Pictured above is our three moderators, Alma Trinidad, Martha Balshem, and Cheryl Forster. They all did a great job tonight, giving different professional insights into the themes and characters of the book. We also had a thoughtful discussion afterwords with the audience members.
To start us off, Cheryl Forster discussed the attachment and bi-racial issues which are pivotal to the book. Forster began with attachment, saying it is basic to humans and that it directs our future development, and in a sense, ‘shapes our brains.’ She goes on to talk about racial and ethnic identity, and how we all have one. She uses Kerwin and Ponterotto’s identity and development model as a way to demonstrate the growing identity of biracial children. Biracial identity develops early in preschool, and when a child starts school, the ‘what are you’ question arrises. During adolescence, biracial individuals sort out the “what are you,” and feel an increase pressure to choose one or the other. A good quote from The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, in which Rachel describes how she identifies with being biracial is, “I learn that I am black. I have blue eyes. I put all these new faces into the new girl.” (10)
Martha Balshem focused on family, and the ability for a family to keep each other safe. Throughout the novel, Nella (Rachel’s mom) has a yearning to keep her family safe which ultimately leads to tragedy. “I love them and will keep them safe” (157) Balshem focuses on the family (the private domain) keeping each other safe from society (the public domain). Usually these two areas do not overlap, but in this case they do, because the ‘private domain bridges the gap between the two.’ Martha also examines the smaller characters in the novel, such as Nella and Rachel’s grandma. Nella believes strongly in loving and taking care of her family, and keeping them safe. Rachel’s grandma believes in the same, but shows it in very different ways, by having her set ways it seems to teach Rachel what she needs to know and how to keep her safe in her own ways.
Alma Trinidad looks at the social and political development of identity. Trinidad focuses on the family and the individual which formulates our identity that is able to find a community for like minded individuals. For Rachel, Loretta is the concreteness of what it means to be a black woman. “Aunt Loretta is a black woman–the kind of woman I will be.” (98). Even the book she is handed by Drew, “Black Skin, White Masks” is written by Frantz Fanon, an anticolonial, who wants to reclaim our identity and change the Western ideas. The novel itself examines sociopolitical identity through Rachel, who critically thinks about her identity, her grandma, who preserves her identity, and through many other characters who are struggling with their identity as well.
There was a lot said at tonight’s event. There are many questions that could be asked, as well. To start simply: are there any initial thoughts or reactions to what was said? Did this discussion change the way you thought about the novel? Did it make you think about your identity? To think more critically: Do you feel like Rachel now understands her identity, or do you feel like there is more she has to learn? Do you further understand your identity, or is there more that even you have to learn?