Book Review: The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez

 

Review by Lettycia Terrones, MLIS, PhD Student

Malú and the D.I.Y. (with a little help from the Elders) Aesthetic of Punk Rock Girls

There is a scene half-way through Celia C. Pérez’s brilliant middle-grade novel The First Rule of Punk that pulls so powerfully at the heartstrings of all those who have ever struggled with forming their identity as a minoritized person in the U.S. Having just wrapped up the first practice session of her newly formed punk band, The Co-Co’s, Malú (María Luisa O’Neill-Morales), the novel’s protagonist, learns an important lesson about what it means to be “Mexican.” It’s a lesson that not only connects Malú to her cultural heritage in a way that is authentic, it also invites her to self-fashion an identity that encompasses all parts of her, especially her punk rock parts! The lesson comes at the hands of Mrs. Hidalgo, the mother of Joe (José Hidalgo) who is Malú’s friend-in-punk, fellow seventh-grader at José Guadalupe Posada Middle School, and the guitarist of her band. And, it’s a lesson that complements those imparted by the many teachers guiding Malú to incorporate the complexity of seemingly disparate parts that make up who she is.

Before leaving the Hidalgo basement, which serves as the band’s practice space, Mrs. Hidalgo asks Malú to pull out a vinyl copy of Attitudes by The Brat. Putting needle to the Image result for Attitudes by The Bratrecord, Malú listens to the first bars of “Swift Moves” the EP’s opening song and asks in wonder, “Who is she?” To which Mrs. Hidalgo replies, “That’s Teresa Covarrubias.” And, so begins a history lesson for the ages. By introducing Malú to Teresa Covarrubias, the legendary singer of The Brat—the best punk band ever to harken from East L.A. —Mrs. Hidaldo, in a true punk rock move, being that she’s one herself, reclaims the cultural lineages that are so often erased and suppressed by dominant narratives, by affirming to Malú: “And they’re Chicanos, Mexican Americans … Like us.” (Pérez 162). Mrs. Hidalgo opens a door and illuminates for Malú something so beautiful and lucent about our culture. She designates this beauty as being uniquely part of a Chicanx experience and sensibility. So that in this moment, Malú’s prior knowledge and understanding of the punk narrative expands to include her in it as a Mexican American girl. She too belongs to this lineage of Mexicanas and Chicanas that made their own rules, which as Malú will go on to learn, indeed is the first rule of punk (Pérez 310).

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Joan Elliott-Said a.k.a. Poly-Styrene

This “like us,” this cultural resonance, this CORAZONADA to our heritage as Chicanx people in the U.S. is exactly the attitude and voice that can only come from one who has experienced what it’s like to live in the liminal spaces where as you’re neither from here nor from there. Pérez, herself of bicultural Cuban and Mexican heritage, indeed speaks to this experiential knowledge, saying in a recent interview in The Chicago Tribune that it wasn’t until college when she read Pocho by José Antonio Villareal that she recognized her own experience reflected in the pages of literature for youth (Stevens). Pérez in The First Rule of Punk speaks to the same imperatives that Marianne Joan Elliott-Said a.k.a. Poly-Styrene, another legendary woman of color, punk rock innovator, and singer of the classic British punk band X-Ray Spex, expressed when she sang following lyrics: “When you look in the mirror/ Do you see yourself/ Do you see yourself/ On the T.V. screen/ Do you see yourself/ In the magazine” (“Identity” X-Ray Spex).

Pérez holds up a mirror to all the weirdo outsiders, all the underrepresented youth who are made to not fit in, and shows them a story that reflects and honors their truth. She takes on the complexities and messiness of culture and identity construction, doing justice to this tough work of self-fashioning by presenting to us the diverse ingredients that combine in such a way to produce a beautifully vibrant, brave, and rad punk rock twelve-year-old girl, Malú. Most importantly, Pérez shows us the significance of our elders, our teachers who assume different roles in guiding us, and guiding Malú, to always “stand up for what she believes in, what comes from here,” her/our corazón (Pérez 190).

Malú is a second-generation, avid reader, and bicultural kid (Mexican on her mom’s side, Punk on her dad’s side), who has to contend with starting a new school in a new town, making new friends, and dealing with her mom’s fussing over her non-señorita fashion style. She moves to Chicago with her mother who (in the type of first-generation aspirational splendor so integral to our Chicanx cultural capital that many of us will surely recognize) will begin a two-year visiting professorship. Malú dances away her last night in Gainesville to The Smith’s Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want with her dad, an old punk rocker who owns Spins and Needles, a records store. She brings with her handy zine supplies to chase away the homesick blues, creating zines and surrendering her anxieties to her worry dolls.

On the first day of school, Malú puts on her best punk rock fashion armor: green jeans, Blondie tee, trenzas, silver-sequined Chucks in homage to the OG Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and some real heavy black eyeliner and dark lipstick, yeah! Of course, she gets called out. First, by her mom who tells her she looks like a Nosferatu(!), and then by the popular Selena Ramirez, her nemesis, who calls her weird, and then by the school policy, which lands Malú in the auditorium full of all the other kids who also stick out. Pérez captures the sticky reality of socialization where school serves as an agent of assimilation. She renders this moment with a tender humor that grateful adult eyes can point to when dealing with our children who will also likely experience this rite of passage. Malú resists being boxed in. She doesn’t want to assimilate. She doesn’t want to be “normal,” and neither does her friend Joe, whose bright blue hair and Henry Huggins steelo communicates an affinity with Malú’s punk aesthetic.

Thus, Pérez sets the stage. Malú, and her Yellow-Brick-Road crew comprised of Joe, Benny (trumpet player for the youth mariachi group), and Ellie (burgeoning activist and college-bound), are all Posada Middle School kids brought together by Malú’s vision and verve to start a punk band to debut at the school’s upcoming anniversary fiesta and talent show. Rejected, some would say censored, for not fitting into Principal Rivera’s definition of traditional Mexican family-friendly fun that she intends for the fiesta, The Co-Co’s decide to put on their own Do-It-Yourself talent show. Dubbed Alterna-Fiesta, The Co-Co’s plan to feature themselves and all the other students rejected from the school showcase for not fitting the mold.

