For the past couple of months, one of the Jesuits I live with has been consumed with the robotics team he is moderating. It has been fascinating to hear him talk about the design phase, the enthusiasm of the students, and the actual robot. At the same time, a good friend recommended a book to me about a group of high school kids building a robot. My initial thought was “great, just what I need, more talk about robots.”
The book she recommended was Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream by Joshua Davis. I loved this book. The heart of the book is not a robot. The heart of the book is the four students who come together to build the robot. Davis tells their story: how their parents brought them from Mexico to Phoenix; how in high school they were inspired by teachers to get involved with an underwater robotics competition; and what happened to them after graduating high school. It is a real look at the challenges of everyday life for undocumented minors.
Non-fiction narrative stories like this allow us to encounter a reality that cannot be ignored. The closest I’ve gotten to building something was when I played with Lego. These highschoolers built an underwater robot that competed with some of the best universities in the country. Growing up, I could freely cross the US-Canada border by answering a few questions. I was never worried that I couldn’t get into Canada or back home. Midway through the book, as the team traveled to a competition out of state, their fear of having to produce an ID was very real. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. Despite threats of deportation, or of a giant wall to keep them out, these four young men built a robot. If that isn’t the American spirit, I don’t know what is. Spare Parts is a compelling story, well written, and deserving of our attention.
Cover Image Spare Parts, by Flickr User astrid westvang via Flickr Creative Commons, available here.