A statement about Who Belongs Here?

STATEMENT:

It has been 29 years since Who Belongs Here? An American Story was first published. When I sat down to write this book, I was processing the intense pain my students—Cambodian refugees as young as six—were experiencing every day in our school. They told me about how unwelcome they felt, about the slurs they were called. 

Much in the world has changed, some for the better. Much in the world, sadly, has not. 

When I wrote this book, my goal was to share the experiences of my students in as raw and real a way as possible. My job as a non-fiction writer of children’s books is to tell stories that change and open minds; part of that work is telling harsh truths. When I wrote this book, I made the decision to include direct quotes from my students, including references to the racist slurs they heard from their classmates. I did this with my students’ permission; several of them reviewed the text for accuracy. But the final text decisions were mine and I own them, and I did this with the intent of accurately portraying the horrendous verbal violence they faced. As time has passed, I realize the fact that these words remain in print, in a book by an author who has never myself been called these words, is inappropriate. 

What has changed in the world for the better is that I as a reader, writer, and teacher am increasingly attentive to creating spaces for affected people and communities to share their own stories. What has changed in the world for the better is that we know the power and necessity of leaving pejorative, disparaging, and insulting terms to be used only by the groups that know how much those words sting.

What has not changed in the world is virulent and destructive racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, and how it can ruin the lives of people—including children. If I am truly anti-racist in my approach, I can   demonstrate how to share space with affected individuals and communities, including by not repeating offensive and harmful words when a description of the discrimination will suffice. 

I regret and apologize for including these slurs in the book. I  will request  revisions so that, if the book is ever printed again, they will not remain. Finally, I am grateful for the librarian  who courageously and graciously reached out to alert me to this issue. I believe in Who Belongs Here? as a book because its story is, sadly, still relevant to the US today.

EDITS TO TEXT:

Nary remembers his grandmother telling him that the US was going to be better than heaven—full of food and peace. Nary wants to live in peace, so he doesn’t understand why some of his classmates are mean to him. 

One day, as he is getting books out of his locker, a classmate shouted a racial slur at him, sayingays “Hey, chink, out of my way!.” 

“Yeah get back on the boat and go home where you belong,” says another. 

After school, Nary goes home and talks with his grandmother. He is mad and hurt by his classmates’ words. The next day, someone calls him aanother racial slur  gook and tells him he doesn’t belong in the US. Nary doesn’t want to be afraid to go to school. 

…In Maine, more than 8,000 miles from their homeland, my Cambodian students were puzzled by the comments of some classmates.  “What’s a chink?” tThey asked me to explain to them what these hateful words they heard from their classmates meant. “Why do they tell me to go back on the boat? I didn’t come on a boat.” 

Margy Burns Knight   9/22

STATEMENT:

It has been 29 years since Who Belongs Here? An American Story was first published. When I sat down to write this book, I was processing the intense pain my students—Cambodian refugees as young as six—were experiencing every day in our school. They told me about how unwelcome they felt, about the slurs they were called. 

Much in the world has changed, some for the better. Much in the world, sadly, has not. 

When I wrote this book, my goal was to share the experiences of my students in as raw and real a way as possible. My job as a non-fiction writer of children’s books is to tell stories that change and open minds; part of that work is telling harsh truths. When I wrote this book, I made the decision to include direct quotes from my students, including references to the racist slurs they heard from their classmates. I did this with my students’ permission; several of them reviewed the text for accuracy. But the final text decisions were mine and I own them, and I did this with the intent of accurately portraying the horrendous verbal violence they faced. As time has passed, I realize the fact that these words remain in print, in a book by an author who has never myself been called these words, is inappropriate. 

What has changed in the world for the better is that I as a reader, writer, and teacher am increasingly attentive to creating spaces for affected people and communities to share their own stories. What has changed in the world for the better is that we know the power and necessity of leaving pejorative, disparaging, and insulting terms to be used only by the groups that know how much those words sting.

What has not changed in the world is virulent and destructive racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, and how it can ruin the lives of people—including children. If I am truly anti-racist in my approach, I can   demonstrate how to share space with affected individuals and communities, including by not repeating offensive and harmful words when a description of the discrimination will suffice. 

I regret and apologize for including these slurs in the book. I  will request  revisions so that, if the book is ever printed again, they will not remain. Finally, I am grateful for the librarian  who courageously and graciously reached out to alert me to this issue. I believe in Who Belongs Here? as a book because its story is, sadly, still relevant to the US today.

EDITS TO TEXT:

Nary remembers his grandmother telling him that the US was going to be better than heaven—full of food and peace. Nary wants to live in peace, so he doesn’t understand why some of his classmates are mean to him. 

One day, as he is getting books out of his locker, a classmate shouted a racial slur at him, sayingays “Hey, chink, out of my way!.” 

“Yeah get back on the boat and go home where you belong,” says another. 

After school, Nary goes home and talks with his grandmother. He is mad and hurt by his classmates’ words. The next day, someone calls him aanother racial slur  gook and tells him he doesn’t belong in the US. Nary doesn’t want to be afraid to go to school. 

…In Maine, more than 8,000 miles from their homeland, my Cambodian students were puzzled by the comments of some classmates.  “What’s a chink?” tThey asked me to explain to them what these hateful words they heard from their classmates meant. “Why do they tell me to go back on the boat? I didn’t come on a boat.” 

Margy Burns Knight   9/22

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