easily could have been somewhere else.
I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You begins with a sweet moment turned bitter. Chariandy is remembering a moment from his daughter’s early childhood, sharing an ice cream with her at a diner. She’s young, too young, for the talk that must follow when a white customer, a few paces away from Chariandy, says something loudly, implying that brown people don’t belong in Canada, that they should return to wherever they came from. Chariandy certainly brings in the larger political moments occuring in North America, but for the most part, it’s the moments like the ones at the diner—or moments like when someone spit at Chariandy, or when someone in his son’s grade calls his son a racial slur—that Chariandy focuses on. After all, this is a letter to his daughter, who he is in awe of, who he is scared for, how much he loves that she’s a tangle of contradictions and possibilities. And how these moments force her to grow up faster than some of her peers must, perhaps ever.
Chariandy also talks about what it means to live on unceded territories as a multiracial second-generation Canadian. He talks about the specific issues his daughter will have to navigate on her own as a young women, no matter how much he’d like to help. He talks about Lilly Singh too, which is just the sweetest thing. So, while I understand the need for comp. titles, this book is pretty damn unique, beautiful and devastating in its own way. The writing, of course, is poetic and perfect. The “chapters” are carefully organized. And every intimate moment is shared with purpose. It all comes together in a short, but powerful, letter that any reader will find difficult to forget or move on from.
Highly, highly recommended, especially if you live in Canada.