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The Plugz

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Ritchie Valens

The self-reliance of D.I.Y. ethos, however, does not overshadow the importance of collectivism and solidarity that supports Malú’s response and agency toward expression. Again, she has her elders to thank. Mrs. Hidalgo helps set up the Alterna-Fiesta stage, which they improvised outside the school directly following the “official” talent show. Señora Oralia, Joe’s grandmother and Mrs. Hidalgo’s mom, turns Malú on to the power of Lola Beltrán, whose rendition of “Cielito Lindo” Malú transforms into a punked-out version in the tradition of Chicanx musical culture—from Ritchie Valens to The Plugz—that fuses traditional Mexican songs with rock and roll. Even Malú’s mom, who often projects her notions of what Malú should look and be like, is also the source of an important lesson. She teaches Malú about her abuelo Refugio Morales who came to the U.S. as a Bracero, and about her abuela Aurelia González de Morales who migrated to the U.S. at sixteen years old. She helps Malú see her grandparents’ experiences reflected in her own day-to-day life in Chicago.

Malú recognizes her family’s story of migration in the lives of her peers at Posada Middle School who might be recent immigrants. She reflects upon today’s workers, whose hands, like those of her grandfather, pick the strawberries she sees in the supermarket. Through zine-making, Malú makes sense of her world. She synthesizes the new information she’s learned about her family history to create new knowledge, as documented by her zine: “Braceros like my abuelo worked with their arms … and their hands manos (Abuelo’s tools). I work with my hands, too. Not in a hard way like Abuelo. But we both create (my tools) … scissors, paper, glue stick, markers, stack of old magazines, copy machine” (Pérez 116-117). Through the creative process of making zines, Malú weaves herself into her family’s tapestry of lived experiences, values, and character that are collectively shaped by her family. Malú’s Bracero zine exemplifies what Chicana artist Carmen Lomas Garza describes as the resilient function of art, which works to heal the wounds of discrimination and racism faced by Mexican Americans—a history that is also part of Malú cultural DNA (Garza 19). Her Bracero zine is an act of resilience through art. It reflects a creative process tied to collective memory. Indeed, she calls upon herself, and by extension, her reader, to remember. For it is the act of remembering and honoring who and where we come from that enables us to integrate and construct our present lives.

Malú’s family tapestry also includes her father, who despite being geographically far away, is firmly present throughout Malú’s journey. Malú seeks his counsel after Selena calls her a coconut, i.e. brown on the outside, white on the inside. Selena, the popular girl at Posada Middle School, embodies all of the right “Mexican” elements that Malú does not. She’s dances zapateado competitively, speaks Spanish with ease, and dresses like a señorita. Confused and hurt by Selena’s insult, Malú, being the daughter of a true punk rocker, flips the insult around and turns it into the name of her band, The Co-Co’s. The move, like her father said, is subversive. And it’s transformative as it addresses how divisions happen within our culture where demarcations of who is “down” or more “Mexican” often mimic the very stereotypes that we fight against. And it’s her father’s guidance to always be herself that equips her to resist the identity boxes that try to confine her. Malú, through the course of this story, figures out her identity by shaping, combining, fashioning—even dying her hair green in homage to the Quetzal—and harmonizing all the parts of herself to create an identity that fits her just right.

The First Rule of Punk is outstanding in its ability to show authentically how children deal with the complexities and intersections of cultural identity. It reminds us of what Ghiso et al. interrogate in their study of intergroup histories as rendered in children’s literature. As children’s literature invites young people to use its narrative sites to engage the intellect in imagination and contemplation, the researchers ask, “whether younger students have the opportunity to transact with books that represent and raise questions about shared experiences and cooperation across social, cultural, and linguistic boundaries” (Ghiso et al. 15). The First Rule of Punk responds affirmatively to this question in its resplendent example of our connected cultures and collective experiences. Malú, in making whole all the parts that comprise her identity, models for us, the reader, our own interbeing, our own interconnection. It’s like she’s asking us: “Wanna be in my band?” I know I do! Do you?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from her website): Inspired by punk and her love of writing, Celia C. Pérez has been making zines for longer than some of you have been alive. Her favorite zine supplies are her long-arm stapler, glue sticks, animal clip art (to which she likes adding speech bubbles), and watercolor pencils. She still listens to punk music, and she’ll never stop picking cilantro out of her food at restaurants. Her zines and writing have been featured in The Horn Book MagazineLatinaEl AndarVenus Zine, and NPR’s Talk of the Nation and Along for the Ride. Celia is the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Cuban father. Originally from Miami, Florida, she now lives in Chicago with her family and works as a community college librarian. She owns two sets of worry dolls because you can never have too many. The First Rule of Punk is her first book for young readers.

To read a Q & A with the author, click here

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Lettycia Terrones is a doctoral student in the Department of Information Sciences at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she researches Chicanx picturebooks as sites of love and resilient resistance. She’s from East L.A. Boyle Heights.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

The Brat. Attitudes. Fatima Records, 1980.

Pérez, Célia. C. The First Rule of Punk. New York, Viking, 2017.

Garza, Carmen Lomas. Pedacito De Mi Corazón. Austin, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, 1991.

Ghiso, Maria Paula, Gerald Campano, and Ted Hall. “Braided Histories and Experiences in Literature for Children and Adolescents.” Journal of Children’s Literature, vol. 38, no.2, 2012, pp. 14-22.

Stevens, Heidi. “Chicago Librarian Captures Punk Aesthetic, Latino Culture in New Kids’ Book.” Chicago Tribune, 23 August 2017. chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/stevens/ct-life-stevens-wednesday-first-rule-of-punk-0823-story.html . Accessed 25 August 2017.

X-Ray Spex. “Identity.” Germfree Adolescents, EMI, 1978.

Book Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

This review is by Lila Quintero Weaver and is based on an advanced reading copy.

From the publisher:

The first day of senior year: Everything is about to change. Until this moment, Sal has always been certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and loving Mexican-American family. But now his own history unexpectedly haunts him, and life-altering events force him and his best friend, Samantha, to confront issues of faith, loss, and grief. Sal discovers that he no longer knows who he really is—but if Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

My two cents:

The 2012 multiple prize-winning YA novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, delivered a spellbinding story of remarkable teen characters on the brink of self-discovery. Among its achievements, the novel provided positive and authentic representations of gay teens and Latinx families. Sáenz follows that feat with The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, which subtly echoes themes in Aristotle and Dante and reaffirms the author’s virtuosity.

