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Digging for the Truth, a guest post by Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Isabelle Santiago

If you’re like me, I try my best to avoid consuming the news all day. This is not an easy feat considering the world we’re currently experiencing. The reality is that to get to the truth about things takes more than just a quick glance at a headline. Our most “trusted” news outlets continue to fail us. How can we prepare ourselves when the established media institutions bend the truth? There is fake news and then there is also this idea of sugarcoating the truth. Why not use the words “white supremacy” or “racist” when you can use “racially tinged” and “racially motivated?”

However, this essay is not about linguistics or the history of how words are used to perpetuate the racial structure that so many benefit from. This essay is about High School history class. When I was attending High School in New York, I attended a public school specializing in secretarial studies and computer sciences. The goal was to prep students to enter the work force as assistants. I learned how to type and spent most summers temping in various offices around the city. The funny thing was that I loved history. I devoured books exploring the period between the late 1950s to the late 1970s. During that period, the world felt as if it was at a crossroads. Students and young people all across the United States were rising up to make their voices heard against a tyrannical government. I wanted so desperately to read about the Young Lords, the Puerto Rican youth movement who joined the Black Panthers to help aid their community. I wanted to read about the Chicano Movement, La Raza, and more.

Sadly, this wouldn’t be the case. The history books I was forced to read didn’t mention these Brown and Black social movements. And if I ever wanted to search anything tied to Puerto Rico, well, I was out of luck. Instead I cobbled together what I could, creating a mix match selection from the library which included memoir, fiction, and poetry. I read Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets right alongside Alex Healey and Malcom X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  I read Bobby Seale’s Power to the People with Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t find works on Latin America’s liberation theology or the Young Lords work in Chicago and the Bronx. It would be later in college when I would be able to connect with those periods. Perhaps this is the reason why I decided to find ways to incorporate history in my young adult novels. I’m not writing historical fiction but allowing these characters to explore their cities through a historical lens.

The Education of Margot Sanchez

In my first novel The Education of Margot Sanchez, I introduced gentrification and its effects on Brown and Black families. But my latest young adult novel goes further with this idea. In Never Look Back, I flip the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and set it in mostly in the Bronx, New York with two Afro Latino protagonists. Pheus is a wannabe bachata singer who meets and falls in love with Eury, a Puerto Rican displaced by Hurricane Maria and haunted by an angry spirit. The novel is a love story but it is also a story of how trauma infects each generation. Pheus is a fairly typical high schooler, one with the gift of musical talent. He is also a great history buff. Through Pheus, we are able to get insight, however short, into the colonization of Puerto Rico, the Young Lords occupation of Lincoln Hospital in the 1970s to help their community, and the traumatic effects of the military on young people. Pheus doesn’t just see a building, he sees the blood and tears imprinted on the walls.

Never Look Back

I love this idea of the school curriculums moving between fiction and history. High School English and US history are great places to have a robust conversation. In recent years, there have been wonderful works being produced in children’s book spaces. Why not pair Sonia Manzano’s The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano with The Young Lords: A Reader by Iris Morales? What about Esmeralda Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican with The Taste of Sugar: A Novel by Marisel Vera? A school guide has already been created for the award-winning New York Times’  1619 Project. What if the project was paired with Kekla Magoon’s Fire in the Streets or Renée Watson’s Some Places More Than Others

If a young reader is not into historical fiction, there are still a lot of innovative ways to introduce overlooked historical moments through young adult and middle grade novels. The excitement is not only discovering the pages can be mirrors but can also bring much needed light to a period times overlooked by our history books. Let young readers question the very text books being handed to them. Let them raise their eyebrows at what is left off the page and nudge them to present their doubts through the use of fictional characters who are also on a similar journey. The goal is to expand what is presented in approved texts and have them find the missing voices in between the lines because no one story book or newspaper holds the full truth.

Meet Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Vanessa Acosta

Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and the author of children’s books Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit, Dealing in DreamsThe Education of Margot Sanchez, and the forthcoming young adult novel Never Look Back (September 15, 2020) by Bloomsbury. Her work has appeared in The Washington PostNew York Times, and Elle, to name a few. A Bronx, New York native, Lilliam currently lives in Los Angeles. 

About NEVER LOOK BACK

Never Look Back

Expertly blends reality and fantasy to explore what’s behind love and loss, what it takes to heal.” – Randy Ribay, author of National Book Award finalist Patron Saints of Nothing

Acclaimed author Lilliam Rivera blends a touch of magical realism into a timely story about cultural identity, overcoming trauma, and the power of first love.

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria—and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

Featuring contemporary Afro-Latinx characters, this retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice is perfect for fans of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper.

ISBN-13: 9781547603732
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Publisher’s description

Heart-wrenchingly honest, fans of Brandy Colbert and Nicola Yoon will anticiapte this poignant reflection on what it means to choose yourself.

On the day Torrey moves and officially becomes a college freshman, he gets a call that might force him to drop out before he’s even made it through orientation: the bank is foreclosing on the bee farm his Uncle Miles left him.

Torrey’s worked hard to become the first member of his family to go to college, but while the neighborhood held him back emotionally, Uncle Miles encouraged him to reach his full potential. For years, it was just the two of them tending the farm. So Torrey can’t let someone erase his uncle’s legacy without a fight.

He tries balancing his old life in L.A. with his new classes, new friends, and (sort of) new boyfriend in San Francisco, but as the farm heads for auction, the pressure of juggling everything threatens to tear him apart. Can he make a choice between his family and his future without sacrificing a part of himself?

Amanda’s thoughts

Hey, this was great. Here’s why: FANTASTIC voice. Set in the first weeks of college. It tackles gentrification. It revolves around an APIARY. And did I mention the FANTASTIC VOICE?

Torrey, who is Black and gay, is excited to finally get out of where he grew up. But as soon as he arrives as SFSU, he learns two things that throw him for a loop: One, unpaid taxes means he’s about to lose the bee farm he inherited from his uncle. Two, Gabe, a boy Torrey was really into in junior high (and who then moved to Ohio) is also at SFSU. Gabe is Afro-Latinx and bi and has a girlfriend, but it’s clear that Torrey and Gabe still have lots of intense feelings for each other. But instead of figuring out college classes, making new friends, and potentially getting together with Gabe, Torrey has this MUCH bigger thing looming over him. Losing the bee farm would be devastating. He feels so much guilt and obligation and also frustration over the entire situation. He contemplates what to do during the two weeks until the add/drop period ends, wondering if his choice has to be all or nothing—go home? Stay at college? Somehow save the farm? It’s a lot for an eighteen-year-old to deal with.

But he’s used to it.

His mom is in a medically-induced coma, his uncle was killed, and his only real family is his aunt and his homophobic grandpa. He’s been dealing with hard stuff for a long time. He’s also used to taking care of the adults in his life. Now, during a time that theoretically should be all about him finally, he’s still having to worry about taking care of people and doing the right thing. He’s also super used to people leaving, so to fall in with this great found family at school, and to start to see more community and connections, makes him want to figure out both parts of his life—continuing on at college and somehow keeping things going with the apiary.

This is an immensely readable look at gentrification, systemic oppression, protest, action, community, and having your voice heard. It’s also a very sweet love story as well as sort of a best case scenario college story (you like your roommate! you have instant friends! a cool prof immediately takes you under her wing!). And, I can’t stress this enough, the main thing that this book has going for it is its voice. Torrey’s narration just comes alive. A great suggestion for anyone looking to read at the upper edges of YA and a good addition to the growing number of books that tackle gentrification.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624147999
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 10/08/2019

Walk the Jagged Streets of Gentrification with Ibi Zoboi’s Pride, a guest post by Marie Marquardt

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Ibi Zoboi join us for a conversation about gentrification, identity, and Zoboi’s excellent new novel, Pride. 

