This was one of those random books at the library you find every once in a good while. They’re rare, but spectacular. The story, Silver People, by Margarita Engle, followed an intriguing ensemble cast of characters as they shared their own stories of living life, either working, watching, or leading the construction of the Panama Canal in 1906.
The story starts out from the point of view of Mateo, the main character in the story. He’s going through all of the reasons of why he needs this job of working on the Panama Canal. His abusive father. His helpless mother desperate for financial relief. The desideratum for a new life. Every few pages, the perspective changes: Anita, the forest whisperer who sells herbal medicines to whoever will take them, that is, whoever notices her. She is discouraged that her sacred forest is being overrun by Americans. Henry, a former cock-fighter, is livid due to the utterly inadequate conditions Cubans are placed under versus those Americans are (similar to the highly debated issue of equal pay for equal work, no?). And finally, Augusto, an artist Mateo discovers, who decides to paint the beauty of the forest that surrounded him, while it’s still there. Despite the beauty of each character’s disposition, it’s the character of The Forest that stood out for me. It gave me insight to a common problem we face today in the world; climate change. Humans may reach for the stars, developing, researching, creating, but no iPhone bazillion or Samsung Galaxy S Note Edge whatever will trump the ultimate force of Mother Nature. When you take out the chaos and social expectations and Instagram feeds and Snapchat filters and viral videos and screens and binges and clothing and competition, all you have left is your bare hands and feet, and our Earth. And that makes me smile.
The story of these characters’ journeys; their work being undermined because of their skin color, their pay being docked because of their country of origin, and their integrity being sacrificed in order to provide for their families. Doesn’t this strike an eerily similar chord with you? The hatred these workers face is the same immigrants, Muslims, and African Americans still face to this very day. There’s no denying the fact, progress has been made since the construction of the Panama Canal, as my 4th grade teacher once said, practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes progress. If we practice the core ideals of our nation, by fostering acceptance of all, then without a doubt, progress will be made.
There is still work that needs to be done. Some days, it feels that every step we take forward, we walk a mile backwards. Now, isn’t this blog post timely? President Trump’s recent travel ban is the epitome of walking a mile backwards. If not, 5, 10, or 20 miles backwards. But a little lesson I learned from Lorelei Gilmore, is that, one little pothole in your life will not ruin your entire journey. One thing I am certain of, is that the journey of the American Spirit has taken more harsh beatings than any other. Yet, another thing I am certain of, is that, no bump, batter, bruise, or president will ever defeat the American Spirit. Right now, we’re just feeling the blow. I have the utmost confidence in the United States, now and always. Not the administration that runs it, but the United States as a whole. We the people have more control over how our country runs that the people who have been elected to run our country. If we work together, sign petitions, join marches, make phone calls, read the (completely legitimate!) news, and run for office, then we really do have a chance to be the change we want to see in the world.
This book took my breath away, each stanza being better than the last. Margarita Engle perfectly encapsulated the trauma, pain, and sorrow of the construction of the Panama Canal, while instilling a firm message to readers of today about the progress still needing to be made about immigration and racism. Poetically charming, the book was, and with the fewest of words, Engle left the greatest of messages. You’re never the same person after you’ve been through a life-changing experience, and Engle gave her readers the opportunity of gaining perspective through this beautiful piece of literature. If couldn’t tell already, I strongly recommend this read! Let me know if you’re planning to read this, or if you already have, and if you have any book recommendations of your own for me! Tune in next time for the final bow of the hair-tutorials sweep through the Legally Brunette Blog.
~The Legally Brunette