Seventeen-year-old Sal (Salvatore) lives in El Paso, Texas, with his adoptive father, a gay Mexican-American art professor named Vicente Silva. Vicente assumed responsibility for Sal after his mother died, when Sal was just three years old. (The connections between Sal’s mother and Vicente don’t become clear until late in the book, when Sal finally opens a letter his dying mother wrote and left in Vicente’s care.) Although Sal is white, the adoption secures his place in the heart of a loving Mexican-American family, which is headed by the matriarch Sal comes to know as Mima. As his adoptive grandmother, Mima refers to Sal as her “hijito de mi vida,” and the adoration is mutual.

The warmth of the Silva family magnetically pulls in two other teen characters. Sal’s best friend, Sam (Samantha), is locked in raging conflict with her mom. Another friend, Fito, suffers the effects of a drug-addicted mother and an absentee dad. In order to survive, Fito must hold down two after-school jobs.

Compared to the home lives of his friends, Sal’s family is golden. But for all the advantages he enjoys, Sal is a complex character, who on the surface, feels secure in his identity as a peaceful, self-confessed straight edger. He eschews cigarettes and alcohol (well, mostly), and is still a virgin. But he harbors a reactionary side. When a classmate utters a homophobic slur against Vicente, Sal resorts to violence that lands him in Principal Cisneros’s office. This impulse to lash out physically catches Sal by surprise, and it won’t be the last time.

Other big questions disrupt Sal’s world. His beloved Mima is diagnosed with late-stage bone cancer. Vicente’s one-time boyfriend, Marcos, reappears on the scene, bringing heartache and mistrust to the Silva house. There’s still that matter of the unopened letter from Sal’s mother, and then, major crises hit Sam’s and Fito’s families, radiating tremors in all directions. How fortunate for everyone that Vicente possesses finely tuned paternal instincts and the willingness to open the family circle even wider. Even so, don’t mistake this for a sentimental story. The struggles these young characters wrestle with are real and not easily resolved.

Although compelling plot developments push the story along, this novel also distinguishes itself through skillful characterization and crisp, realistic dialogue. The dialogue especially stands out during volleys between the teen characters. Sal and Sam, who’ve known each other since early childhood, share a platonic friendship that’s built on love and mutual respect, but that doesn’t keep them from ribbing one another mercilessly and butting into each other’s business. As Fito becomes a larger part of their lives, his comi-tragic flavor gets added to the mix. The verbal conversations and text messages these three engage in are, by turns, hilarious, poignant, revealing, laced with profanity, and true to the way teens speak in 2017. These exchanges reveal the intricate give-and-take of teen friendships, where mutual support is often coded as deprecatory banter.

The novel also takes on complex racial and ethnic dynamics, but it’s done with a subtle touch. In writing Sal as a white child adopted by a Mexican family, Sáenz makes a daring choice that reverses typical scripts of interracial or interethnic adoption. Much of Sal’s identity stems from Vicente, the man he considers his true father. In the Silva family, Mexican heritage is freely offered as a gift—one Sal knows he’s lucky to receive and absorb into his cultural makeup. But acceptance at home doesn’t extend to every corner of Sal’s world, and elements of race appear mostly around his role as a rare white kid in a setting dominated by Mexican and Latinx culture. At one point, a classmate drops the slur “pinche gringo” on him, leading to one of several bursts of violence on Sal’s part. On the flip side, Mexican American Sam teasingly refers to Sal as “white boy,” all the while fully aware that by virtue of his upbringing, Sal is more deeply ensconced in Mexican tradition than she is. Sal appreciates the irony and won’t let Sam get away with drawing false distinctions. This is a tricky point, but Sáenz successfully plays it with humor.

The question that persists almost to the end of the book is why Sal puts off reading his mother’s letter. He doesn’t understand his own reluctance, and this is part of the “inexplicable logic” referred to in the title. Could it be that Sal fears losing the rock-solid foundation offered by the family that raised him? Many writers would’ve dangled such a compelling object as catnip before their readers. But Sáenz uses uncommon restraint, allowing mentions of the sealed letter to bubble up in conversation or in Sal’s interior monologue sparingly, as if he’s holding that question just inside our peripheral vision while the characters occupy themselves with more urgent concerns.

In the writing itself, the author demonstrates other forms of restraint that recall his poetic side. He clips sentences and keeps chapters unusually short, suggesting the poetic habit of brevity. While his prose enthralls the ear, Sáenz’s mastery goes beyond the level of the sentence. He’s an accomplished storyteller who works magic with dialogue, gives characters muscle and breath, and creates intrigue through the subtle layering of reveals and building questions. Another satisfying aspect of The Inexplicable Logic of My Life is the treatment of intergenerational relationships. We’re reminded that healthy family connections help us thrive, while their absence leaves us yearning. Above all, Sáenz crafts a narrative around things that deeply matter to teen readers: identity, belonging, and finding one’s place in the world—and he charges his characters with the drive to pursue these prizes.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is a scholar, a teacher of creative writing, and a prize-winning poet and novelist. Along with other distinctions, his 2012 novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe won the Pura Belpré Award, the Stonewall Award, and the Lambda Literary Award. Our review is here. In 2013, National Public Radio featured Sáenz in a fascinating interview. Long based in El Paso, Texas, Sáenz retired from teaching in 2016. Keep up with him via Twitter.

Book Review: When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

 

28220826Reviewed by Elena Foulis

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

MY TWO CENTS: When the Moon Was Ours, captures a beautiful love story full of colors, scents, musical prose, and magical realism. Miel and Samir are peculiar children; Miel grows roses from her wrists and Sam paints moons and hangs them in trees around town. Anna-Marie McLemore’s rich narrative walks us through the lives of Miel and Sam, two teenagers with complicated histories. Miel’s fear of water, ghosts, pumpkins, and tormented memories of her mother, are intensified when the town’s rusted water tower falls and water rushes out over the fields and her. It is at this moment that she appears in the town, at the age of five, alone, in a thin nightgown, and bathed in rusted water.  No one knows her or approaches her, except for Moon (Sam), who talks to her and covers her with his jacket. Miel goes home with Sam, but Aracely, the town’s curandera, offers to bring her home and look after her.

This town, like the novel, is full of mystery. There are four beautiful sisters, known as the Bonner sisters, who are thought to be witches. They usually get people to do what they want, and get boys to fall in love with them. They seemingly accept and care for Miel, but are manipulative and cruel to her when they think her flowers can help them get their powers back. The Bonner sisters are not free from gossip, envy, unexpected pregnancies, and secret sexual desires. The readers slowly begin to discover that what makes everyone mysterious—aside  from the growing roses from Miel’s skin—is the world of secrets, half-truths, and distorted memories that each character holds. Hanging throughout the novel is the theme of gender fluidity. The story follows the blooming romance between Miel and Sam, who seem to tend to each other’s pains, desires, and bodily discoveries of unexpected peculiarities. Both Miel and Sam are foreign to the town, but it is Sam who is sometimes the target of discrimination because of the color of his skin and feminine features. Sam tells Miel the story his mother told him about bacha posh, a cultural practice in which families with no sons, dress a daughter as a son, and as an adult, the daughter returns to live as woman. Eventually, we discover how this tradition has impacted Sam’s life. Similarly, we learn about the connection between Sam’s life and Aracely, the town’s healer.

It is clear that the Bonner sisters are white, Miel is Latina, and Sam is Italian-Pakistani, and, although minimal, we can see how they experience life in this town. Las gringas bonitas, as Miel refers to them, are privileged and powerful, while Sam works the Bonner family’s fields. The theme of racial experiences or discrimination is not central to the novel, but it does point us to different lived experiences.

In the end, the novel is about acceptance and love. It is also about the complexity and danger of strict gender roles, and the freedom to live outside of that. For Sam, his assigned name and gender at birth did not match who he had become. The man he had become is the man who Miel loved. It is important to note the author’s personal story at the end of the book. Although she tells us at the beginning that this is a work of fiction, in the end, she explains her personal connection to Miel and Sam’s story. The author grew up listening to La Llorona stories, the weeping woman who, the legend tells, tried to drown her children by the river, and later learned about the story of the bacha posh, a cultural practice in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She also tells us about her marriage to a transgender male.

TEACHING TIPS: Teaching this novel opens up the opportunity to research different legends, traditions, and cultural practices in relation to gender plurality and sexuality. For example, recent stories from India and Mexico about cultures that have embraced a third gender have come to light.  The author’s page offers several links on interviews, music, and essays written about transgender awareness. As a pre-reading activity, teachers can also hold discussions about legends like La Llorona, children’s folk ghost stories, and the differences and similarities between curanderos/healers and witches. Further research into McLemore’s use of colors, scents, and other sensory descriptions can open up discussions about culture, mood, place, and magical realism.

Anna-Marie McLemoreABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, raised in the same town as the world’s largest wisteria vine, and taught by her family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. She is a Lambda Literary Fellow, and her work has been featured by The Portland Review, Camara Oscura, and the Huntington—USC Institute on California and the West. Her debut novel The Weight of Feathers was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults book, and a William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist. When the Moon Was Ours is her second novel. 

 

 

 

headshot2016ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Elena Foulis has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Arkansas. Her research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o literature, and Digital Oral History. She is currently working on a digital oral history collection about Latin@s in Ohio, which has been published as an eBook titled, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio. She currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

Book Review: Furqan’s First Flat Top/El Primer Corte de Mesita de Furqan

 

By Sujei Lugo

furqanDescription from back cover: Furqan Moreno wakes up and decides that today he wants his hair cut for the first time. His dad has just the style: a flat top fade! He wants his new haircut to be cool but when they get to the barbershop, he’s a bit nervous about his decision. He begins to worry that his hair will look funny, imagining all the flat objects in his day to day life. Before he knows it, his haircut is done and he realizes that his dad was right–Furqan’s first flat top is the freshest!”

My two cents: Amidst the historical outcry for children’s books that accurately and authentically represent the racial, ethnic, political, and social composition of the youth population in the United States, there are always creators advocating and opening spaces for the publication of marginalized voices and stories. Looking into small or independent publishers and daring to navigate the self-publishing wave are ways to challenge the constraints encountered in traditional and mainstream publishing houses. Recently, “crowdfunding” platforms such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe and Indiegogo are gaining momentum for radical publishing, and this was the case with Furqan’s First Flat Top/El Primer Corte de Mesita de Furqan. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, author and illustrator Robert Liu-Trujillo was able to publish his first bilingual picture book.

In Furqan’s First Flat Top, readers meet Furqan Moreno, a 10-year-old black Latino boy who always had “real curly hair” and decides it is time for a new haircut. He approaches his dad and asks him if he remembers how Marcus cut his hair last year. His dad replies, “yeah,” and that the haircut is called a flat top. Furqan’s conversation with his dad takes place in the bathroom, an enclosed and private space that certainly conveys the trust between father and son and how important this decision is for Furqan’s growth. After agreeing to visit Mr. Wallace’s barbershop, they get on the number 14 bus, embarking on a journey of bonding, trusting, and embracing each other. Furqan will gain more than a new haircut.

At first we see Furqan is shy while entering the barbershop, and a bit skeptical about how his hair is going to turn out. He keeps questioning his dad as to whether his flat top is going to look good. We know parents sometimes say we look good, no matter what. The boy starts imagining: will his hair look flat as a drum, or flat like the pancakes he had with his dad, or flat like abuelita’s tortillas, or flat like that cake that father and son tried to bake together? Or even flat like cousin Mary’s skateboard, or flat like the records his dad plays on his turntable? After every concern expressed by Furqan, dad always replies “trust me,” and “it will look just fine.” The father draws a parallel between those things they enjoy doing together and the experience and outcome of getting a new haircut. Through each experience or “step,” the dad helps Furqan to trust not only him, but also himself and his choices–an essential part of growing up and attaining individuality.

In this bilingual picture book, English-language words are presented in dark brown font, while the Spanish-language words are given a light blue hue, which can be a bit distracting. Executed in earthy and pastel watercolor, with pen and ink, Liu-Trujillo’s two-page layout illustrations portray the warmth and sincerity of this father and son relationship and their shared emotions. From the illustrated endpapers to the interior of the barbershop, there is great attention to detail: haircuts are recognizable and so are the hairstyle instruments and products. If you look closely at Mr. Wallace’s table and drawers, you will spot electric razors, hair combs, powder, gel, mirrors, and even a picture frame with a photo of a little kid. 

At the end, Furqan looks in the mirror, smiles, and feels excited about his “fresh” look. The next day in school, some schoolmates and friends look at him funny, while others really like his new haircut and are vocal about it. This is a reflection that, no matter what, people will always react randomly to our choices. But Furqan loves his new hairstyle and takes pride in his black hair and identity, knowing that it doesn’t matter what others say: the important thing is his confidence in himself.