 

 

 

Step onto my block

and walk these jagged

broken streets and sidewalk cracks

like rickety bridges across our backs

to the end of rainbows

reflecting off broken glass

where the pot of gold

is way on the other side

of this world.

– from “Girls in the Hood” a poem by Zuri Benitez, Pride

 

Breaking Past Invisible Walls with Pride

 

prideI’m thrilled and honored to have Ibi Zoboi back to #ReadForChange as we celebrate the launch of her highly-anticipated YA novel, Pride. If you saw my February feature on American Street, you already know that I am a huge fan of Ibi’s stories. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy of this gorgeous (inside and out!) book a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t put it down.

 

Pride is a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, set in the rapidly-gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. Zuri Benitez, the second daughter in a Haitian-Dominican family, has lived her entire life in a crowded Bushwick apartment, surrounded by love, a good dose of chaos, and much delicious food. When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street after funding an “Extreme Makeover: Bushwick Edition,” Zuri’s mom is beside herself with anticipation for the possibilities of a good match, and her giggly younger sisters can’t get enough of the handsome Darcy brothers, Ainsley and Darius.

 

Fans of Pride and Prejudice will not be surprised to learn that Darius initially comes across as arrogant and dismissive of Zuri and her family, and that Zuri despises him. Needless to say, by the end of the book, Darius and Zuri definitely don’t hate each other. As Zuri and Darius’ relationship moves toward it’s inevitable (and super-sweet) finale, Zuri has many chances to reflect on the complicated impacts of gentrification, and to experience the challenges of building relationships across differences of social class. Lucky for us readers, some of Zuri’s reflections come in the form of gorgeous and lyrical poetry, which is interspersed through the narrative.

 

 

“Reverse-gentrifying the Brit-Lit Canon”: An Interview with Ibi Zoboi

Ibi.Zoboi.2018.4MARIE: Throughout the story, Zuri offers so many subtle — but also powerful — observations about the ways gentrification impact everyday life in Bushwick. Were these drawn from your experience? What inspired you to write on themes of gentrification?  

 

 

IBI: Yes, these were definitely drawn from my experience. I live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that’s undergoing lots of changes. In fact, I’ve been priced out of my neighborhood, too. Gentrification is about class, upward mobility, and ultimately, property ownership, all the themes that are also in Pride and Prejudice. It was the perfect issue to highlight for this retelling about two teens finding common ground and falling in love.

 

 

MARIE: Pride takes a head-on look at the effects of gentrification on families and communities, which means it also is a story about social class and belonging. You took some risks to address the complicated intersections of race, class, and identity. Why was it important for you to focus on these?

 

 

IBI: The Darcy family is wealthy and Black, and they’re moving into a lower income and working class community populated by people who look like them, Of course there would be issues of identity and big-picture questions about what it means to be Black in an urban landscape. But most importantly, my characters are teens who grapple with identity no matter what environment they’re in. Zuri is looking into a culture that she’s unfamiliar with, which is wealth and access. If she steps back a bit, she can see what is possible for her. Darius also sees what could’ve been possible for him had he not come from wealth. I wanted to examine the issues of upward mobility, education, and class through the eyes of these two teens.
PrideInside

 

MARIE:  Some might consider it odd that you went to the Brit-lit canon for inspiration to tell Zuri and Darius’ love story. Why Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?
IBI: While I didn’t read Pride and Prejudice for school, many Black kids have had to. I think the better question is, why is the Brit-lit canon forced on Black and Brown students? What connections can a Caribbean or Latinx immigrant teen make between herself and the Regency world of Jane Austen? In the same way that wealthier newcomers to underserved neighborhoods erase the established cultures, this my very own way of reverse gentrifying the Brit-lit canon. Pride and Prejudice has so much to say about class and a woman’s place in the world, but those themes are not relegated to 19th century British women. A Haitian-Dominican teen in Brooklyn can grapple with those same issues.

