Witness to a Year: Diverse Book Challenge-August

“How old are you going to be again?” Dad had asked for at least the last five Augusts.

This year the answer is, “40.”

“Amazing. Can’t believe it.” He turned back to his eggs. “Went out for breakfast the day you were born. Steak and eggs. Your mom was upset. Figured I should have gone right to the hospital.”

I nod. I had heard this story for at least the last five years also. Dad forgets many things. He retells many stories. However, he has known for years exactly how old the farm that he and his brothers inherited from his father.

“Century Farm,” he had read two months ago and held the sign in outstretched arms. “Like it? Got to figure out how to make it not flip around in the wind. They only make them metal now.”

In actuality I preferred the smaller, wooden one he purchased with my grandfather’s name on it, but I didn’t say anything. Instead I share something else. “I wanted to tell you something. Do you know what? You outlasted GM. It didn’t make a hundred years.”

“Hmm.” He set the sign down atop the pile of blankets back to me. “You can still get off work to drive to the State Fair. We get breakfast tickets. Have to leave at 6 to be there at 8.”

“Yeah. That’ll be a long day.”

“If it’s going to be a hassle, maybe someone else can drive.”

I didn’t know if I lacked enthusiasm because of the early hour, work unhandy work commitments. “Not a hassle. A puzzle,” I offered, still wondering how I fit.

My father’s brothers would be riding in the car with us. My father’s sisters would be nowhere to be found. My intersectionality always failed me when it came to the farm and its 100 year survival. I did not care to follow my own aunt’s lead and empathize with my great aunts whose husbands forced my grandfather to sell acreage my dad still walked as if it was his own. I also hated myself for not caring that those women were not a part.

They didn’t earn it. They didn’t work it. That was the story, but it didn’t address the role identity played in their opportunity. Then again, who was I? What did I earn?

None of my cousins would be present. Was this where I would punch my clock? As the driver? Was I the one to count the years after 100? Who was I? The face of the women ignored. The body of the seeds displaced. Who am I?

“Professor Wiesel replies now, ‘We must hope in spite of despair, because of our despair; we must not give despair the victory. I do not believe the world is learning. And I cannot hide from that fact. And yet, I do not believe in despair. People speak of a leap of faith. I believe we require a leap of hope.’” (184)

In fact I hope, I am more than those things, that I am one that can make a difference.

I Am. . .

In January I wrote:

“Since I had no idea of how to get where I should go next, I feared even more forgetting what got me this far. Always entranced by the idea of mentors. I challenged myself to write a post each month in 2019 guided by excerpts from Ariel Burger’s book, Witness: Lessons from Eli Wiesel’s Classroom.”

In January, I began this series of blog posts. I found myself, even as early as April, asking how I would write about diverse books in the upcoming year. The year had barely begun and I worried about what would be next. In many ways, this is the crux of interrogating who I am. After I barely begin to be a particular thing, learn a particular aspect of myself, I start to muddle in the uncertainty of what it means for me, of how to be what’s next.

At a work meeting, I ran the possibilities again through my head, in the guise of helping someone else.

“For years, I took it personally that I couldn’t connect to my students on any identity level. I-” Pause. I, what? Human, that is what I had written into the final chapter of my memoir. I wanted to be seen as a person.

“Give them time,” I said. “To make it real for them. A personal experience. Not a metaphor. Not a national narrative.” Multi-facted human. A circumference of intersections.

My coworker nodded. But, there was more to say, wasn’t there? The reason why she was there. Policy. The system. I recalled other books from former posts. “It’s great that there are books out there that frame the future in strategies. Ways to act. Types of action.”

She nodded. “In the last five years.”

Hmmm. I hadn’t counted the years that way, but it was the same amount of time I had been home from Guatemala. “It’s hopeful.”

I am an individual. I am the system. But, Eli Wiesel is right about “hope”. I am ready again to take that leap. So too, are these books.

My friend gave me a stack of books she won at a conference. I had read the introduction of each one and then piled them in the order I wanted to read them. I had reached the second book, Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out. The Goodreads short description reads like this,

“Poetry. Literary Nonfiction. Art. African American Studies. Asian American Studies. Native American Studies. This anthology of poetry, spoken word, fiction, creative nonfiction, spoken word texts, as well as black and white artwork and photography, explores the question of how mixed-race women in North America identify in the twenty-first century. Contributions engage, document, and/or explore the experiences of being mixed-race, by placing interraciality as the center, rather than periphery, of analysis.”

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein was touted as an intimate tracing of multiple narratives from various perspectives (autoworkers, educators, bankers, politicians, and job re-trainers) that detail the closing of a General Motors’ assembly plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. I am from Janesville, WI and I worked at the public library when this book came out. The General Motors plant shut down in the midst of the Great Recession, two days before Christmas of 2008. It was touted as not just a Janesville story, but an American story, but I’ve felt less than American before. I saw the high number of copies listed in the catalogue. Goldstein’s work was described as intelligent, sympathetic and nuanced at making one of America’s biggest political issues less divisive and more human. In never picked up the book, because my dad hated GM. It pushed Janesville outward into our township. It altered the highway exit by our home that increased traffic markedly and the continuing alterations on roadways as a result began a barrage of gravel pit invasions. My new position charged me with exploring the current state of the county, and a series of organizations working with adults and youth around jobs compelled me to finally pick up Goldstein’s work of nonfiction. In many ways it was a truer test of a willingness to discuss diverse perspective than Strangers in Their Own Land that I recommended last month.

Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera does not tease identity apart. In the time and place her story of Chief Rocka, or Nalah, takes place in Mega City, the identities I know best are only shreds of cloth left discarded and continually resisting boot prints. Questions especially of sexuality, engendered power and the means in which we discover purpose to our lives are the fury of fists that Las Malcriadas battle. The dream is to get off the streets and make a home in the exclusive Mega Towers, in which only a chosen few get to live. To make it to the Mega towers, Nalah must prove her loyalty to the city's benevolent founder and cross the border in a search for a mysterious gang the Ashé Ryders. It seemed that every few pages, Rivera forced me to pause, first to note the way she flipped the identity script and then to remind myself that I was only turned around because I had been forced down a particular path someone(s) else chose. Nalah’s revelations are much the same.

Diverse book reads blog posts applied to my own life

Is My Favorite Color Red?

Unstuck

Shifting

If I Wasn’t a Girl

To Remind Us of Days Long Ago

Steak and Eggs

Speak

Burger, Ariel. (2018). Witness: Lessons from Eli Wiesel’s Classroom. Houghton Mifflin

Harcourt: Boston.

DeRango-Adem, Adebe and Andrea Thompson (eds.) (2010). Other Tongues: Mixed-Race

Women Speak Out. INANNA: Toronto.

Goldstein, Amy. (2017). Janesville: An American Story. Simon & Schuster: New York.

Rivera, Lilliam. (2019). Dealing in Dreams. Simon & Schuster: New York.

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