 

photo1Robert Liu-Trujillo is an author, illustrator, visual artist, father, and husband, born in Oakland, California, and raised across the Bay Area. Liu-Trujillo’s art and storytelling are inspired and motivated by his cultural background, ancestors, family, dreams, and political, social, and personal beliefs. He is the co-founder of The Trust Your Struggle Collective, a contributor to Rad Dad, a zine of radical parenting, and founder of Come Bien Books. He also has illustrated several picture books such as: ONE OF A KIND/ÚNICO COMO YO, written by Laurin Mayeno; A BEAN AND CHEESE TACO BIRTHDAY/UN CUMPLEAÑOS CON TACOS DE FRIJOLES Y QUESO, written by Diane Gonzales Bertrand; and I AM SAUSAL CREEK/SOY EL ARROYO SAUSAL, written by Melissa Reyes. Robert contributed a guest post for this blog, explaining his Kickstarter campaign for Furqan’s First Flat TopCheck out his website for more information about his work. 

Our 2016 Favorites List: Libros Latinxs

happy-reading-1Welcome to our favorites of 2016 list! This year’s releases offered picture books that we found irresistible, early reader/chapter books that charmed us to the core, and works of fiction and nonfiction sure to thrill middle-grade and YA readers. Librarians, parents, and teachers, please consider adding these selections to your bookshelves. They are listed alphabetically by title under each category. 

We’re also pleased to recommend two important resources that address aspects of Latinx children’s literature and highlight the Pura Belpré winners of the last twenty years.

Sadly, we could not read every Latinx title released in 2016; therefore, this list is not comprehensive and it pains us to leave out even one deserving book! We promise to review as many 2016 titles as possible in upcoming posts.

The most important thing to remember is that Latinx kids and teens need to see themselves in good books and those books do exist. Read on and you’ll see the evidence.

 

Picture Books

equivelEsquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist/¡Esquivel! Un artista del sonido de la era espacial, written by Susan Wood; illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. This fun biography introduces readers to a key figure of space-age lounge music. My son Liam Miguel loves everything illustrated by Duncan Tonituah, whose illustrations take on added movement and playfulness as they complement Susan Wood’s prose. Juan García Esquivel was a Mexican composer, bandleader, and pianist who pioneered stereo sound in the 50s and 60s and took an inventive view of musical possibility. Esquivel’s music capitalizes on unusual instrumentation and makes substantial use of unorthodox vocal textures and effects. The story highlights Esquivel’s accomplishments, providing another creative great to inspire young people of all backgrounds to see possibility all around them. —Ashley

 

furqans-flat-topFurqan’s First Flat Top/El primer corte de mesita de Furqan, written and illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo. As the first day of school approaches, 10-year-old Furqan Moreno gets ready for a haircut, but this time he is going to get his first flat top.  A bilingual picture book about the connections and trust built between an Afro Latino young boy and his dad, this is the work of  California-based Liu-Trujillo. You may remember him from two previous appearances on this blog: his account of the Kickstarter campaign that made publication of Furqan’s First Flat Top possible, and a super fun audio interview that he conducted for us with illustrator/painter Raúl the Third.  —Sujei

 

bongoLooking for Bongo, written and illustrated by Eric Velasquez, is yet another lovely representation of Afro-Latinos by this Pura Belpré winning illustrator. (See my review of Grandma’s Gift.) What I find so rewarding about this picture book is its warm and engaging portrayal of an underrepresented sector of U.S. population: a loving, middle-class Afro-Latino family. This family includes a musician dad, a fashion-designer mom, and a doting grandmother known to five-year-old Bongo as Wuela (short for Abuela). Velasquez is an expert painter. His page spreads pop with color and individual personality that young kids are sure to enjoy. —Lila

 

mama-the-alienMamá the Alien/Mamá la extraterrestre, written by René Colato Laínez; illustrated by Laura Lacámara. In this whimsical and relevant story, Sofía happens on her mother’s old resident alien card, arriving at some interesting conclusions about her origins. Laura Lacámara’s playful and bright illustrations suit this narrative well, inviting a gentle view of all the ways we come to call this country home. At a time when the term “alien” continues to circulate in the media and anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise in some quarters, this book offers a timely reminder that, as the author’s note indicates, we are all citizens of Planet Earth.–Ashley

 

martaMarta! Big and Small, written by Jen Arena; illustrated by Angela Dominguez. Want to introduce some basic Spanish vocabulary to your kid? Looking for a concept book suitable for a classroom discussion of opposites? Look no further than Angela Dominguez’s latest book. Marta! Big and Small is an entirely adorable picture book that explains how Marta compares to various animals, including giraffes, elephants and rabbits. A glossary at the end puts all the vocabulary in one place. This would be a great inspiration for students to make books of their own, comparing themselves to different animals and using adjectives in Spanish or any language. –Cecilia 

 

maybe-somethingMaybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell; illustrated by Rafael López. Through its inspiring tale and vibrant illustrations, Maybe Something Beautiful introduces readers to Mira, a girl who lives “in the heart of a gray city” and who enjoys doodling, drawing, coloring, and painting. She considers herself an artist and likes to gift her illustrations to people in her neighborhood. She even tapes and “gifts” one of her paints to a dark wall around her block. One day she meets a muralist, and learns the magic of painting murals, and the power of bringing together the whole community to create something beautiful. The book is based on a true story about an initiative by Rafael López, the illustrator of the book, and his wife Candice López, a graphic designer and community leader, as a way to bring people together and transform their neighborhood into a vibrant one. Please check out my post about using Maybe Something Beautiful for a Día de los Libros program at a library. —Sujei

 

princess-and-warriorThe Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. I’m a longtime fan of Duncan Tonituah’s fine illustrations and storytelling, and this book is no exception. A colleague and I spent an entire plane ride reading and re-reading the text, which gracefully and vibrantly retells an Aztec myth that offers an origin tale for the formation of the volcanoes Popocatépetl (“Smoking Mountain”) and Iztaccíhuatl (“The Sleeping Woman”) near the valley of México. Duncan’s work brings this story to life by rendering the mythical characters vibrant and relatable through crystal-clear prose and memorable illustrations. –-Ashley

 

 radiant-childRadiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. This is a heartfelt and vibrant picture book biography about the childhood and life of Puerto Rican-Haitian American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was a boy who saw art everywhere, who learned that art goes beyond museum walls, galleries, and poetry books, who developed his own “messy” style that echoes powerful emotions, social issues, and politics. Information about the artist and the motifs and symbolism in his work along with a note from author and illustrator Javaka Steptoe are appended. —Sujei

