As if this year wasn’t challenging enough

I discovered today that I have a new student coming into my class on Tuesday. And by “my class” I mean “third and fourth hour,” the class I have repeatedly begged that no further students be added to, the class that is both my biggest and my by an exceptional margin most poorly-behaved class.

The student is an Afghan refugee. I have no idea if she speaks any English; I sure as fuck don’t speak either Pashto or Dari. I have no idea what her educational background is. Hell, I have no idea what her personal background is; if she’s coming out of Afghanistan there’s almost certainly some fucking trauma in there somewhere. She has a brother, and her brother’s teacher told me today that he thinks that her father worked with the Americans in some capacity or another, which could mean fucking anything. It might mean she speaks some English, it might not. For all I know, he’s making assumptions– which, okay, as they go, that’s not a bad one, but it’s still an assumption. And if I hadn’t seen her name and started asking questions today this would have happened with no Goddamned warning of any kind at all.

To be absolutely clear: I’m glad she’s here, if that’s what her family wanted, and yes I’d be perfectly fucking happy to have an Afghan family move into the house next door and replace the family of the dude who took one look at my white skin and told me he was happy “the right kind of people” were moving into our house when we bought it. I’m glad she’s in my school. But this is not a regular fucking transfer student! I’m just as responsible for her education as every other kid in the room; I don’t get to just shove her in a corner and ignore her, and if it turns out that she’s a hijabi I’ve got to prepare the students for her to be there as well. Now, granted, one can probably assume that any Afghans looking to flee the country and enroll their kids in public school in bloody Indiana are probably on the less religiously conservative end of the scale, but even a simple head wrap combined with the language barrier is going to set her up for bullying if we aren’t careful, especially in the class they’ve got her in. If she’s wearing anything more conspicuous than that the kids are going to treat her like a Goddamned alien. Can we at least get a parent meeting before this kid comes into school? Shit, Google Translate isn’t even going to help, because you can’t type in Pashto on a Chromebook. I can get it to translate– probably poorly– from English to Pashto (not that I have any way to figure out if she speaks it, since fucked if I know the difference between it and Dari, or Arabic for that matter) but not the other way around. So if she’s got no English at all we’re limited to gestures and sign language.

It’s entirely possible that she’ll turn out to be Westernized enough already that none of this will be an issue; again, I know nothing about her. But if she isn’t?

Fuck.

1/16 EDIT: It has only just now occurred to me that even if this girl is literate in her home language, which is not guaranteed, her home language is not going to be written in Latin script, and therefore she may not even know the alphabet. And I’m supposed to teach her 8th grade math.

#REVIEW: THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS, by Cristina Henríquez

This is another one of those “made the whole project worth it” books.

You almost certainly know this already if you’ve been a regular reader, but hey, not everybody sees every post, so: my big reading project for 2021 (I am the type of person who has “big reading projects”) was to read one book from every US state plus Puerto Rico and Washington DC, along with as many other countries I could fit in. I’m closing in on finishing the states part of the project, although for a lot of the later states the way I’ve been finding books is by Googling “authors from XXX” and then just … picking something. Some states, as you might guess, have less to choose from than others, and, well, Delaware’s not all that damn big.

I chose well on this one, as The Book of Unknown Americans seems pretty likely to be on my Top 10 list at the end of the year. It’s about a small immigrant community– literally an apartment building– in Delaware at the beginning of the Obama administration. You might remember the massive economic upheaval of those years, and trying to survive while the economy is crumbling around you is absolutely a theme of the book. The book uses the multiple-narrators/POVs style that I will forever associate with Game of Thrones and probably ought not to, following ten or so different people from several different families. The common thread is that they’re all Spanish-speaking immigrants (the two main families are from Mexico and Panama, and others are from other places) or first-generation Americans; some of them are legal, some are not, and they all have different reasons for being here. It’s outstandingly well-done across the board, but there are two highlights I wanted to talk about a little bit.

