I was hoping to write a happy article today.
I was hoping to talk about what this new American dawn means for me as a young woman of color from an immigrant family, about the ways that a country I have loved is taking a step toward the intentional inclusion of marginalized people.
But today is not that day. I’m guessing that if you are following this Intrepid journey, you have some interest in the well-being of young people, in how books can open possibilities for young readers, in telling the honest story of immigration. If any of these things have a place in your heart, you are likely as shaken, even sickened, as I am.
I wish I could write about joy. Instead, I am writing about pain and responsibility.
This is my family, our first few days in the United States. (Yes, the chub-faced one is me.)
This photo gave me so much hope yesterday morning. The fact young parents could come from the Philippines with no no way of knowing whether security or turmoil lay before them, and then, 18 years later, elect a president who spoke about immigration in terms of families like ours… it made me believe in a beautiful, dynamic definition of the American family.
Late last night, the identification of “American” has been called gravely into question. With this new president-elect, we should all concerned with what this word now. People whose bitterest insecurities had been exploited now claim the word “American” to be a white, nativist title. They denature it into an exclusionary label that has somehow been made less great by the actions of diverse peoples.
This morning, we woke up asking ourselves: Who is American now? What does it mean, that the electorate would stand by a platform that has spewed so much vitriol toward fellow Americans? That this campaign has inflamed race and religion-based bullying in schools? Where do we go from here?
If you are in pain, my heart is with you. If you had a difficult conversation with a child this morning, my heart is with you. If you are a young person and felt angry, helpless, or fearful, I am with you. I see you. I hear you.
But what I’ve also been hearing, especially toward this evening, is a clarion call for responsibility. It rings high and clear and defiant. It is a call that comes from people in publishing who are ever more determined to put diverse books into all children’s hands. There is also rumbling, a groundswell, from the young people, people of color, Native people, LGBTQ+ people, and allies who are determined to continue to stand up for their rights and for one other.
Take the time to grieve. Be with loved ones. Take care of yourself. But while we are healing, to take the words of author Daniel José Older, “You’ve got to take your pain and turn it into responsibility.”
I can’t say that I’m not scared. I think these will be a bitter, potentially dangerous next few years. The issue of immigration is particularly close to me; I know good people, good families who are unauthorized residents. I can’t even fathom how scared their children are, and I ask that families stay safe.
But I refuse to believe that “America” will stand for hatred. After all is said and done, this is a nation of immigrants. America is mine and yours; we are going to continue the work started generations ago. As crestfallen and painted as we are today, we need to trust that hope is infectious, and that our fights are too important to forget; we are too energetic, too persistent.
As author Ellen Oh writes, “In violent and troubling times, the answers to the problems we face will always be found in books and education.” After today, the mission of encouraging more diverse stories is even more important. If empathy for all kinds of Americans can be fostered in children today, we can assure a more humane tomorrow for our nation.
Young people, educators, librarians, publishers, authors, fellow book bloggers – whoever you are, your voices matter. In whatever you do, you will not late hate win.
And most of all, let’s not forget how important it is to take care of ourselves and one another. When I burst into tears in class today, I was most astounded by the care and solidarity shown me by my peers. Individual kindness, however small, brings hope and light.
Now go forth, read, heal, and work. For there is plenty of work yet to do.