Author: Yamile

A Dream Come True

On Wednesday, my super agent Linda sent me a quick text:

Your book will be announced sometime Thursday.

Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep all night. Every time I thought about the announcement going live, I got butterflies in my stomach. And then Thursday arrived, and my book wasn’t in the morning Publisher Marketplace new deals email. Soon, I got distracted with two sick children. One who’s been struggling with strep throat for three weeks, and another one whose tummy hurt. Before I knew it, the other kids were home from school, and we had tickets for A Christmas Carol, which we couldn’t miss. I loaded the car with the kids and two friends, and we headed to the theater just when the sun was setting and traffic was thickening into the rage inducing slime of rush hour at The Point of the Mountain. Just as I was merging into the freeway, I got an email notification from my editor, Clarissa Wong. She said the announcement was live. Soon after, Linda emailed me, and then texted me. I exclaimed, “”My book is announced!” and the whole car cheered, and Julian said, “Focus on driving, Mama.” Which of course I didn’t need to be reminded of. Still, I felt like the sun was bursting out of my heart and spilling out of my eyes and every pore in my body.

So far, the best part of a book deal has been sharing the news with my beloved family and friends. The flood of love and excitement has kept me on a high all these days later. During the play’s intermission, I checked on my notifications that were climbing by the second, and a voicemail from my dear agent. Linda had more amazing news that hopefully I’ll get to share six months from now :P. I’m overcome by emotion at all my blessings. In this industry, good news arrive in an avalanche, and then there is silence or rejection for weeks and months at a time. I’m relishing in the good news avalanche right now. I’m holding on to all the light to last me through the dark winter months ahead.

I’m thrilled that I’m working with Clarissa Wong from HarperCollins, and that Jaime Kim is illustrating my book. A few days before the announcement, Clarissa sent me two preliminary sketches of a spread, and when I saw the beauty of Jaime Kim’s interpretation of my story, I broke into tears of gratitude.

This book is the most unexpected surprise. As I said in my graduate reading at VCFA, I wrote it in between packets, and no advisor ever saw it, but I wanted to share it on my last day at beloved school because this poem wouldn’t ever have happened if not for the advise and guidance I found there. I’d written an earlier version of this poem a couple of years ago, but during the political struggle of 2015-2016, I re-wrote it as a love letter to my children. I hope that when they read the final product they’re proud of it.

This deal wouldn’t have happened if Martine Leavitt, Uma Krishnaswami, and Cynthia Leitich-Smith hadn’t urged me after my reading to send it to Linda. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t actually send it to my dear agent, although I didn’t have any hopes that it would sell. It’s not quirky or commercial enough, I told myself. By then, I’d been out on submission with two other manuscripts that didn’t sell, and in the dead of winter post-graduation, I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about my writing career. I’m grateful I took the plunge because this book resonated with a lot of people. A couple of weeks later we had multiple offers for this manuscript, shattering all my expectations.

Although summer 2019 seems like a long time away, in publishing, two years is an amazingly short time for a picture book to be released. I can’t wait to share this story with my readers and friends and family who’ve been so supportive and have believed in me even when I didn’t believe anymore.

I’ve been holding on to these pictures from when I signed all the way back in August. Note my diamond pen (that Areli gave me after I helped her with Alpine Days), and my bracelet, She Believed She Could So She Did.

After so many years, my dream is coming true.



The Agony of Life in the Diáspora

Diáspora. Group of people displaced from the homelands, for any reason. Diáspora echoes of exile. Diáspora is a consequence of violence, war, economic disaster, hunger, dreams for a better future, love. When I left Argentina at age nineteen, I never believed I wouldn’t go back to live there again. In my heart, I wanted to study, improve myself, and go back home to help my country. I never imagined that soon after I arrived in Utah, I would meet a Puerto Rican man that I would love so much, I was willing to not go back to my country, to stay in the United States, our common ground. Although I love this country where we live, I’ve never been whole-souled again. I’m forever torn. As diáspora people, flown about like dandelion fluff, we took roots here among the mountains. So many things keep us here: work, school, the need for our kids to belong in one place.

In the years we’ve been married, I’ve grown to love his island home. We go back often, and it’s my dream to make Puerto Rico our home one day. We have friends and family there. I love Old San Juan and la isla. I love the food, the people, the sounds, the smells.

And then hurricane Maria hit. One doesn’t need to know a Puerto Rican to feel anguish at their situation. As members of the human family, the sorrow of one is the sorrow of all. This tragedy fell on us on the heels of the earthquake in Mexico. I stayed up all night, thinking of those people under the rubble, and those in their homes, alert as the wind started screaming.

Ever since hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, I’ve been glued to the radio, Radio Isla 1320, trying to get news from my husband’s family in San Sebastián, our friends in the metropolitan area, and the country in general. Today the island’s illustrious children, the athletes, artists, singers, and actors, sent out their call to help rebuild the island. As people in the diáspora, they’re anguished at seeing images of the destruction and not being able to be there with their people to help or to hear that their loved ones are safe.

Then there are the other children of the diáspora, the ones who left because the eleven-year-old recession and insecurity made it unbearable to stay. They’ve been calling the radio asking for information, any information at all, about their pueblos and their family and friends. They leave messages to their people like messages in a bottle, hoping that someone will pick them up and pass them along. They want to know about their elderly parents and grandparents. There are so many viejitos in Puerto Rico who either refused to leave their island no matter what the political and economic situation is (they’ve seen it all, and Puerto Rico always keeps going), or those who couldn’t leave because of their fragile health.

The children of the diáspora calling the radio send words of love with broken voices and stifled tears. With guilt for leaving, for not being home to hold their loved one’s hand as the wind shrieked and tossed the island like a rag doll. I understand that guilt. When Argentina’s economy collapsed in 2001 and the country had six presidents in one week, and then hunger swept through the country like a machete, I felt guilty that I was spared because of the distance. I felt guilty that all I could do was send a donation that in my heart was so small, so tiny.

The radio host tries to soothe their anguish, to remind them that the Good Shepherd will protect His people. He passes on the messages, and tries to reassure the sorrow stricken children of Borinquén who want to swim across the ocean, who want to grow wings and fly home to help rebuild the island.

Puerto Rico will be re-built. I have no question about that. Like the Mexican people, who remove the rubble with bare hands if there’s hope of saving one more life, Puerto Rico will rise from the mud and destruction, and I want the world to prepare itself to witness the greatness that will shine from this sorrow. Los boricuas are stronger than any hurricane.

Life after graduation. The NOW.

I should be revising my MG. I should’ve gone for a run today. I should’ve maybe gotten up two hours before the kids to get a solid block of writing time done and start the day feeling like I’d slain a dragon.  What I should really do is silence the nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. I should really enjoy the NOW.

I started so many blog posts after my graduation, but maybe posting would have meant that my MFA journey was really done. Guess what? In these weeks after graduation, I’m still as connected to my wonderful VCFA community of friends as I was the day I was accepted into the program. I also now have all these newfound tools to go back to my projects and start new ones. Last Monday I went to Jeff Zentner‘s book signing of Goodbye Days with my dear friend V. She’s in her second semester at VCFA and on the ride we talked about her semester and how things are going on my end. The realization that what I learned these last two years is latently waiting for me to tap into this knew knowledge and set of skills hit me with a flash (I know it’s a cliche. It’s still true). I also have so many opportunities knocking on my door because of VCFA. My life is changed forever. For a deeper peek into my VCFA experience, read my interview on Latinx in KidLit if you haven’t already.

I’m excited about the NOW. I went out on submission with a surprise project just a few days ago, and I’m hopeful for this one. So, so hopeful. I have a new puppy, Nova, and she’s been a handful and a joy to train. I love puppyhood and it’s so short. My 14 year-old Maltese, Coco, isn’t doing well at all, and I’m trying to enjoy every moment with him because even if it’s not the last, yet, it’s precious and unique. Dandi, at 10-years-old is learing how to cuddle (she’s always been feisty and aloof).

Julian and D. at prom
Juli and Valen in Puerto Rico (take me back! Not in time. To the island!)

