translator: Consuelo Hernández
illustrator: Maya Christina González
Children’s Book Press, 2002
Mexican, Mexican American
My Diary from Here to There/ Mi diario de aquí hasta allá is the semi-autobiographical journal of a young girl who migrates with her family to the US from Mexico. Her father is a US citizen, but the family must wait in Mexicali, near the border, while he leaves for Los Angeles to look for work and secure their green cards. It is a difficult process for Amada—she leaves behind a dear friend in Mexico, and is afraid of losing herself and her connection to the place where she was born:
Mamá and Papá keep talking about all the opportunities we’ll have in California. But what if we’re not allowed to speak Spanish? What if I can’t learn English? Will I ever see Michi again? What if we never come back?
While she is waiting, young Amada also expresses sadness at how she cannot see her father (who is now working in the fields of Delano) and fears that he will not be able to obtain green cards for the rest of the family. Yet they wait patiently, the green cards finally arrive, and the family is able to cross the border and be reunited. The book ends on a triumphant note:
You know, just because I’m far away from Juárez and Michi and my family in Mexicali, it doesn’t mean they’re not here with me. They’re inside my little rock; they’re here in your pages and in the language that I speak, and they’re in my memories and in my heart.
González’ vibrant, jewel-toned acrylics—full of blues and greens and yellows, with red and purple highlights—are as bright and hopeful as the story itself. The illustrations are playful at times, especially in portraying Amada’s mischievous younger brothers. There is also a great deal of symbolic depth in the artwork. Butterflies flit across almost every page: some on Amada’s dress, some on her blanket, some in the skies, some on her diary. They seem to represent Amada and to connect her to her friend, Michi, and to Mexico. In some places, Amada, her parents, and her brothers all seem to have the same faces, but that’s because they’re family. The illustrations are stylized and portray a sort of magical realism as we see the world through Amada’s eyes. Father’s arm, for instance, stretches all the way around Amada, her mother, and her brothers; to Amada, his embrace signifies the warmth and connection of a large, loving family.
Consuelo Hernández’ Spanish translation is fluid and natural sounding. Interestingly, the translator is actually Amada Irma Perez’ mother—a detail you would never know without reading the fine print on the last page. I question the publisher’s decision not to credit her excellent translation on the book cover.
My Diary from Here to There is a heartfelt story that’s real and deeply connected to the author. It portrays a meaningful female friendship, something that is not all that common in picture books. Most importantly, the central theme is that you can move from place to place without losing your connection to yourself, your family, your culture, or your language. Amada’s pride at being Mexican and her desire to maintain her Spanish language create an important example for young readers.
Unfortunately, although My Diary broaches a lot of important issues, it doesn’t invest any energy in exploring them. At the beginning, we learn that Michi’s sisters and father work in the US and that she envies the fact that Amada’s family will stay together. Family separation is a huge theme in the lives of many children, yet this issue is not explored.
While Amada is waiting for her father to get the green cards for the rest of the family, he writes to her about the conditions under which farm workers labor and even mentions César Chávez. Yet again, these issues are just left hanging. Finally, on the bus into the US, the police detain a woman without papers—and her children. This incident is mentioned but not discussed, leaving young readers to question why only some immigrants have easy access to documents.
Ultimately, My Diary from Here to There/ Mi diario de aquí hasta allá could be a great jumping-off point for discussion when used by adults who are willing and able to address some of the issues that are avoided here. Recommended.
—Grace Cornell Gonzales