Immigration in the News and in YA Lit
You can’t escape it if you watch or read the news – everyone is talking about immigration. I grew up in Southern California and now live in Texas, so I have always heard people talking about it. Always. But it’s not something that I have read a lot about in YA literature. It comes up occasionally, but not to the degree that people seem to be talking about it at the present time, and often with very heated and harmful rhetoric. But when we talk about immigration, I can’t help but think – these are MY teens you are talking about.
In June of this year, two Texas valedictorians revealed that they were undocumented, and the reaction to that news quickly became very heated. Undocumented teens are often referred to as “Dreamers”, and we as a country are wrestling with how to approach the issue of dreamers. Dreamers may be granted citizenship through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Over 750, 000 have received DACA since 2012. You can find more information about this here. This is just one of the many controversial discussions that our nation is having regarding the topic of immigration in the media. You can also read about the inspiration for the DREAMERS movement in the book Spare Parts.
Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream by Joshua Davis
In 2004, four Latino teenagers arrived at the Marine Advanced Technology Education Robotics Competition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They were born in Mexico but raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where they attended an underfunded public high school. No one had ever suggested to Oscar, Cristian, Luis, or Lorenzo that they might amount to much—but two inspiring science teachers had convinced these impoverished, undocumented kids from the desert who had never even seen the ocean that they should try to build an underwater robot.
And build a robot they did. Their robot wasn’t pretty, especially compared to those of the competition. They were going up against some of the best collegiate engineers in the country, including a team from MIT backed by a $10,000 grant from ExxonMobil. The Phoenix teenagers had scraped together less than $1,000 and built their robot out of scavenged parts. This was never a level competition—and yet, against all odds . . . they won!
But this is just the beginning for these four, whose story—which became a key inspiration to the DREAMers movement—will go on to include first-generation college graduations, deportation, bean-picking in Mexico, and service in Afghanistan.
Joshua Davis’s Spare Parts is a story about overcoming insurmountable odds and four young men who proved they were among the most patriotic and talented Americans in this country—even as the country tried to kick them out. (FSG 2014)
You can find some previous book lists about immigration here:
But I want to make sure two upcoming titles are on your radar, one of which is one of my favorite books of 2016 (the other I haven’t read yet).
Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz
Who am I? Where do I belong?
Jasmine de los Santos has always done what’s expected of her. Pretty and popular, she’s studied hard, made her Filipino immigrant parents proud and is ready to reap the rewards in the form of a full college scholarship.
And then everything shatters. A national scholar award invitation compels her parents to reveal the truth: their visas expired years ago. Her entire family is illegal. That means no scholarships, maybe no college at all and the very real threat of deportation.
For the first time, Jasmine rebels, trying all those teen things she never had time for in the past. Even as she’s trying to make sense of her new world, it’s turned upside down by Royce Blakely, the charming son of a high-ranking congressman. Jasmine no longer has any idea where—or if—she fits into the American Dream. All she knows is that she’s not giving up. Because when the rules you lived by no longer apply, the only thing to do is make up your own.
This is the one that I haven’t read yet. It comes out in October from Harlequin Teen.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
I love this book so much. The love story is beautiful, though I’m not typically a fan of the falling in love in 24 hours type of story. Yoon’s writing is just engaging and compelling. And if ever there was a book written for our current zeitgeist, this is it. Here are two teens searching for a sense of self and security in a world plagued by various forms of racism and, in the case of Natasha, the uncertainty that comes with being a child of a family on the brink of being deported. The Teen also read this book and it is also one of her favorites of 2016. It’s a thoughtful, moving story.
If books help readers to develop empathy, and I believe that they do, then it is important for those of us who have no idea what it is like to be an undocumented teen or a teen who is worried about losing the only home they have ever known to read books so we can get an idea of what that may be like. It’s easy to look at a number and make broadly sweeping generalizations, but it’s important to remember that behind those numbers are real people. Books help us zoom in, to move past a number and to see the people behind the numbers with focus and clarity. And for those teens who identify as dreamers, they can validate their fears and struggles and give them a voice.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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