Last year, I was fortunate enough to win the Javits-Frazier Scholarship, which got me a free trip to the 2015 National Association for Gifted Children Convention in Phoenix, AZ. There I attended countless workshops, met and talked with the leading advocates in the GATE community, and listened to several amazing keynote speeches.
One of the speakers that stood out for me was Joshua Davis, author of Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream. He tells the story of four undocumented Latino teenagers from Phoenix, Arizona who joined a high school robotics team and competed against the best student engineers in the country, including ExxonMobil-backed M.I.T., in a national underwater robotics championship.
Davis was eloquent and passionate about his subject. He held the thousands in attendance in the palm of his hand as he recounted the details of his life before the story. He brought Luis, one of the four teenagers from the book, to the Q&A part of the presentation, which was an added treat. Without a doubt, the funniest part of their story came during a crucial time, moments before the big championship. Their underwater robot “Stinky” had a leak and started taking in water. They needed something to absorb the water that had leaked into the heart of the robot. “Like a tampon?” suggested Lorenzo. Davis had the audience in stitches as he recounted the story of how shy, inexperienced Lorenzo approached the well-dressed white woman in the Ralph’s store and asked, “Could you help me buy the most absorbent tampons?”
While this is a story about robotics and education, there is, in fact, a larger narrative that begins to unfold as you read through the story. This is a story that is particularly relevant today, especially in my home state of California, and it is the plight of undocumented immigrants and their children. Politicians go back and forth about the subject and often incite fear in their constituents regarding the “dangers” of illegal immigrants in America, yet we rarely talk about the opposite side of the issue. The young men in this book are an excellent example of the positive things immigrants have brought to the United States now and since the inception of our country. These four young men were intelligent, hard-working, upstanding students, yet it was extremely difficult for them to gain citizenship in America, even after their successes in the book. Born in Mexico, they were brought here illegally by parents who struggled to survive in their homeland, but were desperate to give their children the chance they never had. Oscar, in particular, loved America so much; he was willing to go to incredible lengths, including fighting for our country, in order to make his dream of becoming an American citizen come true.
Spare Parts is a really entertaining and relevant book! It’s a fabulous read for educators, mentors, STEM enthusiasts, and anyone interested in the Latino experience in America.