 

Want to better understand gentrification? Check out Ibi’s excellent recommendations.

 

To get us started, an excellent nonfiction book:

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration 
by Isabel Wilkerson offers an excellent historical perspective on the gentrification of cities. It tells the story of the period from 1915 to 1970, when six million African-Americans left the Jim Crow South to build new lives in the cities.

warmpth of other suns

Now to a documentary:

Citizen Jane: Battle Cry for the City chronicles the visionary work of Jane Jacobs, an activist and author who fought to preserve the city.

citizen-jane-battle-for-the-city-british-movie-poster

And, finally, a podcast:

From WNYC’s The Takeaway – There Goes the Neighborhood: Race and Gentrification (Click here to listen)

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 3.09.55 PM

 

Want to take action? Ibi’s advice is simple:

 

IBI: I recommend students get involved with any community-centered organizations that advocate for fair housing, public spaces, and funding for the arts.

 

Win a copy of Pride, hot off the presses!

Here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt October 1!

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season (available 2/20/18). A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

#ReadForChange: Get Really Real with Lilliam Rivera’s The Education of Margot Sanchez, a guest post by Marie Marquardt

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Lilliam Rivera join us for a conversation about gentrification, taking action, writing a novel that is just one voice of the many unheard voices in the publishing industry, and her excellent book The Education of Margot Sanchez. 

 

 

Take care not to listen to anyone who tells you what you can and can’t be in life.

– Meg Medina

 

Taking up space in the South Bronx

 

educationofThe Education of Margot Sanchez is a perfect summer read. It’s at times fun and funny, at other times heartrending and poignant. Much like Meg Medina’s fabulous Burn Baby Burn, this novel drops the reader deep inside summer at a very specific time on a very unique collection of New York City blocks. It’s crafted so well that we can feel the humidity in the air and the heat rising from the asphalt.

 

Most of Margot Sanchez’ summer “education” happens in and around the Sanchez & Sons supermarket – once a “welcoming oasis in a sea of concrete buildings” in the South Bronx, the supermarket, owned by Margot’s dad, has seen better days. As Margot explains: “the blue paint is peeling, the posters are the same from five years ago, and there’s some funky odor that I can’t place.”

 

While the supermarket stayed the same, Margot went through some big transformations. The most important: she got into the prestigious Somerset Prep, and she finally made friends with Serena and Camille, the coolest girls in school. Reading how Margot had to change to fit in with the cool girls will, for almost anyone who has been through middle school and early high school, evoke poignant reminders of painful times. Because Margot’s experience is so relatable, and because her decision to go to Somerset was shaped more by her parents’ aspirations than her own, we feel sympathy for Margot, even though she has done some incredibly stupid stuff.

 

Case in point: Margot used her parents’ credit card to charge six-hundred-dollars-worth of clothes, since hanging out with Serena and Camille transformed her style from thrift store bo-ho chic to designer Taylor-Swift-inspired. (Like I said: cringe-worthy). Margot’s adventures in shopping landed her at Sanchez & Sons for the summer, instead of in the Hamptons with all of her Somerset friends.

 

At first utterly disdainful of her work and most of the people she encounters there, Margot eventually discovers and embraces her unique identity (even while wearing a hairnet and serving up sliced meats to the neighborhood church ladies!). Her transformation is aided by Moises, an anti-gentrification activist with a bad reputation, and Elizabeth, her former best friend who chose art school over Somerset.

 

While drawing us into this unique South Bronx neighborhood and the fabulous characters that inhabit it, The Education of Margot Sanchez also pulls readers into some complicated questions about family, ethnicity, social class, identity, and the impact of gentrification on particular communities. The story also playfully sifts through an enormous heap of gendered expectations. (Note, for example, that “Sanchez & Sons is owned by a man with only one son, who goes by the nickname ‘Junior’. The other child is Margot, whom everyone calls ‘Princesa’.)

