We were lucky that Noah Schaffer was in attendance. He has experience snapping pictures at several ALAN Workshops. Below we have a visual taste of the people and events form the first day of the summit-- all of the photographers belong were taken by Noah. Browse through these a bit. After that, read what Kate and Julia have to say about Hot Button issues and YA. This was certainly a topic of conversation in several sessions. Let's consider what Kate and Julia have to say as a post summit extension.
Safe Space: Using YAL to Open Dialogue About Hot Button Issue by Rachelle and Julia
Why Our Students Need a Safe Space to Ask Questions
Immigration rights, DACA, Dreamer status, and ICE raids are consistently in the news, and being talked about across the country. Students are experiencing the devastation of families being yanked apart either through watching the news or experiencing it first-hand through friends, family, or personal situations. We have bared witness to children being pulled from loved one’s arms and being sent back to countries that have not been visited in many years, if ever. Protests for and against immigration are happening throughout the country, with both sides not standing down. Fake news continues to purport misleading, and often incorrect information regarding various cultures and people attempting to enter the US.
At the same time, we watch as funding is pulled from LGBTQ safe zones and organizations, same-sex couples must fight for their rights of equality, and states propose laws that do not condemn bullying of students that differ from the norm in regard to sexual identity. Students are left to question and wonder about their own feelings alone without a safe forum for open discussion.
The devastation happening to our own students and students across the country is evident, yet many teachers are worried to begin open discussions, not knowing how to address certain topics or questions that may come. As a culture, when we do not understand something, misunderstandings flourish, often leading to negative stereotypes and even hateful acts. Our students need guidance from trusted adults to distinguish fact from opinion and access accurate information from all sides. They want to ask questions. They seek understanding. Terry Farish and Sara Farizan provide a way “in” for opening up dialogue relating to the Muslim culture, war, immigration, and sexual identity.
Exploring a Refugee’s Experience in The Good Braider
The Good Braider, by Terry Farish, eloquently identifies reasons for leaving one country and becoming a refugee in another, along with the trials and tribulations involved. This novel focuses on hopes of freedom and loss of innocence through following Viola’s journey from war-torn Sudan to America, via Cairo. Although Viola knows what is expected of her -- from her family, country and culture -- she often chooses to follow her own path. Written in free verse and told in three parts, Farish starts the novel in Sudan, takes us to Cairo, and finally ends in Maine.
Violence is common-place for Viola and her family, as they seek to not conform to Islam, the religion of the Sudanese soldiers and cause of the war. When a soldier catches Viola alone on the road, a boy is murdered as he tries to protect her. Despite the boy's sacrifice, the soldier repeatedly raped Viola, stealing her "bride wealth" and bringing shame to her family. Along with the poor living conditions, Viola’s family faces hardship due to lack of food or running water and no education.
Once again, upon arriving in America, Viola and her mother are torn between two worlds, as they attempt to understand American culture and laws while also keeping to their Sudanese roots. Viola is confused by new freedoms, such as wearing clothing that does not cover her arms and legs and the fact that she may attend school. Teresa struggles to understand how to raise Viola, as her punishment of burning Viola’s hand for spending time alone with a boy is not acceptable in America like it was in Sudan. Grief, loss of innocence, death, need for community and belonging, and survival, are tragically, yet elegantly depicted throughout the novel as Viola and Tereza discover their new identities as both, American and Sudanese.
Addressing Women’s Rights and Sexual Identity in Muslim Culture
If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan, provides a complex story that approaches what it is like to be a lesbian living in Iran, a country where homosexuality is prohibited by law and considered a sin punishable by death. The unequal rights of women in Iranian society is showcased throughout the book through vivid descriptions of rape and the mentality that a woman’s greatest ambition should be to marry well.
Sahar, is a seventeen-year-old Iranian girl that takes care of her father, excels in school, and plans to become a doctor. She is also mutually in love with her best friend from childhood, Nasrin. Although she is aware that this is illegal, she considers herself a model Muslim female, following all rules of decency, such as covering her head to not be considered a whore. She relates her love for Nasrin as similar to Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman and fantasizes that her life could be changed by a kiss, like in the tale of Sleeping Beauty.
When Nasrin’s mother arranges her marriage Sahar again questions what to do and who she is. She agonizes over Nasrin’s decision to walk away from their love and questions her own options. At the wedding, Nasrin’s mother makes it clear that Sahar should forget the love formed and move on. After months of little communication, Nasrin’s husband sees how depressed she is and invites Sahar over. However, he makes it clear that Sahar must behave appropriately and respect his home and marriage.
Ultimately, Sahar accepts and understands that she is not a man trapped in a woman’s body and is at peace with understanding who she is. Sahar and her father learn how to grieve and let go. Baba returns to work and Sahar returns to school, where she meets another female student Taraneh. The power of friendship, hope for those facing challenges alone, and moving from grief to love are captured throughout this beautiful novel as we learn to understand Sahar as an individual, not Sahar as a lesbian or Muslim.
Understanding Sahar’s world provides an inside view into the isolation, alienation, bullying, guilt, shame, tension, acceptance, and perseverance that she faced personally and due to others. There is no universal experience for students that identify as LGBTQ, as is shown by the characters in this novel. Farizan disrupts what is considered “normal” in respect to sexuality and gender.