 

rudasRudas: Niño’s Horrendous Hermanitas, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. They’re back! The terrible twins are once again making trouble for Niño and none of his fantastic foes can defeat them. Morales captures the eye and the imagination with her bright colors, fun-sounding words, and thoroughly believable baby weapons (poopy pants included). The ending is sweet and will hopefully inspire many older siblings to read to their own brothers and sisters. This is a great family gift and a wonderful addition to the sibling story canon. —Cecilia

 

like-the-cloudsWe Are Like the Clouds/Somos como las nubes, is a collection of beautiful bilingual poems by Jorge Argueta with illustrations by Alfonso Ruano. The poems center around real lived experiences of unaccompanied minors migrating from El Salvador to the United States. The poems are laid out to represent a migration journey. The opening poem “Somos las nubes” represents the everyday beauty, like “pupusas/tamales, alboroto, dulde de algodon.” The poems that follow touch on the violence that forces so many people to leave their homes and then forces children to go look for their parents. The poems then signal the grueling difficulties of navigating multiple borders, la bestia, and crossing the desert. The closing poems speak to the new challenges and the newfound beauty of living in the U.S. Argueta’s poems are timely, enduring, and powerful. —Sonia

 

Chapter Books/Early Readers

juana-and-lucasJuana & Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina. Journey to Bogotá, Colombia, with Juana, who is eager to tell you all about her life. She loves her city, her mom, her grandparents, and her friends, but especially her dog, Lucas. Unfortunately, Lucas can’t help her with her biggest challenge at the moment–learning “The English.” Juana struggles to make sense of the strange sounds and words, but when her family promises her a trip to the theme park Astroworld, she is determined to succeed. Bright, energetic illustrations provide support to young readers still transitioning from pictures to text. A delightful choice for either read-aloud or independent reading. Don’t miss my studio visit with the author-illustrator, Juana Medina.–Cecilia

 

lola-levine-balletLola Levine and the Ballet Scheme, written by Monica Brown; illustrated by Angela Dominguez. There’s a new girl in Lola’s class at school and at first Lola thinks that friendship is a possibility–but then she finds out that the new girl loves ballet, not soccer. Brown tackles the gender stereotypes that require girls to be sporty OR girly, and shows readers that it’s fine to love what you love, but that having different interests doesn’t mean you can’t still be friends. This latest addition to a fantastic series written partially in diary entries contains plenty of Spanish, as well as Lola’s trademark stubbornness. A must-read for 7-8 year olds. In a guest post, author Monica Brown wrote about bold girls like Lola. –-Cecilia

 

my-vida-locaSofía Martinez: My Vida Loca, written by Jacqueline Jules. The latest multi-story collection by Jacqueline Jules invites early chapter book readers on three new adventures with the charming Sofia Martinez: “The Singing Superstar,” “The Secret Recipe,” and “The Marigold Mess.” One of the things I loved about “The Secret Recipe” was the chance to share my own early baking mishaps with my son. As always, Sofia’s experiences will be relatable to all young readers, with Spanish text and Latinx cultural content woven in a way that stresses them as valued assets. Kids who connect well with Sofia Martinez will likely enjoy the lovely Lola Levine chapter books when they are ready for more text on each page. See my review of an earlier title in the Sofía Martinez series. —Ashley

 

Middle Grade

allieAllie, First at Last, by Angela Cervantes. Full disclosure: I got teary multiple times reading this book because while it is rare to find a middle-grade book featuring a Mexican-American family, it is even more rare to find one with a Mexican-American family who has been in the US for three generations, like mine. Allie is a classic middle child, looking for a place to shine. All her siblings excel at various activities and when her teacher announces a contest, Allie is determined to win a trophy of her own. One of the strongest parts of this book is the pride Allie takes in her family and their history as immigrants. Lessons about friendship, ambition and the danger of making assumptions about others are layered throughout the story in subtle ways, and readers will cheer for Allie as she learns more about just what it means to be the best. See our full review of Allie, First at Last, as well as a guest post by author Angela Cervantes. —Cecilia

 

lowriders-centerLowriders to the Center of the Earth, written by Cathy Camper; illustrated by Raúl the Third. Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third have followed their fantastic Lowriders in Space with a second volume that is equally interesting, playful, and visually absorbing. I tried to sneak this out of my son’s room when he finished it, but he caught me.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m reading that.”

 “Didn’t you already finish it?”

         “Yes, but I’m reading it again.”

         It might seem like obstinacy (and maybe it was) but the detailed drawings are full of visual puns and playful possibilities, leaving plenty to discover on a second—or third—read. A favorite for kids and parents alike.–Ashley (Click on the links to access a guest post by the author, our review of Lowriders in Space, and an audio interview with the illustrator.)

 

nothing-up-my-sleeveNothing Up My Sleeve, by Diana Lopez. In our review of Nothing Up My Sleeve, Marianne Snow Campbell wrote, “There’s a reason that magic trick kits sell so well at toy stores. Lots of kids love the thrill of stage magic – practicing illusions until they’re just right, creating mystery with visual puzzles, and tricking others with sleights of hand. Performing magic can help build kids’ confidence and give them a sense of agency when they might otherwise feel powerless. That’s certainly the case for Dominic, Loop, and Z, three friends who venture into the world of illusion at Conjuring Cats, the new magic store in Victoria, Texas.” Catch the full review here, and don’t miss our Q&A with author Diana López.

 

Young Adult

bloodlineBloodlines, by Joe Jiménez, is a poetic vision of the complexities of (de)constructing Latino masculinities. Abraham is a seventeen-year-old figuring out what it means to be a man. He gets conflicting messages from the adults in his life. His grandmother wants him to be a good man so she solicits the help of her son Claudio, who Becky, grandma’s friend, doesn’t think is such a good man. Ophelia, Abraham’s love interest, wants Abraham to stop fighting but she also wonders what it feels like to fight. Abraham will follow the road that helps him learn whether he’s a good man or a bad one. —Sonia. Don’t miss these related posts: Joe Jiménez contributed a revealing guest post and Sonia wrote in depth about BloodlinesLatino masculinities.

