Read a summary of the book
Synopsis of ‘Silver People’ by Margarita Engle (2015 Jane Addams Winning Title for Older Children): The building of the Panama Canal was undoubtedly one of the great engineering feats of the 20th Century. But the human and environmental costs of this effort are rarely discussed. This powerful novel, written in prose poems, illuminates the prices paid in the voices of the “gold people” (English speaking U.S. citizens), the “silver people” (lured to Panama from the Caribbean with deceitful promises of work, good pay, decent living situations) and in the voice of the indigenous people of Panama. The Panamanian jungle is also given voice as the canal building destroys it’s environment along with taking the lives of so many of the workers. Still, despite the misery and horror of the experience, the three young people who tell the story, find ways to see and cherish beauty and to build a life for themselves.
First, let’s get a sense for the size and scope the Panama Canal and the kind of work that went into building it by watching several short videos at Panama Canal – History.com
Then, read three poems in three voices from ‘Silver People’…Read once or twice to absorb for the images portrayed and then again to hear the voice and message of each.
- THE LIFE OF A DIGGER
Henry, from the island of Jamaica
Harry Franck, from the United States of America – Census Enumerator
- PEERING UP FROM MUD
The Glass Frogs, witness to the massive diggings
Maybe you’d like to read a poem by Pablo Neruda regarding how the history of Panama was impacted by geography and greed….History of a Canal
Now Let’s Get to Next Steps!
Guiding questions for your reading, writing, thinking and acting:
Let Henry, Harry, and the Glass Frogs acknowledge each other. Based on the circumstance and distress each voice is conveying in their poem what might they say about the other? Stay true to their perspective and yet give each of them empathetic eyes. Write a few sentences or lines for each about the other two, perhaps you can keep Engle’s poetic tone, perhaps you will take a different tack.
You are welcome to share your sentences or lines as well as what you learned about empathy and perspective from this activity in our comment section (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo.
Now let’s think about Henry, Harry, & the Glass Frogs of 2020. Think about people you may know who are providing essential services and who work hard physically each day. Think about how injustice, racism, and inequity affects their lives. Or think about people you may know who are working from home or in easier jobs who are themselves uncomfortably aware of injustice, racism, and inequity around them. And, yes, think about the tender creatures in our natural environment who are endangered and feel invisible. Choose one of these perspectives and create a modern day character, real or imaginary, human or animal, and follow Engle’s lead in writing a poem capturing that character’s circumstance and distress. Reread and revise what you have written. Think of how can you support the well being of those today in similar circumstances to your character.
Share what you realized in this process and what you can and will do in our comment section below (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo.