|We are stories.
We are two languages.
We are lucha.
We are resilience.
We are hope.
We are dreamers,
soñadores of the world.
Somos dos lenguas.
soñadores del mundo.
Yuyi wrote her autobiographical story in her second language, and Mlawer then translated it into Spanish. Although I would prefer to have seen Yuyi’s story in her own Mexican vernacular Spanish, I can understand the publisher’s wish to make the Spanish “universal.”
Both Soñadores and Dreamers are indeed a song of struggle and tenacity and hope and dreams—a song that becomes who immigrants and refugees are, rather than what they have or don’t have—Somos lucha. Somos tenacidad. Somos esperanza. Somos soñadores. Both are *highly recommended for all home, school, and library collections.
Thank you to the great Noam Szoke, Diseñador Extraordinario, for his expertise, not to mention his patience.
Note: Yuyi Morales is a kind, generous, multi-talented soul, and I wondered why, some 20 years after she and her baby arrived here, she decided to write and publish this, her autobiographical “immigration” story. Yuyi’s honesty and generosity extends to our interview. Readers can find it below.
INTERVIEW WITH YUYI MORALES
Beverly: When we first met in 2013, you were reading and performing Niño Wrestles the World to an audience of very young children in a public library in Oakland. As I remember, you were interacting with them in both Spanish and English, and they were transfixed on you and the images in the book. In places—especially when you dramatically and hilariously voiced Niño as he battled the monstrous imaginary enemies—the children were screaming with laughter, and their parents and library staff were delighted with your performance as well. What do you remember about that time in your life?
Yuyi: I have lived in the USA as an immigrant for 20 years already and I am currently working in my studio in my town of birth, Xalapa, Mexico. My life is divided nowadays, as I constantly travel between Mexico and the USA to do my work and to be close to people I love in both places. I feel like I am a constant immigrant, like the monarch butterflies, or the swallows, or the free-tail bats (and many other animals) that every year make their way between Mexico and the USA. My own constant migration sustains me and my work—my heart always divided between two lands, and it is in the USA where I get to have a conversation with readers and have moments like the one you describe, where children and I get together to discover, share, and even scream with joy at the power of stories and books.
What were your thoughts as you first crossed the border, as a young mother with your baby, speaking one language; and what are your thoughts now, being able to travel back and forth as a talented and established artist and children’s book author—fluent in two languages? What changed for you and what about you remains the same?
I was actually pretty nervous. While I was pregnant I had already been denied a tourist visa to come and meet my future baby’s family, and when I finally crossed the border—carrying papers to solicit entry with a fiancé visa—I was mentally prepared to be denied entry again. Once inside the USA, I got to meet my son’s family and I had a wedding, required by my visa, in which I didn't understand anything of what was said during the ceremony. But until that time, not speaking English hadn’t bothered me because I was in the USA visiting for only a few days and soon I would go back home to my life—or so I thought. Soon after my wedding, I learned that the visa I had been granted was not a “visiting” visa but an “immigrant” visa, which gave me the right to live in the USA—a right I was required to exercise. From that moment on, my lack of English, and unexpectedly having to make a home as a new mother in another country, became a journey I felt completely unprepared and insufficient for.
Nowadays, when I travel between the USA and Mexico, every time I present my citizenship papers at the immigration booth, I realize how fortunate and privileged I am to be able to call Mexico and the USA, both, my homes. But it took me 18 years to arrive at such a place.
For you and your baby, crossing the border involved walking across the bridge between Mexico and the US. Separating from your people, language and culture was emotionally difficult, of course. Now, for others, crossing remains all these things and is also much more dangerous. What message, if any, would you send to people on this side who may believe Trump’s reductive rhetoric about immigrants and refugees? What message would you send to the many parents and children whom this administration has forcefully separated from each other?
When my son and I entered the USA we were actually welcomed, and along the journey many people extended their hand to us—and people’s support became even more apparent when we discovered the public library. There were librarians who in doing their jobs changed my life completely. Nowadays the discourse about immigrants is so pernicious that we have become the new “boogeymen.” The Trump administration has linked the image of the immigrant to words such as crime, rape, stealing, taking what others have worked for, violence, and so many other scary terms that immigrants have become the new subhuman of whom a whole country must get rid, turn away, and exterminate rather than welcome or aid.
I am so saddened, so enraged by this hateful rhetoric and the recent actions of separating families and criminalizing immigrants, refugees and amnesty seekers, and my helplessness multiplies every time I see people supporting these reductionist beliefs. At some points, my frustration has been so high that it has become difficult for me even to do my work, to make the books I so much love to create. But then I believe in the power of books as a way of hearing and listening to the voices of the most vulnerable ones, and with Soñadores // Dreamers I am hoping to extend an invitation for immigrants to make their voices heard through their own stories.
How do you see your stories and art engaging with people from both sides of the border? Especially, how does your story and art connect with the personal stories of other migrants and immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America? How do you see their hopes and dreams connecting with yours? What would you like to tell them?
Through all these years, as I have been sharing my books and stories, I have been meeting and talking with immigrant families, and whenever they would ask me how I had entered the USA, I could see that even in our different journeys we all had something in common. We often come heartbroken for having to leave behind our places of birth; difficult places sometimes, but to us they are places that define us and that we also love.
And in coming to a new country we are often perceived as if we have come to steal what others have worked hard for. We are seen as invaders, takers, the ones who don’t have anything to give. This is absolutely untrue! We immigrants and refugees have so much already. And we bring all we are with us.
I would like to tell these families that all of their stories are important, and I want to work with families and children so that they can tell their own stories. It is part of the purpose of Soñadores // Dreamers.
Why did you create Soñadores //Dreamers and what subliminal messages did you think about transmitting through its creation? When you say, “Somos soñadores del mundo,” to whom are you referring and whom are you including?
As much as I like to tell stories through books—and my agent had talked with me about the need for us, as authors, to share our immigrant stories—I had never thought about making my own story into a book. And when the primaries began and then candidate Trump made attacks on immigrants a main part of his campaign, and then he won the election, I felt a big emptiness of purpose, I felt unable to work anymore.
And I felt that my story wasn’t important. After all, I didn’t cross the desert through a dangerous journey, I didn’t enter undocumented, I had a new family who wanted me to be in the USA and were finding out how I could enter. And although in my heart it was devastating having to stay unexpectedly in the USA, I also knew that I had many advantages that most immigrants don’t have when they try to come here.
It was then that my editor and agent tapped into something I had not considered myself, and it is that my story matters, too. You know? As they encouraged me to make my immigrant journey into a picture book for young readers, there was another element I thought about: In my crossing borders, I had not done it alone. I had come with a very young baby who, together with me, had to grow and learn to thrive in a new land. The message that I wanted to bring across in Soñadores // Dreamers is something that has taken me a long time to realize and be able to put into words: that it is a fallacy that we immigrants come to a new land to take everything and give back nothing. To me it is important to uncover my own learning and to share what I have come to understand: that all of us who come to a new country bring with us amazing gifts to create a better life and a better world for everybody. Somos soñadores del mundo and we bring regalos.
¡Ningún ser humano es ilegal! (To be human is never illegal!) What does this mean to you, personally and politically?
To brand a human as illegal is an act of violence and oppression. It is a way to snatch the humanity from people in order to justify the violence acted upon them. We must fight against this labeling of people for the purpose of reducing their humanity and making it easier to wage a war against immigrants and refugees. There is much work to do.