 

Margot is a list-maker. Her final list of the summer is the “Get Really Real List.” This is the perfect way to end a novel that’s so real, so honest, and so deeply embedded in a particular place. I enthusiastically recommend The Education of Margot Sanchez to anyone who’s looking for a summer read that’s both super funny and incredibly thought-provoking.

 

“The Audacity to Believe that I Deserved Some Shelf Space”: A Chat with Lilliam Rivera

downloadMARIE: Tell us about the moment when you knew that this story had to be written, and that you needed to be the one to write it.

LILLIAM: The moment I knew The Education of Margot Sanchez had to be written was back in 2013. I kept thinking of the many young adult novels I read as a teenager. The Judy Blumes. The S.E. Hintons. I devoured those books and so many more at my local library. Because of the abundance of those books, I had the audacity to believe that I deserved some shelf space. That perhaps a Latina coming-of-age story set in the South Bronx, New York can be just one voice of the many unheard voices in the publishing industry that takes up some space.

MARIE: What are some of the things you’re doing to create the world that you want to live in?

LILLIAM: This is an interesting question. I grew up in a household where we were taught to navigate spaces that were not meant for people with my last name. My family is very active politically and that has fed down to my own writing. I believe I can create works of art that speaks on my own struggles —colonization, racism, and class. Even when I am writing in a contemporary setting or near future, these are the things that I write towards. How does this work with creating the life I want to live? I try to bring this to the many students I speak to across the states and to my own kids. I love speaking to young people and letting them know that their voices are so desperately needed. To be heard and to be seen, it’s really what most people want.

MARIE: For readers who want to take action, themselves, what ideas can you share?

LILLIAM: The amazing part about being young right now is the many different social media accounts out there. Communicating with someone with the exact same interests as you is so much easier. Young people can control the narrative, away from propaganda. They don’t have to settle to hearing what is happening in the world through only a few outlets. It’s an amazing period to be active, to take action. You can find like-minded people online and that can spur you into having uncomfortable conversations and to be part of social movements.

 

Let’s Get Reading!: Gentrification, from A to Z

 

Margot RFCLucky for us, Lilliam recently posted a great article on Teen Librarian Toolbox about one of the most significant themes in this novel: gentrification. She’s got several great recommendations there for people who want to learn more and read more. So, head on over to that article for all the details. You can find it here.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, inspired by Margot, I will give you the short list:

 

Lilliam’s Really Real Gentrification List

“Gentrification and the Criminlazation of Neighborhoods” – The Atlantic

“Health Effects of Gentrification” – Centers for Disease Control

How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the fight for the Neighborhood by Peter Moskowitz

The Color of Law: A forgotten History of How Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

 Lilliam's Gentrification List

Let’s Get Loud!
“It’s an amazing period to be active, to take action!”

Ready to take action?  Here are a few recommendations that Lilliam Rivera says are “doing the work”.

Black Youth Project
(BYP100)
A national organization of 18-35 year-old Black organizers and activists, dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people. Using a Black queer feminist lens, BYP100 “envisions a world where all black people have economic, social, political, and educational freedom.”

Immigrant Youth Coalition
An organization led by undocumented youth that works to empower immigrant youth in California to stand up to injustice and criminalization of immigrants.

 

 

United We Dream
This fabulous immigrant youth-led organization is making a second appearance on our list, and for good reason: “At United We Dream, we transform fear into finding your voice. We empower people to develop their leadership, their organizing skills, and to develop our own campaigns to fight for justice and dignity for immigrants and all people.”

Million Hoodies Movement for Justice
A human rights organization with chapters around the country that is “building next generation human rights leaders to end anti-Black racism and systemic violence”

 

 

 

¡ Pa’lante!
This summer, let’s get really real and #ReadForChange

If you’re hoping to start your summer with a free signed copy of The Education of Margot Sanchez, here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt June 1!

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season (available 2/20/18). A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.