Author Steph Cha discusses racial injustice with the Class of 2023

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Jackie Franco '23

Author of the book Your House Will Pay zooms into Caroline’s Core Center at Sacred Heart Greenwich.

Korean-American author Ms. Steph Cha visited Sacred Heart Greenwich virtually September 27 to discuss her novel Your House Will Pay with junior students and faculty.  The Upper School English Department chose Ms. Cha’s novel for the junior summer reading curriculum due to its continued relevance and discussion of racial injustice.

Steph Cha is the author of Your House Will Pay.  Courtesy of stephcha.com

Your House Will Pay follows the lives of sheltered Korean-American Grace Park and African-American Shawn Matthews.  After the murder of Shawn’s sister Ava, he must cope with the trauma of her death along with its racial motivations.  Although Grace and Shawn are seemingly different, their paths connect through a shared family history.

A pregnant Korean woman’s murder of teenage Ava Matthews raises the theme of empathy in the novel.  As the woman thinks she is protecting her baby, readers must decide if her pregnancy justifies her decision.  Regarding empathy, Ms. Cha explained that one should always strive to be understanding, however, racism should not garner compassion.  Dr. Cristina Baptista, Upper School English Teacher, addressed Your House Will Pay’s examination of racial inequities throughout the history of the United States. 

“Seeing these patterns in history is very disheartening,” Dr. Baptista said.  “It is galvanizing to help people realize, wait, why does this perpetual cycle of racism of violence and destruction continue through every generation?  And once you’ve seen it occur multiple times in your own lifetime, you feel like there has to be something done.”

Ms. Cha also gave her insight into the “melody” of America.  She described how discordant notes in the nation’s song represent persistent historical obstacles, such as racism and discrimination.

As a Los Angeles, California native, Ms. Cha felt a responsibility to share the narrative of her hometown and its history of racial tensions.  For decades, the demand for racial equity and systemic change has provoked riots in the city, according to history.com.  Since the police beating of Mr. Rodney King in 1991, protests seeking reform in the police system in Los Angeles have increased, according to The Wall Street JournalMs. Cha spoke about the novel’s representation of recurring racism in the recent history of Los Angeles.

“I was paying attention to the news in 2014 during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement while also reading about the Mr. Rodney King case and Los Angeles in the early nineties,” Ms. Cha said.  “Seeing the echoes between those two eras is where the book came from.”

Steph Cha visits the Class of 2023 virtually.  Courtesy of Ms. Lucie Turkel 

When discussing her writing process, Ms. Cha highlighted the importance of in-field research.  While writing Your House Will Pay, she took time to immerse herself in the places and cultures she wished to illustrate in the book.  Ms. Cha also spent time with people similar to the characters she wanted to portray in her novel.

Junior Nadia Borja appreciated Ms. Cha’s ability to use writing as a form of activism.  The confidence Ms. Cha displayed in her strong responses inspired Nadia.

“In presenting herself so assuredly and speaking her mind without hesitation, Steph Cha perfectly modeled a strong and secure woman,” Nadia said.  “I am so grateful we were given the opportunity to gain insight into her creative process and intentions.” 

During her sabbatical last year, Dr. Baptista examined the importance of interdisciplinary learning.  She focused on ways to combine a variety of traditional disciplines and apply them to American literature.  She looks forward to observing how teachers will integrate Your House Will Pay into their respective coursework.

“I think that there is something quite beautiful about teachers and students entering a school year with the idea that we are going to learn together,” Dr. Baptista said.  “I felt that it would be ignorant not to choose something that spoke to the current moment.  Literature is a mirror of reality.  We can’t put our heads in the sand and just pretend it’s not.”  

Featured Image by Jackie Franco ’23