Originally posted on Strange Horizons, March 2nd, 2015
Somewhere in my house there’s a videotape of me, playing Spock, on the Enterprise bridge. I was fifteen years old, at Universal Studios, acting out a scene in front of a green screen; the final version had Kirk, the rest of the crew, and the bridge set in it. I was such a terrible actor that I was only able to bear to watch the video once, and it’s a little surprising that I didn’t just burn the damn thing. But I didn’t, because it featured me—as Spock! My teen heart was fluttering almost as fast as a Vulcan’s.
I first fell in love with Spock in the 70s, watching re-runs on our first tv. My dad and I watched together, both of us immigrants from Sri Lanka. I don’t know what he thought of Star Trek, but I was completely smitten. I wanted to be Kirk, bold captain of the Enterprise, beloved by all—that was the role I dreamt of, the leader of men. But Spock was the one I actually identified with.
One of the smartest kids in the class, a loner, an outsider, the bookworm, the one with glasses who read on the playground—I might have filled his role regardless. I was a nerd long before geeks were cool. But there was an added layer to my identification with Spock; I’d been born in Sri Lanka, came to the U.S. at age two, and was the only South Asian in my entire school. Spock and I shared a special bond, forever strangers in a strange land, and no matter how well we mixed with the locals, how well we managed to pass, he and I knew that we were really aliens under the skin. When he bled green blood, I bled with him.
I grew up in Polish Catholic neighborhood; I could never pass for one of the locals, even after studying four years of Polish and attaining a modicum of fluency. Dzień dobry, good day. People would be startled, hearing the words fall from my brown lips—once, I thanked a restaurant server in Polish for the pierogies she’d handed me, and she almost dropped her tray. They’d be impressed, amused, even charmed, and that was certainly better than a hostile response. But I grew up always marked as Other, as different.
Spock was that for all of us, but perhaps especially for the immigrants, those of us who came across vast distances, to find our memories of the homeland fading a little more each day, supplanted by the constant overwhelming presence of the new land. Eventually, we found community; I found one of my best friends in high school over a Star Trek book, Diane Duane’s The Wounded Sky—we bonded over our mutual enthusiasm for the story. She was Kirk to my Spock, the beautiful blonde popular girl and I her shy alien sidekick, grateful that she was willing to accept me as I was, for all my strangeness and differences.
Star Trek helped us with that, with its hope for infinite diversity in infinite combinations. We grew up on those books, that vision of the future, one that Leonard Nimoy helped to shape with his often heart-wrenching portrayal of an alien from a distant world. Always a little separate, a little apart—but also able, finally, to find true friendship and great love among those who valued him for himself, and who eagerly called him to join their adventures.
Wherever my adventures take me now, I carry Spock with me.