Delivered 11.23.2020 at the ALAN Workshop
Thank you so much to the committee for selecting Patron Saints of Nothing as a finalist for the Amelia Walden Award. I know you probably read a ton of books this past year, and I know the difficulty of then having to select only 5 titles. It also means a lot to me, especially as a teacher, to be honored by fellow educators.
I also want to thank all of the teachers and librarians who have been reading and sharing PSON with their students. To borrow Dr. Bishop’s language, for some students PSON will be a “mirror.” It would have been for me–I never read a book by a Filipino American author, or even knew of one, until college. So it means everything to me that this book is out there for Filipino American kids coming up today and that this recognition will increase the chance they’ll find it.
For many others, it will be a window. There’s a pretty good chance this might be the first (hopefully not only) book they read set in the Philippines or about the Drug War. So I want to take a brief moment to remind us–myself included–that we must be mindful of how we engage students with “window” texts because a fetishization of “windows” can become its own kind of Othering.
To prevent this from happening, we must recall that Dr. Bishop’s metaphor does not separate the two. It is not that each book is either a “mirror” or a “window.” Instead, she discusses how the window BECOMES the mirror, how it BECOMES the sliding glass door. To me, this means that we must remember to invite our students–especially those part of the dominant group–to connect at a meaningful, personal level with all stories–especially with those from the marginalized and minoritized. I believe we do this by finding ways that foster empathy instead of sympathy.
It seems like an easy enough thing to do. We hear “empathy” praised all the time as the goal of fiction. But I think it’s easier said than done, and even the best among us sometimes confuse the former for the latter. It’s not enough to put a sad or painful book like mine in front of them. Fostering empathy is complex, deep, and communal work. We, as educators, must constantly strive to do that kind of work. At the end of the day, sympathy will only reinforce prevailing dynamics of oppression, while it is empathy that will transform the individual and transform our world.