And don’t even get me started on the human children! They’re growing. They’re precious. I come across old pictures of them and my heart squeezes in pain because I miss them that little. I miss their tiny voices, and I wish that those years they were all babies at the same time hadn’t flown by, or that at least I could remember more. But when I’m not having a good day, Facebook will graciously send me one of those memories and make me smile. Or I’ll remember about Julian going to sleep with gum in his mouth the night before first grade school pictures, and then waking up with a glob of gum right on his bangs. I didn’t know peanut butter helped with taking off gum from hair (it totally does!), so I cut the hair, and he went to school pictures like that. Reminiscing of how carefree he was, he laughed until we cried, and then I sent him off to Sophomore prom with his perfect hair and brand new suit. I saw him drive away and I wished I could remember that moment forever. If not the details, then the feeling. Always the feeling.

And talking about feeling, A Psalm for Lost Girls, by my dear Katie Bayerl came out into the world yesterday. I had the pleasure of beta reading Katie’s manuscript, and yesterday when I got the final copy of the book in the mail I went to the Acknowledgements section because it’s always my favorite part of a book. And what a surprise to see that Katie had included my name. I was humbled and honored by the gesture. I met Katie on my very first day at VCFA; she was one of our graduate assistants, and we connected immediately. Her book is full of feelings, about lost sisters, mothers and daughters, faith lost and found. It’s gorgeous and if one day I can write something that will feel my readers with so many emotions as Katie’s filled me with her book, I’ll be satisfied. And now I go revise, not because I have to, or because I should, but because I want to, more than anything. I want these characters and their

Los Hermanos Macana

experiences to reach someone, even one reader.

My shrine because those roots of the faith go deep, so deep and the heart wants what it wants.


How to write a Latinx character and other questions

Look at this graphic:


The first time I saw this illustration I cried. I mean, LOOK AT IT! One and a half books representing the Latinx characters in children’s books? The equivalent of three pages representing the Native American people? Look at the similarly dreadful percentages of representation of our African American children, and our Asian and Pacific Islander kids?

This is what one of my favorite authors, Junot Díaz, said about the dangers of a person not seeing themselves reflected on the pages of a book:

“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

Every kid deserves to see themselves as the heroes of their favorite fantasies, their thrillers, their fluffy funny books. In all the books. I guess we can all agree on that, right?

The children’s book community has been aware of the tremendous need for more representation of “marginalized” communities in the books ALL of our kids read. These books representing our characters from “minority” groups aren’t only mirrors. They’re also windows through which all of our children can experience someone else’s existence and experiences.

The creation and incredible influence of the WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS ORGANIZATION (for which I’m so grateful!) has brought the issue to every day conversation, and has kept the conversation going. Some writers, in their desire to increase representation want to tell stories of characters of a different background from their own. Which is okay. IF, and that’s a huge if, if the representation is accurate and respectful, ie: not perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

And many writers get this, this huge responsibility. They have expressed tremendous concern over getting representation wrong, of offending readers, of harming their readers, of provoking public anger. Because ultimately, we write for children. I write for myself, but in the end, my mind is always on the young people my words will affect because words are powerful; they’re life changing.

The fears many writers feel aren’t unfounded. *I* am afraid of not representing my culture in an appropriate way. I’ve found things in my own writing that’ve left me reeling with shock. These problematic elements have leaked into my writing after years of seeing my culture diminished as a stereotype on most media I’ve consumed all my life. The harm of wrongful representation is immense.

There have been several instances of readers, bloggers, and critics questioning the representation of characters and situations in children’s books (A Fine Dessert, A Cake for George Washington, and When We Was Fierce are clear examples). These complains and concerns are valid. Seeing your cultural/ethnic group, your religions, your language butchered and misrepresented is a terrible thing. Many times as a reader, I put my feelings aside and gave the author a second, third, fourth chance. Not so much anymore. If a book is offensive, I won’t recommend it. I won’t support that author anymore.

A few months ago I started offering sensitivity reads to children’s writers. My main intent was to be a consultant and a sort of guide to writers who write outside of their culture and comfort zone. But these are things to consider:

1- I’m not the voice for the whole Latinx community.
2- I’m not even the voice for the Argentine community in the US.

However, I know that having an extra set of eyes on a manuscript is vital for any writer wanting to be honest and respectful when crafting characters and situations that haven’t been experienced first hand.

I’ve had some writers reach out with questions. I’ve loved helping them.  Here’s a non-inclusive list of things to consider when writing a Latinx character:

  • Culture is more than race/skin color/language.
  • Culture can  be conveyed in several ways including but not limiting to food and language.
  • Members of a minority group sometimes act one way within their community and another in different situations, environments.
  • Skin color affects all aspects of a person’s life. Sometimes privilege such as financial or class privilege will protect a person from some situations, but not from all. For example: I’ve been asked at restaurants to refill drinks, and I didn’t look like a waitress at all, nor was I wearing anything similar to a server.
  • If you’re dark skinned people will assume you’re: poor, illegal, uneducated. Not all people, but these are all scenarios I or people close to me have experienced.
  • If you have an accent people will assume you don’t understand them.
  • If you have an accent people will assume they will not understand you.
  • If you have an accent, people will think your English isn’t proper, or that you can’t write in English.
  • If you have an accent, people might be surprised you have a college education or, gasp!, higher form of education.
  • Religion is an important part of the Latinx community, not matter what denomination, if any, the person belongs to. Some beliefs like La Virgen de Guadalupe, and love (for the most part) for Pope Francis are widespread in our community
  • It’s highly offensive to use our beliefs and deities as the basis of a whitewashed fantasy world. If you’re writing about our aboriginal people’s gods (Aztec, Mayan, etc), be aware these are living religions TODAY. No, using them is not the same as portraying Greek or Roman gods.
  • Countries of Latin America and Spain have different accents, foods, customs, and idiosyncrasies. Regions within each country, communities within each region have different accents, foods, customs, and idiosyncrasies from each other.
  • A lot of Latinx people in our communities were born in the US. They’re second, third, fourth generation Americans.
  • Not all Latinx people speak Spanish.
  • People who immigrated to the States won’t have an accent after a few years. Example: someone who immigrated as a child won’t have a significant, recognizable accent as an adult.
  • Puerto Ricans aren’t immigrants when they move to the US. They’re already US citizens.
  • In spite of what the media shows, there are more types of Latinx characters than the gang member, the illegal immigrant, the narco, the bubbly, sexy Latina, etc. These exist too, but please, go beyond the stereotypes!
  • Family is a huge influence in our lives, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. I’d never heard the term “extended family” until I arrived in the States. Community is also vital for our people.
  • Educational achievement is a family affair. We’ve been taught that education can free us, and it’s true.
  • Our countries have a rich heritage of thinkers, Nobel Prize winners, scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, teachers, writers, musicians, and artists of every kind.
  • Many of us have lived real life dystopian societies (hello Dictadura era).
  • In many of our countries, women have been the president and head of the executive power.
  • Latinx people are a combination of all the ethnic groups on earth. We come in every shade and color, and even within families you can find a dark skinned person whose siblings are red-headed or blond with ultra white skin.

Again, this list isn’t all inclusive. I just wanted to show all the aspects in which culture affects a person. The ways in which it will affect your character. The reader will notice if the only thing the writer did was slap a Spanish sounding name and dark skin on a character. I notice. Kids are smart. Kids know when they’re reading truth and when they’re reading a composite of wikipedia facts.

So my friends, write your stories with the characters that knock on the doors of your mind. But do it responsibly. Read the writers from the group you want to write about and you’re not a part of. Like Jackie Woodson said in a lecture, come to their house and see things from their eyes. Respect your readers, and write the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it’s a lot of hard work.

The Ghost of a Memory

When I was in elementary school, we didn’t read from novels, except for the time the teacher read us Dailan Kifki, by María Elena Walsh, but that wasn’t until I was in sixth or seventh. (More on María Elena in another blog post. She deserves one to herself). The thing is, we had “reading primers.” Our language “manual” had excerpts of books, little snippets to teach us whatever we

Dailan Kifki, the Elefant

needed to learn in grammar, or syntax, or sometimes even history. So in the 5th grade, my parents couldn’t buy me the Language textbook, so they borrowed it from a neighbor. Hermione-style I read it back to back. There was a particular excerpt about a boy who waits for the train every afternoon, and then hurls rocks at the engine. One day the locomotive gets so fed up of being abused, that she throws back her whistle. The boy can’t speak anymore. The piece ended with him realizing that he can’t talk. His fear and desperation.

That’s all there was.

I loved it so much that I cut the rectangle with the beginning of this story and kept it for years, like a puzzle piece I tried to match to other excerpts I found. I’m sure it got lost when my family moved from Argentina to Utah. I like to think of my journals and newspaper clippings, huddling together in a box, waiting for me somewhere (how sad!!!). Cutting this story got my parents and me in a lot of trouble because when the neighbors got their book back for their kid who was younger than me, of course they saw it was missing sections (although I don’t remember cutting out anything else. I honestly thought no one would ever notice the one missing piece–which makes me think, why didn’t I just rip the whole page? I don’t know. I was ten. Ten!). The stealing of a section of a book got me in the bad side of the girls of my apartment building and led to years-long ostracism (more on that in another blog post).

Ladies and gentlemen, Laura Devetach! 

 At the time, I didn’t care that the neighbor girl was mad at me for cutting up the book. I wanted to know the ending of the story so much it physically hurt. That’s all I cared about.

You thought Rick Riordan’s cliffhangers are cruel? You thought waiting three years for Harry Potter 5 was an eternity? How about waiting 28 years to know how a story ended? A story whose title and author you don’t even know.

I knew the story took place in the Argentine sierras. I’ve never been there, but the way the author described the place was so vivid! I didn’t even remember the words she used. I remember feeling. The feeling of summer bliss. The feeling of a kid getting into mischief when he thinks no one’s watching. The feeling of something terrible that we have done and we can’t take back. You know that feeling in the center of your chest when you’ve made a mistake and don’t know how to take it back? That one. That’s what I felt. I wanted to know what you feel like when you fix your mistakes too.

La Torre de Cubos
(The Block Tower)

Fast forward to me, writing my creative thesis for my MFA in writing. I wanted to write a short story to honor this short story from my childhood, but I wanted to credit the author. I searched online, and I found plenty stories about trains, but not the one I was looking for. Finally, I asked on Facebook, and I tagged three friends. One from elementary school, one from my church, and another one I met online because of a friend in common (her sister-in-law, my friend). Within minutes, my friend from elementary school replied: “Could it be La Torre de Cubos (The Block Tower), by Laura Devetach? The military junta banned her works for a long time because they were subversive.”

I immediately looked up Laura Devetach, and friends, let me tell you:
First of all, yes! The story is Mauricio y su Silbido (Mauricio’s Whistling). I savored the whole story. I read the whole little collection of short stories. I “understand” why the military banned her. Her work is for children, but like all the best children’s literature, it isn’t childish. Laura Devetach writes for children with such respect! She addresses social injustice, individual responsibility for one’s actions (as in Mauricio’s story), white privilege, gender equality, and a lot of other concepts I didn’t learn about until I was an adult. Although she’s been recognized around the world for her contribution to children’s literature, as a child, I never even knew the name of this author from my same province, Santa Fe.

After the first burst of euphoria for having found what I’d been searching for years, a feeling of mourning and then anger filled me. I missed so much during my childhood! The books that showed characters like me, who spoke my language, literally, who drank máte with their families, the kids who were alone all day while their moms were at work were robbed from me!

I was born at the cusp of the military government, and by the time I started elementary school my country was under the governance of Ricardo Alfonsín, our democratically elected president. However, it took a long time for democracy to trickle down into education. I asked my friend, the genius one who knew exactly what story I was looking for, “Why do you think we never learned about Laura? Why didn’t she ever come visit our school? Why?” Her reply was, “Maybe because our teachers were so scared by the dark years of the dictatorship that they didn’t know we needed Laura’s words, or that even they were allowed to teach us about her and our other bright writers” (like Alma Maritano, more on her in another post too).

Now that I know here name, Thank you, Laura Devetach! I pledge to honor the legacy of this and the other great writers whose work for children resonates for the rest of the readers’ life. I pledge to write stories that will resonate with readers even when they don’t remember my name anymore or the details of a story, but that leave them feeling and looking for more.

Oh how I wish her work were translated in English! Maybe… maybe there’s a project for me there in the future.

When you just need some chocolate. Or a lot.

Last Thursday I received an email with a reply I wasn’t expecting (a rejection on a project I was so hopeful for). My husband had been out of town for forever and the kids were at their worst. I still had to write 5 more pages for my MFA workshop submission and revise all 20 pages before sending them off. My Rosario Central team lost on the quarter finals of Copa Libertadores de America on the very last second. I was tasting the victory on the tip of my tongue! And then all I had was bitterness. I’d been without a phone since the week before (still no phone), and it was my parents’ 39th wedding anniversary. It was stormy and dreary outside, and my dad called me because of course he can’t call my mom. After his “Hola, hija,” we both cried wordlessly and silently on either side of the phone, until one of us was more recovered and made a comment about the weather and plans for an asado on Sunday.

On Friday, however, I finished my workshop piece. Panda Bear and his best from preschool wanted a picnic before friend’s trip, and we went to the park. Panda, friend, friend’s mom and I had a wonderful time although the day was blustery and gray. I pretended the wind was lifting the burden off of my shoulders. My little stressors were nothing when seen one by one (except missing my mom. That’s a huge cloud of grief I can’t ever shake off), but all of them combined made my knees buckle. So after the picnic and because Panda Bear was sobbing about his friend’s leaving for two weeks, I drove us to Kneaders for a treat. “I need the chocolatiest thing you have,” I told the girl at the drive-through. She could only offer me the chocolate dome but a one serving chocolate dome wasn’t what I had in mind.

So I asked my friend and my kids’ babysitter C. to bring me the Costco chocolate cake on her way to our house for the usual Friday night craziness. The chocolate cake from Costco that I’ve usually referred to as the everlasting cake. It’s rich and empalagosa and it never, ever ends.

“What’s the occasion?” C. asked.

“Life,” I said, “We’re celebrating that we lived another week and that it was worth it.”

I never reward myself with food. Lately my bribe and motivation to work and workout is an episode of Grand Hotel, but I needed chocolate. My mom said that after the birth of each of her children, she always craved chocolate. It might have been the severe anemia she had all her life. In any case, she never got the cake because she would’ve had to bake it and with a new baby, she never had the time. So in her honor, I got the cake, watched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wonderful  UPenn commencement speech that my lovely agent Linda sent me, and I watched it while I had some máte and ate my cake, just a piece, mind you, that thing must be worth at least 10,000 calories. The thing is I hardly ever celebrate because there’s always something super important going on and the celebration can wait. So I ate my cake, celebrating that we made it to the end of the school year and soccer, my scholarship from SCBWI, the end of my 3rd semester and critical thesis, and life. I’m celebrating that I’m alive and that I still feel (I feel everything too much). Sometimes chocolate cake is the best remedy in the world. Here’s the link to Lin-Manuel’s speech, in case you need some encouragement too. And here’s the transcript. I printed it out to read every morning:

Another diversity post. Why do we need diversity in books?

Back in 2009 I wrote this blog post about a school visit I did during hispanic Heritage Month. This was seven years ago. SEVEN!!! I was a beginner writer and my kids were super young. I wrote during nap times and at night. I didn’t really know what I wanted to write. My stories were all retellings of my favorite Celtic legends, mashing together Marion Simmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon with my favorite fairy tales. When I went to that dual immersion school and saw so many happy faces ready to see a Hispanic author, I realized I didn’t know of any books that portrayed children who looked and sounded and lived like those little ones–like my own children. I have an agent now (hi, Linda!!!) and I’m doing my MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, always with the intent of becoming a better writer. Hopefully I won’t have to way seven more years to see a book of mine on a shelf.

But that school visit was a turning point in my life. Now, in the midst of the whole diversity revolution, everyone talks about the problem of the lack of representation in media, especially children’s books. I’m a huge supporter of the We Need Diverse Books organization. They’ve been a great support to me too. Remember this?  
In an effort to do my part in this revolution for more diversity, I wrote a short essay giving my opinion of why we need diverse books. Why do YOU think we need diversity in books?

Why do we need diverse books?
By Yamile Saied Méndez
            “Literature is the expression of society”, said Charles Nodier, a French author and librarian who, according to Wikipedia, introduced young Romanticists to gothic literature and vampire tales. If books were photos in our social-medialized society, would they really show the nature of our world and society? Would everyone be able to see themselves on the pages of a book?
            One of the first things people do when they see a photo is look for themselves or people they might know. The same is true about books. When children read a book, they look for aspects of their lives and their situations. They read books with curiosity to learn about other people too.  
            The first book that I read by myself was Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. I lost my favorite grandfather at the age of five, and I saw my relationship with my Abuelo in that book. As a child, I didn’t have a pet goat, lived in the mountains, or ever slept in a bed of hay. Heck! I’d never seen snow in my life! I didn’t have anything else in common with the “girl from the Alps” but for the sorrow of missing a beloved grandfather. Reading about Heidi’s pain when she was separated from her grandfather helped me deal with my own grieving at having lost mine to death.
            The next books that marked me as a person were the works of Brazilian luminaire Monteiro Lobato. Through his stories about cousins Little Nose and Pedrinho, I learned to love the Brazilian people, their traditions, their history. In spite of the Argentine-Brazilian eternal rivalry in the soccer field, I saw my Brazilian neighbors through the window of books and learned to love them. Eventually, I earned a degree in Latin American studies, with an emphasis in Portuguese language and literature. All because of a series of stories about a grandmother and her grandchildren in a small Brazilian farm.
            In books, my greatest friends and companions throughout my life and especially my childhood were mirrors to myself and windows to the world.
            Books empower.
            They empowered me to pursue my dreams and fight for them. A child who doesn’t see herself in books is lacking the tools to face life, to make sense of the world around her, to know what she could be capable of. A child who doesn’t see a different reality from his lacks the tools to learn how to empathize with those living under different circumstances. He lacks the tools to make sense of aspects of the world he isn’t a part of.
            As a child, seeing aspect of myself in a book I was empowered. When I read about a character of my ethnic or cultural background, I got the message that my story mattered enough for someone to write about it. I learned I wasn’t alone in my sorrow. I learned that I mattered.

            My children are growing up between cultures. Like I did as a child, they yearn to be heard, seen, recognized, empowered by a book. Words give life and voice. And I want my children—and all children–to have a voice, to make sense of life, and to feel empowered. That’s why we need diverse books.

Half and half? What I am now

After years of hard work and sacrifice, on March 29th, 1997, I arrived in Salt Lake City all  by myself to attend Brigham Young University. I was nineteen, wide-eyed with hope and victory. I was nineteen, so young.

Today marks the nineteenth anniversary of this arrival, this new chapter in my life. I always thought that once I hit this mark, I could say that that I was half Argentine and half American. I spent the first half of my life in the same city, my beautiful Rosario. Half of my life in this country, most of it in Utah, but also in North Carolina and even Puerto Rico. But today I’m surprised to say I don’t feel like half of anything. The parts that make me who I am aren’t parts at all. They’re wholes too. A soul can’t be cut up into pieces (with the exception of Voldemort, and we all know how he ended up).

As a child, I always knew what I wanted: to go to college and be someone important. I loved stories and books. I wrote my first story when I was eight, a couple of years after my grandfather died. His death hit me so hard I still cry when I think of him. He always wanted to fly in an airplane, and he spoke of his Palestinian father like he had been a prince, exiled to Argentina because of war and poverty. I wrote my first story trying to deal with his departure.

I didn’t consider myself a writer though.

I wanted to be an astronaut all the way into my late teen years. I’ve always loved science and the stars. I still do. How I miss my Southern Cross and the Tres Marias! To become an astronaut I knew I had to study in the US because NASA is here. My parents supported this dream, and I spent most of my youth teaching myself English and studying for the US college admission tests (SAT and TOEFL). I arrived carrying two small suitcases that contained all I could afford to bring. I had only two pairs of pants and a few shirts. Two dresses for church. A Rosario Central jersey. A hand knitted sweater that my mom made for me and that I still keep. Her hands made it and I can’t part with it, even after all these years. A green woolen jacket that was just warm enough to keep me warm in the late Utah winter.

I didn’t experience culture shock when I arrived, and I credit the army of friends that became my family and helped me ease into this culture. The US was all that I expected it to be. It was just like in the movies. The internet was just started to be a “thing” and home wasn’t so far when I could look up my home in Yahoo. As time passed I would learn more about this beautiful place. Its wonderful opportunities that allowed a person like me to arrive with nothing more than a desire to progress and a tremendous will to learn and learn. I also found out about struggles that I hadn’t expected, like how the color of my skin and my accent could be fascinating to some people, unacceptable to others. I learned about the physical pain of homesickness. No one had told me that this homesickness for Argentina, for Rosario, for my family would never completely go away, but that in fact would become stronger as I got older. Even when years later my whole family joined me in Utah or when I visited Argentina, I never stopped missing my life in my barrio. The experiences we have in our childhood and youths mark as forever. I haven’t been a Catholic for years and years, but the songs from the mass, memories of my first Communion flash in my mind in April, when the world is blooming into Spring. Except that for me, April feels like early October. Although I’ve spent half of my life in the Northern Hemisphere, my body’s internal clock is in sync with the South. In the Spring and Fall I never know what day it is if I don’t look at a calendar. In December, I’m ready for a long, rejuvenating break. I love white Christmases, but I love even more the smell of Christmas Eve in the Summer, that combination of jasmine flowers and fireworks. The sounds of the crickets and frogs serenading all night, the distant ever-playing music somewhere in el barrio. I miss the daily bread and the smell of La Virginia’s coffee perfuming Avenida Alberdi on my way to school. I miss my friends and laughing with them. I miss the river Paraná and Summer storms. Sometimes when I go back to Roasrio, I think I see my mom walking back from work, my sister talking with her friends in la plaza, or my brothers playing fútbol in the empty lot.

But when I go back I don’t feel completely at home either. My mom isn’t there anymore. There’s a new apartment complex where the boys played fútbol. Even my bus line has changed. It’s not the 108 anymore. After a few days in Rosario, I miss the organization of my Utah home, the cleanliness, and order. Sleeping without worrying about anyone entering my house in the middle of the night. Some things are the same. I still get nervous when I see a uniformed police officer. Some reactions are coded in our DNA, and I was born at the cusp of the dictatorship in the seventies.

My life is a life of dilemmas: My brother still lives in Rosario with his family, and when it’s time to say goodbye, my heart stays with them. After a few days in Rosario, I’m always ready to come back to my house in Utah, and in my heart I love to hear the words “Welcome Home” from the immigration officer at the airport because this is my home now. But so is Rosario. So I’m not half and half of anything. I’m fully Argentine–I know in the American citizenship oath it says everyone renounces to their original country. But really. How could I renounce to who I am? And at the same time I love being an American citizen. But I’m still that girl from Rosario. I love my city even more after all these years, after so many thousands kilometers that I’ve traveled away from it. And although I haven’t lived in Rosario for so long, I visit it every day, when I write my stories. I walk its streets, chant in the stadium, or sit in the balcony to watch the boys playing fútbol. I’m forever in between my home then and my home now, and I’ve made my peace with this, with my heart fully in two places.

Not the best picture, but it’s the last picture we took before I left for the airport

It’s that time in the program: Critical Thesis

The first year in my VCFA program has flown by, and now in third semester, I’m writing my Critical Thesis. I’m not a critical writing kind of person, but I’m passionate about the topic I’m writing about: The Impact of the First Menstrual Period in a Girl’s Life and Its Portrayal (or lack of) in Middle Grade Fiction. I designed a short, anonymous survey that will help me tremendously in writing my thesis. Please, it takes less that five minutes to fill out. If you choose to participate, please share it! I’m eager to do this important subject justice and I need all the help I can get. Also, if you’d like to share an experience that exceeds the scope of the survey, feel free to email me at I’m very interested in how different cultures celebrate menarche if they do it at all.

Thank you!