 

burn-babyBurn Baby Burn, by Meg Medina, is set in Queens, New York, during the fateful year of 1978. While a serial killer prowls the city and arsonists torch random locations, Nora faces a disturbing issues at home. She has a sneaking suspicion that her brother is dabbling in dangerous activities, but their mom is too paralyzed to confront him head on. Nora’s story includes a supportive best friend, a cute guy who works at the same after-school job as Nora, and an apartment building full of complex and menacing characters. Also: disco dancing! Disco is a nice touch that, along with other historical elements, lends spark and crackle to an already intriguing story. We reviewed Burn Baby Burn earlier this year. —Lila

 

the-distance-between-usThe Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition, by Reyna Grande, is a memoir of astonishing power and relevance. Set in Mexico and California, it captures a decade of the author’s eventful life, intertwining elements of poverty, immigration, abandonment, and family strife. More than anything, it’s an account of personal triumph against enormous odds. I highly recommend it. To learn more, please see my full review of The Distance Between Us and the author’s guest post. —Lila

 

head-of-saintThe Head of the Saint, by Socorro Acioli. Set Brazil and translated from Portuguese, this story is a dreamlike marvel. It follows a 14-year-old boy’s desperate journey toward reconnection and revenge. Destitute and rejected by his one living relative, he ends up living inside the hollow head of a broken statue of Saint Anthony. There, he magically hears the prayers of the village women, and to his consternation, gains celebrity status. One female voice sings her litany and captivates the boy’s heart, sight unseen. How can he find out who she is? The story is told in the language of fable and contains elements of magic realism. I found it irresistibly beautiful. Here’s our full review.–Lila

 

lion-islandLion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words, by Margarita Engle. Engle wraps up her series of books in verse that examine freedom and slavery in the Caribbean with this look at the Chinese community in 19th-century Cuba. Antonio is a Chinese-African boy, using his language skills to carry messages between Spanish and Chinese businessmen and diplomats. Through his job and his friendship with Chinese-American twins Wing and Fan, he learns about the persecution that forced the Chinese to flee California and the injustices they face as indentured laborers in Cuba. Meanwhile, rebels wage war against the Spanish, and as tensions grow, Antonio must decide how he is going to fight for freedom. An excellent choice for a classroom read-aloud or community book choice, especially now that Cuba is in the news again. —Cecilia

 

imageThe Memory of Light, by Francisco X. Stork. When Vicky Cruz wakes up in the hospital after a suicide attempt, she is sure that it’s only a matter of time before she will try again. But with the help of Dr. Desai and the other teens at the hospital, Vicky gains a better understanding of how to live with depression and how to take control of her future. That summary makes the book sound didactic, but it’s actually funny, thoughtful, and moving. This is the kind of book that you can open to any page and find wisdom and words to help you breathe and find strength. A hopeful, light-filled book that will help many readers–not just teens–face tomorrow with renewed courage. Check out our full review.–Cecilia

 

when-the-moonWhen the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore. Miel and Sam have been friends ever since Miel emerged from the floodwaters of a toppled water tower. Each has secrets of their own, and now the Bonner sisters are determined to uncover them and steal the roses that grow out of Miel’s wrist. Gorgeous prose, and insights on love, family and gender identity make this a unique love story that is not to be missed. I’ve read this book about ten times now and each time I find new beauty that I missed before. A must-read for YA fans. —Cecilia

 

Labyrinth Lost CoverLabyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova. Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin. The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between. Alex’s journey through Los Lagos feels very classic. The different communities she encounters, each with its own history and strengths and weaknesses, may remind readers of classic adventures like The Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, and Alice in Wonderland. Every new area of Los Lagos brings a ton of action. Not every writer can create battle scenes so the reader can clearly visualize them without having to re-read. Zoraida is GREAT at this. —Cecilia

 

New Adult

julietGaby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath is one of a kind. Rivera creates a beautiful, relatable, and necessary character in 19 year old Juliet Palante. Juliet comes out to her family the day she is set to travel to Oregon for an internship with a well renowned white feminist writer. Juliet is convinced that in order to be proudly lesbian she needs to leave her small and suffocating home in the Bronx. But this precious nena has so much to learn. Rivera takes Juliet on a journey of self-discovery that also allows the readers to learn about Latinx queer identity, history, and culture. After a few heartaches, let downs, and realizations, Juliet learns that the answers she seeks are where she least expects them. —Sonia

 

Resources for Educators, Librarians and Parents

multicultural-litMulticultural Literature for Latino Bilingual Children: Their Words, Their Worlds, edited by Ellen Riojas Clark, Belinda Bustos Flores, Howard L. Smith, & Daniel Aleandro Gonzalez. From Sujei’s review, published in School Library Journal:  “A comprehensive professional development resource that centers on Latino children’s literature and its inclusion and use in school settings. Divided into five parts and 16 chapters, the volume captures the significance of Latino children’s books, their impact on bicultural and bilingual children, and the approaches that educators must take to use these materials critically. Themes such as bilingual learners, selection criteria, transnationalism, counternarratives, and digital literacies are broadly presented, as well as the importance of challenging tokenism and stereotypes and incorporating Latino children’s books in language arts, social studies, science, and math curricula. Each chapter includes a theoretical framework, an application of theory section, and references, discussion questions, activities, and further professional reading. Introductory lists of Latino children’s books, titles in Spanish for children, and online resources are appended. This work positions this literature in a sociocultural, historical, and political context that successfully brings theories to praxis and always encourages educators to keep in mind the bicultural and bilingual young readers of these books.”–Sujei

 

belpre-20-yearsThe Pura Belpré Award 1996-2016: 20 Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, edited by Nathalie Beullens-Maoui & Teresa Mlawer. Published to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Pura Belpré Award, which celebrates the best of Latinx children’s literature, this book offers essays and stories by past and present winners of the award. It includes an introduction by Reformistas and co-founders of the Pura Belpré award, Oralia Garza de Cortés and Sandra Ríos Balderrama, as well as pictures and short biographies of past winners and the award-winning books they created. —Sujei

 

Notable Omissions

Yes, we missed out on some promising books this year. Here are a few that we’re catching up on: Shame the Stars, by Guadalupe García McCall, Even if the Sky Falls, by Mia García, and Dancing in the Rain, by Lynn Joseph. Expect to see them and others reviewed on this blog in coming months!

shame-the-stars-cover-small  even-if-the-sky-falls  dancing-in-the-rain

 

The Reviewers

Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com. Follow her on Twitter: @citymousedc.

Sujei Lugo was born in New Jersey and raised in her parents’ rural hometown in Puerto Rico. She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science degree from the Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies at the University of Puerto Rico and is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, focusing her research on Latino librarianship and identity. She has worked as a librarian at the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, the Nilita Vientós Gastón House-Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School Library. Sujei currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. She is a member of REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), American Library Association, and Association of Library Service to Children. She is the editor of Litwin Books/Library Juice Press series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS. Sujei can also be found on Twitter, Letterboxd and Goodreads.

