Common Read Author Sparks Discussion

By Ciarese De Torres

For this year’s Common Read, students were asked to read “Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions” by Valeria Luiselli. The book centers on Luiselli’s accounts of Mexican and Central-American children and their struggles crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without papers. Luiselli came to the Common Read event to answer questions from the audience and present her new publication, “Lost Children Archive.” Sister Linda Stilling shared her views after attending the event.

Luiselli’s book is centered on immigration and the hardships that these children faced. I know that much of your line of work is involved in immigration. Could you elaborate on your expertise? 

Stilling: Certainly. I noticed that the issue of the border and immigration has become a huge deal since the nineties when the Latino community I worked with started having this huge wave of Mexicans coming in. That’s when I began working on the immigration situation issue.  And then I continued throwing myself into the immigration question of really understanding up-close and personal by coming to the U.S.-Mexico border. I even went to Mexico, to the towns they came from, and learned so much about their situation of why and how they were coming to the U.S. Learning of their powerful and heartbreaking experiences completely changed how I viewed everything about their situation and the dangers they put themselves through in the migration. 

What did you think of “Tell Me How It Ends”? Was there anything that stood out to you?

Stilling: It was very interesting because many of the things that impressed me about the book are things that she did mention in the Common Read event. One of those things she said was that immigration is a global issue. That this is not a matter of national security, but more importantly, a refugee crisis. People are fleeing a terrible situation to get to a safer place. That they are “waking up from a nightmare,” rather than just seeking a job. 

During the Common Read event, Luiselli stated that there is violence in how we treat many undocumented persons through our language. What did you think about that? 

Stilling: I really liked that she said “language matters.” Often times, language is the way we perceive something. She took for example, how many people would call others, especially these refugees, an “illegal.” Just to call someone “illegal” does something to me but especially to them. They’re suddenly seen as something not human, as something that doesn’t belong. But that is wholeheartedly wrong, even in technical terms. That the correct and more humanising term to correct this wrong is “undocumented.” They are, first of all, people, who happen to not have the papers.  And I think it is correct of Luiselli to say that this is a human rights issue and that should be the focus. 

Luiselli has also said that we each have a role in being active in our community and that our gifts can be a way to fight the intolerance towards undocumented persons. What do you think are your gifts and how can you use these gifts to combat the negativity? 

Stilling: I am part of the Immigration Committee in the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND). Part of my role is to help educate other people about the immigration situation and influence them to join me in advocating for these persons to feel safe here. I think it is important to me to become, as Luiselli says, a “welcoming presence to people that had to leave home.” 

Was there anything from the Common Read event that touched you? 

Stilling: Two things actually. First thing was that she pointed out how the U.S. is the second largest population of Spanish speakers. I am amazed at how we don’t even recognize how much of their culture and their language has been integrated into the U.S. And another right thing for Luiselli to say is that we need to go back to the historical perspective. For instance, look at the Northern Triangle – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – countries where many of these fellow human beings are coming from. We need to acknowledge how there has been so much U.S. involvement over the years in those countries. And how we are very much a part of the problem.

common read
Makeima Freeland presents author Valeria Luiselli with student questions about her book. Luselli discussed her book about immigration.

Photo By Ciarese De Torres

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