Celine Lubin, whose personal essay “Books Are Bombs” appears here, is one of my 7th grade students in my “Word Up” class at the TEAK Fellowship. She chose to write this personal essay responding to my prompt, “What is something you learned that you were never supposed to know?” We had just read Sherman Alexie’s essay, “Superman and Me,” on his subversive literacy and literary journey. (I also explained his fall from grace for mistreatment of women and abuse of power–perhaps also something we, his readers, were never supposed to know.) Celine always has her hand up and her sharing motor on, but her learning curve was sharper in acquiring craft and polish. This essay, “Books are Bombs,” is one of her true composition accomplishments, and also the product of a deeply creative and funny mind.
Celine Lubin– Books Are Bombs
My mother has been telling me my entire life, “Education is power.” The first time she brought it up I was but a short little second grader who was scared of her own shadow. Whenever I heard the saying “Books are bombs,” which was ever so often from my reading teacher Ms. Brown, it would send me ducking and heading for cover, sheltering myself under the desk. She explained to me that they weren’t literal bombs, but figurative ones. This only added to my suspicions, that books were bombs that came in many shapes and sizes and were dangerous and could never be trusted.
Somewhere along the line within the course of the next two years, I became quite fond of books. Each time I had looked in one’s direction or became daring enough to peek through its pages, I thought how organized, how smooth, how refined, how interesting. With these brave ideas exploding in thought, I became fascinated with how to read. Soon I learned how to read with the help of Ms. Brown and two other reading teachers. Not just how to read, but how hard it was. Unconsciously I felt how lucky I was to receive that opportunity. With each page, I became more enlightened and my understanding of the world grew. So I had to wonder how would this work in a different language, other than English?
Surprisingly as luck would have it I went to a Greek Orthodox school where every sentence seemed to have a Nae: Yes and Ohe: No– in contrast with my mom’s side of the family which was Haitian, where every sentence involving a child had a Sheta or “Sit Down!” in it. Much to my surprise, my growing curiosity about Greek made my learning almost instantaneous. Then all of a sudden I was sucked into a world of Greek. With the spinach copita (or spinach pie), the light-eyed people, the culture, the language it all had been around me before, but Why hadn’t I thought about it before?
I began to learn Greek, and I mean this time really learn. I started reading books in Greek, then writing sentences, and before I knew it I was consumed in anything and everything Greek. But, one day after school, in the third grade, I decided to tell my grandma about my Greek success and the most unexpected thing happened. Bam!
A real bomb went off, not one that was nuclear, but it was quite explosive. For it was not a literal bomb, but a cultural one. A clash of two different worlds through the explosion of knowledge I had consumed of one culture instead of another. “Uh-oh, how you speak that language and you can’t speak your own? It’s those people putting ideas into your head making you disregard your culture,” she said in a heavy Haitian accent. I had to think before responding to her ignorant comment, but I had no choice but to ask myself why had she said such a thing and was it true?
My grandma had always been obsessed with Haitian culture, aside from the fact that she thought everybody’s hair should be straight and damaged like hers. I mean I had seen this kind of behavior from her before when it came to “those white people” but I couldn’t quite make it out. Sadly this time it was as clear as the sky on a hot sunny day. I feared I would become the bridge that connected Haitian culture and Greek culture to help them torture each other. Whether it be through my grandma’s sinister comments or through my teacher’s preference for me to learn Greek. One thing was for sure, that bomb had laid waste to whatever somewhat perfect educational thing I had.
After this incident, my grandmother started calling my mom at least twice each day. Telling her how disappointed she was that I hadn’t been taught Creole earlier before those “people” got to me. I couldn’t help but think I should have listened to my younger self, books were bombs. It was true it was a bomb that released an explosion of chaos into my world. I had no choice but to face it head on, but how was I going to tell my grandma? I mean how do you break the news to an old lady, especially an old school one at that, that you are going to learn as you please? It took weeks to convince her that I learned the language of my own free will. “I am tired of hearing of this nonsense,” she would repeat. When she did somewhat begin to grasp the idea, it was surprising, through books and pamphlets that explained what was going on.
She obtained these pamphlets through my guidance counselor, Ms.Joy, which was weird because if I was ever summoned to her office I felt anything but. My grandma seemed to like her though. While there, she acted like she had never had a problem with me learning a second language that was not my own, even though I could see through the cracks of her wrinkled face like a mirror. Shockingly, Ms.Joy’s words did no justice for my case. Instead, the pamphlets did. After reading them my grandma did one of the most unexpected acts imagined. She apologized. Which was a big step, even for one as old as her.
Some of the pamphlets she had read expressed what my mom called, “the importance of diversity and the benefit of learning another tongue,” whatever that meant. I know what you’re thinking: the very thing that got you in trouble (books, booklets) got you out. Well, let me just say I agree and grandma was right. That’s where I learned a valuable lesson, that books were bombs that exploded with knowledge and whether or not you are prepared to soak up that knowledge is entirely up to you. But reading can also repair broken bridges between understanding and at the same time help you learn something new.
Want to explore your literacy lineage? Some idea you had about what books held for you, whether bad or good, dangerous or not? How your family’s biases influenced you? What stories first changed how you saw things? Great, we love to help students develop their stories, so contact us to learn more.