In this week’s reading, we were asked to review whether or not we felt Georgia Southern University’s burning of this book was at all appropriate. While I’m obviously against book-burning wholesale, I am especially confused by the college’s decision to burn this book, in particular. Not only is there little to nothing about ‘condemning Americans’ in it but what little they do say about the group is incredibly tepid. There are a few microaggressions that get called on here, and there; there’s a strong commentary about many of Lizette’s classmates feeling bad (sorry, “badly”) for her since she went to an “underserved school” growing up. But that’s about it. What there is in this book, however, is a nuanced discussion of immigration and identity. Through Lizette and her contrast with Ariel, we see how differently first and second-generation immigrants are treated by both ignorant Americans and their own communities.
Throughout most of the book, we see Ariel as the “golden child” in comparison to Lizette. Left abandoned by his mother after an attempt to raft into America went terribly wrong, much of the book is centered around a court case deciding whether he will stay in America with his cousin or return back to Cuba with his father. At a mere five years old, Ariel has little to no agency in the decisions being made for him. Though this is a sad fate in and of itself, Lizette and her sister can’t help but feel spurned by how much attention their mother is giving to the boy’s case. Possibly representing many Latinx immigrants’ lack of political agency upon arriving in America, Ariel’s story is whatever the people around him say it is. Sometimes he is a “humanitarian crisis,” representative of peoples’ callous nature for refusing to help such a helpless boy. Sometimes he is an anchor baby, whose mere existence serves only to exploit existing loopholes in the U.S. justice system. Most often, though, he is used to facilitate a discussion around Latin-American identity for those already-arrived in America.
Within these chapters, we see examples of Lizette’s struggle against her own identity and her role in the family. While Lizette’s career as a marine biologist (I’m pretty sure, anyway) is burgeoning, her family often feels that she is abandoning them. As we come to find out, this is much of the reason why Lizette’s mother had become as obsessed as she did with Ariel. Upon being abandoned by her husband, and feeling similarly forsaken by her daughter heading off to college, Lourde hoped to fill her void with community representation and politics. Lizette repeatedly struggles with this fact, stating that she should be allowed to live her life however she pleases. Sadly enough, by the end of the book, she does– though, her family isn’t there to honestly congratulate her. In reading Lizette’s sections of the book, I was left with profound sadness. It seemed like no matter what she did, she would be upsetting someone or forsaking some aspect of her identity. By going to school, she was ignoring her family; and by visiting home and putting off internships, she was disappointing the academics around her (most of which couldn’t understand what she was going through).
I can honestly say, having read this book, that I have no idea why some universities decided to burn it. It is an excellent story of family and identity, one which left a profound impact on me long after reading it. I doubt many of the people who burned it even gave it a chance though; much more likely, they were just told to do it “just because” by their deranged, fearmongering classmates. Whatever side of the political spectrum you lie on, I think it’s valuable to actually read the books you’re burning before you waste your money on the charcoal. Even if you disagree with the author’s point after the fact, I doubt you’d be screaming hate about it with nearly as much alacrity as you were beforehand. Perhaps the students were afraid of having their minds opened up a little, or perhaps they had no minds to be opened up at all. Whatever the case, they missed out on an excellent read, one I’d be more than willing to lend them through an electronic, non-flammable copy ;).