I was invited by Abraham Popoca to show my book at the Universidad Internacional in Cuernavaca. Abraham along with a group of students there runs a research center that looks into policy relating to children’s rights. They were interested in my book because of its bi-national nature.
I did a presentation of the book and showed them also another picture book I wrote and illustrated called Solar Cookies. The college students there enjoyed the books and had excellent and challenging questions. One of the students asked me if I worried that the Mexican child in the book was a stereotype, or that a Mexican child who saw the book would be ashamed of how Mexican children are represented in it.
Dear Primo’s main character are Carlitos and Charlie. Carlitos is a rural boy from Mexico, Charlie is his cousin and lives in a city in the US. Carlitos wears sandals. Charlie wears hightop sneakers and a fitted baseball hat.
I could understand why the Uninter student would ask that question. I have a multilayered response to it. To begin, the book is addressed to children between 4-8. And though I always attempt to create something sophisticated, for this project it was very important to focus on the contrasts between Carlitos and Charlie -much like the country mouse and city mouse story- and keep them clear and simple.
I am aware that Mexico is a very urbanized country. The Mexico City metropolitan area is the largest metropolitan area in the American continent. And I am aware that Mexico is in many ways a very Americanized country, and that the US also is a very Mexican country. But again, for the sake of clarity and simplicity I had to make the contrasts in food, environment, etc very clear, almost extreme. Yet, the point of the book is that regardless of their nationalities Carlitos and Charlie are at heart more alike than different.
There is an important reason why I decided to make Carlitos a rural boy and Charlie an urban one. Without being overt, I am acknowledging the migration of Mexican workers to the US. A large portion of these workers come from rural backgrounds and often migrate to cities in the US. They work as deliveryman, nannies, construction workers and in other service industries. That is the experience of people I know both in San Miguel Allende, where I grew up, and in New York, where I went to school.
Further, tradition and progress don’t have to be mutually exclusive. One can be can modern and up to date and at the same time have a strong sense of identity. One can be technologically savvy and at the same time be proud of ones heritage and traditions.
After the presentation I got to hang out with some Uninter students. It was a lot of fun. The students at the research center are a very close and supportive group.
I’m currently working on a new picture book. It is inspired by the life and art of Diego Rivera. It wil be out next spring. Although I didn’t see the Rivera mural in Cuernavaca on my visit to the Uninter, I did see it on a previous visit to the city. It’s excellent and entrance is free on Sundays, I believe.