Dreamers is your own story of immigrating to the United States from Mexico in 1994 with your newborn son. What inspired you write Dreamers almost 24 years later?
I was working on a graphic novel when Donald Trump was elected president. My heart sunk. I could not believe that the man who had accused Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists had been elected to lead the United States. I felt unable to work, and that my stories made no sense anymore. I also felt afraid of what would come next for immigrant families like mine, like those of my friends and like those that my books had been written for and about.
My editor, Neal Porter, saw that I was stuck and offered his support and patience. He reassured me that he was there for me until I was ready to produce a new book, he also told me that he thought the book I should be working on was my own immigrant story.
The illustrations are so vivid, rich, and full of symbolism. What was your approach to the artwork?
Even though I wrote my own story, I approached illustrating Dreamers as if it were more of a tall tale, with characters that take on their own symbolism, living inside and moving between fantastic worlds. While growing in Mexico, I always thought of the United States as a quasi-mythical land. Animals and the natural world play a huge role in my artwork as I’ve learned so much from them. The dog, for ancient Mexicans, accompanies people on their journey in life as well as in death. Swallows, monarch butterflies, and the Mexican free-tailed bats are some of the most prominent migrant animals who make annual journeys between Mexico and the United States. And of course, I drew books, the books that welcomed me when I arrived here—the books I discovered in an amazing place I didn’t know existed before: the public library.
Dreamers is almost like a love letter to books and libraries—you’re able to recognize many individual titles in the art and you even include a list of books that inspired you at the end. How did those books shape you as a picture book creator?
One of the biggest surprises I experienced in the children’s section of the library was finding books that told stories of people like me and my son. Stories with characters who spoke Spanish, who had our skin color, and who had come from another country like us. I remember loving Chato’s Kitchen by Gary Soto and Susan Guevara; I couldn’t believe that there was a book in the library about people from el barrio (actually cats, mice, and dogs), dressed, speaking, cooking, and having a family life that resembled mine. These books—and countless others—are the reason why I started making my own books (handmade at first, to emulate the books I loved), and why Dreamers was even imagined.
What do you hope readers will take away from Dreamers?
It is so easy to feel that we immigrants don’t belong, that we are not wanted, and that we have nothing to offer. I felt this when I entered the United States, because I only had a bag of clothes and a baby in my arms. Over the years, I have learned that I brought incredible things with me! They’re symbolized in the backpack I carry in the book: my intuition, passion, stories, healing, music, creativity, and even sunshine. I hope that with Dreamers, together we can celebrate the courage of those who, often with broken hearts, come to a new land to give all they are to build a better world.
This Q&A appeared in the September 2018 issue of the CBC Diversity Newsletter. To sign up for our monthly Diversity newsletter click here.
Born and raised in Mexico, where she currently resides, YUYI MORALES lived for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she still maintains close relations with booksellers and librarians. Professional storyteller, dancer, choreographer, puppeteer, and artist, she has won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for Illustration five times, for Just a Minute, Los Gatos Black on Halloween, Just in Case, Niño Wrestles the World, and Viva Frida, which also received a Caldecott Honor.