When it was announced that author, Joshua Davis would speak to the Hesston College campus and community, no one expected to be listening to a World Armwrestling Championship competitor. However, it was soon evident that this fact was just one of many quirks that make Davis a unique writer and open-minded thinker. He is open to wherever the road leads.
Even to Hesston, Kansas.
On Tuesday, Oct. 4 Davis spoke to an audience of about 500 students, faculty, staff and college community members at Hesston Mennonite Church, providing background on Hesston’s community read, “Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot and the Battle for the American Dream.”
Davis shared his journey of becoming a writer, from arm-wrestling to covering the war in Iraq. However, the theme of the evening was found in his discussion of the common read book. Just as arm wrestling involved taking risks, so did writing this book. Davis didn’t know what he was getting himself into, but he was willing to try. And sometimes that is all it takes.
Davis was the only national reporter to respond to Carl Hayden High School in the early 2000s when a poorly-constructed press release about the school’s robotics team landed in his inbox. He almost deleted it, but something took him back.
“I think there was a reason that press release caught my attention,” he said.
And thank goodness it did. Davis’ reporting on the Carl Hayden robotics team led to authoring “Spare Parts” and a feature film by the same name. As the community read for Hesston’s First Year Experience program, the book is utilized as a course textbook and is the starting point for a variety of research activities. However, the book serves as much more than a class assignment. In a nation where the current presidential election and political climate are causing discussion about immigration and undocumented residents, this book allows the Hesston community to wrestle with this issue.
Donovan Tann, one of the FYE instructors notes, “I love seeing how each class section approaches the book with a different set of questions and a different body of research.”
In the College Writing-linked FYE section, students analyze the relationship between immigration and education. Sarah Miller, a freshman, reflected on a particular surprising discussion.
“I was really shocked when Donovan Tann shared the story that some undocumented immigrants will purposefully do poorly in school so as not to draw attention to themselves and their current ‘state.’ I thought that was really sad.”
“Spare Parts” follows the lives of four Latino boys living in West Phoenix as they defy the odds to win an underwater robotics competition. They must overcome the problems of being undocumented, lacking resources, and falling victim to stereotypes to succeed. They found an unusual way to do it when their robot, made with spare parts, beat MIT and other well-funded university teams.
“This ugly robot they built was extraordinary,” remarked Davis.
Underneath this underdog story laid an even bigger theme: Immigration. When writing the book, Davis asked Luis, Lorenzo, Oscar, and Cristian whether or not he had their permission to mention their undocumented status. They said yes. Davis reflects how if these were his children, he would have put his foot down right away. There was no need to risk their lives for the purpose of a novel. However, when the boys decided to share their story, it was then that Davis realized this story was bigger than four Latino Boys in West Phoenix. This was a medium for the entire immigrant and undocumented population to speak out about the injustices they were experiencing on a daily basis.
“This was their ‘Rosa Parks moment,’” he said.
And so, Joshua Davis ended his presentation with a simple, yet powerful question: “What sort of things are you passionate enough about to risk your future or even your life for?”
As the Hesston community is left with the impact of “Spare Parts” and the challenging words of Joshua Davis, we are called to stand up for our beliefs and recognize the privilege in our own lives. Sometimes all it takes to make a statement is a little courage… and a few spare parts.