Ashley Hope Pérez is a writer and teacher passionate about literature for readers of all ages—especially stories that speak to diverse Latino experiences. She is the author of three novels, What Can’t Wait (2011) and The Knife and the Butterfly (2012), and Out of Darkness (2015), which won a Printz Honor. A native of Texas, Ashley has since followed wherever writing and teaching lead her. She completed a PhD in comparative literature from Indiana University and enjoys teaching everything from Spanish language and Latin American literature to the occasional course on vampires in literature. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez’s research focuses on the various roles that healing plays in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. She currently teaches composition and literature at a community college in Chicago. She also teaches poetry to 6th graders and drama to 2nd graders as a teaching artist through a local arts organization. She is working on her middle grade book. Follow Sonia on Instagram @latinxkidlit, on Twitter @mariposachula8, and at her website.

Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Darkroom recounts her family’s immigrant experience in small-town Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. It is her first major publication. Her next book is a middle-grade novel scheduled for release in 2018 (Candlewick). Lila is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She and her husband, Paul, are the parents of three grown children. She can also be found on her own websiteFacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

 

bookshelf-wonders

Crossing Borders: A Guest Post by Author Reyna Grande

dsc_0205In my memoir, The Distance Between Us, I write about my experience as a border crosser. Borders have always been a part of my life. It saddens me to see that the world—instead of tearing down border walls—is actually building more of them. There are more border barriers today than ever before. In 1989 there were only 15 border walls in the world. Today there are more than 63, and counting.

my-childhood-home

The author’s childhood home

My first experience with borders came at the age of two when my father left Mexico to seek a better life in the U.S. Two years later, my mother also left to the land across the border, leaving me and my siblings behind. By the time I was five, I had no mother and no father with me, and a border stood between us, separating us. I was left behind to yearn for the day when my family would be reunited.

reyna-and-siblings

Reyna (center) and siblings Carlos & Mago

At the age of nine I found myself face to face with that border. I had to run across it, become a ‘criminal’, break U.S. law for a chance to have a father again. I succeeded on my third attempt and began my new life in Los Angeles at my father’s house. I thought I was done with borders; I didn’t know there would be more to be crossed—cultural borders, language borders, legal borders, gender and career borders, and more.

As a Mexican immigrant, as a woman of color, as a Latina writer I’ve fought to break down the barriers American society puts up for the groups I belong to. It’s always been a struggle to be Mexican in this country, and especially so in these dark times. For over a year Mexican immigrants had been under attack, blatantly demeaned and vilified by Donald Trump, who began his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans rapists, drug dealers, criminals. He said he would literally build more border walls, and now that he’s been elected president, we will bear witness to his hatred of my people. But he’s wrong about many things—especially when he said that Mexico doesn’t send its best. Like most Mexican immigrants, I have given nothing but my best to this country since the moment I crossed the U.S. border. I’ve worked hard at learning the language, understanding the American way of life, at pursuing my education, honing my writing craft, so that one day I could be a contributing member of this society and use my skills and passion to keep this country great. This is what most immigrants do. Our work ethic, our drive, our perseverance, our passion, our commitment to succeed and to give our best is undeniable.

reyna-at-pasadena

Reyna in her college years

Being a woman has never been easy. In the U.S. we might have it better than other countries, but still, women here have always struggled to overcome the borders put before us. We’ve had a long battle to redefine our place in the home and the workplace, our right to earn equal pay to what men receive. To be seen as more than someone’s daughter, wife, or mother. We had a long fight for our right to vote and to have a political voice, and for the past year we were fighting for our right to lead. For the first time we could have had our first female president since the birth of this nation, but despite her qualifications, since the very beginning of her campaign, Hillary Clinton was held to a double-standard because of her gender. Because she was a woman. We let that man get away with saying the most insulting, offensive, and ridiculous things. But Clinton? We let her get away with nothing. We elected a man who has absolutely no experience in running a country, instead of the woman who was more than qualified to do that and more.

We witnessed, at a national level, what happens on a daily basis to women in the workplace—we lose to men who are less qualified than us.

Last week we bore witness to a white woman failing to tear down the wall put before her by a sexist, patriarchal society. The fight is even harder for women of color who struggle not just against gender inequality but racial inequality. Since race impacts our feminism, we’ve always fought two battles at the same time. As a woman of color, I fight for equality but I also fight for justice. For us women of color, it isn’t enough to integrate ourselves into the existing system. We seek to transform the system and end injustices.

As a Latina writer, I’ve been dealing with other kinds of borders throughout my career. Latinos are 17.4 % of U.S. population, around 55 million of us, but we’re only around 4% of working professionals— including artists, writers, actors. We’re often kept on the periphery of the arts—and we fight on a daily basis for the right to contribute our stories, our talent, our creativity to American identity and culture. Through our art, we aim to fight against the barrier of invisibility. If we aren’t in books, in film, in TV, in art galleries, in music, does that mean we don’t exist?

The publishing industry lacks diversity at every level. The majority of books are written by, and are about, white people. Eighty-two percent of editors are white. Eighty-nine percent of book reviewers are white. They’re la migra of the publishing industry, the border patrol. They decide who gets in and who doesn’t, who gets published, whose books get attention. Latino writers have often struggled to get across the border of the mainstream publishing industry, often ending up with tiny presses (who lack the resources to do right by them) or self-publishing.

But having successfully run across the U.S. border at the age of nine taught me one thing—I can cross any border. This is the biggest reason why I wrote The Distance Between Us. I want to inspire others to believe in themselves and to find the strength to overcome. It is this belief that has helped me succeed in ways I never dreamed of. I want to encourage our youth, immigrant and non-immigrant alike, to keep giving their best and continue striving toward their dreams, despite the obstacles they find along the way.

Now more than ever, let us continue fighting for social justice, for a world without borders, for our right to create art, for our voices to be heard. It is through our stories that we will build bridges and tear down walls.

Reyna Grande is the award-winning author of two novels and a memoir, The Distance Between Us, which was recently published as a young readers edition. See our review here, where you may also learn more about Reyna’s story and watch video interviews. Her official website offers additional information about her published works, speaking schedule, and career news.

(Left) The original version of The Distance Between Us; (right) the young readers edition.

the-distance-between-us the-distance-between-us