First, I felt like the book really does a great job of capturing the frustration of being an educated and talented person who has moved somewhere where you don’t speak the language and where your skills are either undervalued or no longer useful. One of the families arrives in Delaware as the book begins, and things as simple as trying to figure out where to buy food are many times as complicated as they need to be because of language and cultural barriers. They end up getting food from a gas station for a while (and feeling like they’re being ripped off because of the high prices) until someone else clues them in on better places to go. Later in the book, there’s a scene where a mother has to confront a local shithead who has been abusing her daughter, and all she’s able to say to him is “leave alone.”

Second, and I’m not going to go into details here because I don’t want to spoil anything, but this book contains what might be the best depiction of a first love that I’ve ever seen. The relationship between Maribel and Mayor is astonishingly sweet, and if I say another word about it I’ll spoil stuff, so just trust me.

My only real complaint is the ending; you grow attached to a lot of these characters and want good things to happen to them, and … well. You’re going to have a moment where you realize what’s about to happen and the dread is going to kick in, and then you’re going to find out you were right, and then the book’s going to manage to end on a powerful and hopeful note somehow anyway, but it’s bittersweet as hell and I didn’t want bittersweet, I wanted happy. But damn, this is a hell of a read, and you should go pick it up. I’m sure I’ll be talking about it again in a couple of months.

#REVIEW: Transcendent Kingdom, by Yaa Gyasi

This is going to be kind of a difficult post to write, because Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom is not like most of what I read, and it’s messing with my ability to talk about it in a coherent sense. Y’all know me by now; I prefer plot-driven books, and my enjoyment of a book is more often focused on what happens in the book rather than concerns about theme and character and highfalutin literary stuff. But this book is enormously character-driven. You know everything that’s going to “happen” in the book within the first few pages (and, to complicate things, I don’t really want to reveal any of it) and there are no big twists or plot reveals; it’s all about listening to Gifty, the main character, tell you about her life.

But, God, it’s beautiful, and I read it cover-to-cover between around 6:00 yesterday evening and 11:00 this morning, and I woke up this morning knowing that I wasn’t doing anything until I’d finished it. Transcendent Kingdom is about grief, and loss, and neuroscience, and addiction, and family, and it’s about being a Ghanaian immigrant in America when America isn’t always a good place to be. It’s also about Christianity and atheism in a way that got straight past all of my filters; in a weird way this book made me wish I were more religious, and that is not a thing that happens, like, ever.

And I really think that’s all I’m telling you, other than to also point out that this is another one of those “this book is amazing as a physical artifact” types of books as well; definitely get it in hardback. I’ve read 24 books so far in 2021 and I’ve read several that I really enjoyed but this is the first one that has ended with me feeling absolutely certain it will be on my end-of-year list. Grab it up, and while you’re at it pick up Gyasi’s Homegoing from a couple of years ago as well.

Last few hours of the fundraiser!

You have until midnight tonight Eastern time to donate if you like; if we’re not at $350 by the time I go to bed I’ll toss in a few more bucks to get us to that point, since we’re close. Last chance!

https://give.classy.org/luthersbirthday

RAICES fundraiser update

I just donated another $188.36 to the fundraiser– $183.36 was my (way lower than I wanted) take from the con last weekend and another $5 because one of my books mysteriously got reviewed this week. That puts us at $311 raised out of the initial $500 goal, with today, tomorrow and Friday left to go. So far, I owe three people signed books for donating $25 or more– and if you’re one of those three people, sit tight, I’ll be collecting addresses and finding out what books everyone wants once the fundraiser is over.

Remember, even if you don’t want to donate directly, any money I make from book sales this week will be donated, and I’ll throw another $5 on top for every review one of my books gets, regardless of what they actually say. There’s $189 to go to hit the goal and every dollar counts! Thank you!

https://give.classy.org/luthersbirthday