“Like the clouds, like dreams, our children come and go. Nothing and no one can stop them.” ~ Jorge Argueta
Immigration is certainly one of the most contentious issues and complex humanitarian challenges facing our country today.
When you hear the word “immigrant,” what kind of mental image pops into your head? Do you picture a destitute Syrian refugee, an adult male attempting to smuggle drugs across the border, or maybe a stereotypical Spanish speaking person in a service-oriented job?
Often when I drive to the library I see a group of young Hispanic males waiting by the side of the road hoping to be picked up for a day’s labor paid for in cash. I wonder about where they came from, how they’re coping, whether their families are intact.
Though I often hear a lot about “undocumented immigrants,” the plight of “unaccompanied immigrant children” wasn’t something I seriously considered until I read Jorge Argueta’s new bilingual poetry book, Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds (Groundwood Books, 2016).
Somos como las nubes
Elefantes, caballos, vacas, cuches,
Somos como las nubes.
dulce de algodón.
Somos como las nubes.
Milpa en flor,
ayotes y sandías,
loros y piscuchas,
y el gran volcán de San Salvador.
We Are Like the Clouds
Elephants, horses, cows, pigs
We are like the clouds.
We are like the clouds.
Cornfields in bloom,
pumpkins and watermelons,
parrots and kites,
and the huge San Salvador volcano.
I knew that migrant families are often separated, but in my ignorance I kind of assumed that the children always traveled with at least one adult family member. I didn’t realize there are thousands of Central American children who leave their countries to walk hundreds of miles on their own hoping to find a safe haven in the United States.
These young people abandon everything and endure untold hardships to escape extreme poverty and the constant threat of violence. Through Jorge’s heart-wrenching poems, we hear them describe the fear of being recruited by gangs or falling into the hands of traffickers, the sorrow of leaving loved ones and familiar neighborhoods behind, the torturous uncertainty of whether to go or to stay.
But we also learn about their extraordinary resilience and dreams for the future, and we hear poignant echos of the childhood innocence that was stripped away far too soon.
Desde que salimos de casa
no dejamos de cantar.
Dice mi papi
que si cantamos,
espantamos el cansancio
y el miedo
y nos volvemos canción.
Since we left home
we haven’t stopped singing.
My father says
if we keep singing,
we’ll scare away all the tiredness
and the fear
and become a song.
Jorge himself fled his home country of El Salvador during the 80’s war, and has worked with some of these young refugees in both the U.S. and El Salvador. It is easy to understand why as a Salvadoran man he felt compelled to give these children a voice:
In 2014, when thousands of children began to arrive from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, I visited a shelter in San Diego, California, where young refugees were anxiously awaiting their fate. Some had the hope that a family member would take charge of them so they could remain in the United States. Others wanted to go back home. Others wanted to do both. Sad choices for such young hearts.
Paired with Alfonso Ruano’s beautiful acrylic paintings, these 20 powerful free verse poems give young readers who might take their personal safety for granted a chance to consider what it’s like to be displaced — to set out into the unknown all the while fearing apprehension or other physical calamity, not knowing whether you’ll reach your destination, and if so, who will determine your fate. All you take with you on this journey is hope and faith.
El Santo Toribio
santo de los immigrantes,
muéstranos el camino.
No nos dejes caer en manos de la migra,
ni de los traficantes,
y mucho menos de los “minutemen”.
Tú que eres el buen coyote,
y líbranos de todo mal. Amen.
saint of the immigrants,
show us the way.
Don’t let us fall
into the hands of the migra,*
and never in the hands of the traffickers,
or worse, the minutemen.**
You who are the good coyote,
protect us, lead us.
Deliver us from all evil. Amen.
*short for Immigration Services
**armed patrols of civilians
There’s a moving picture of a boy waving goodbye to his friend “iPod,” who sold his iPod for a bus ticket, a startling picture of tattooed gang members (surreally depicted as having one menacing eye in the middle of their faces), pictures of refugees with backpacks and water jugs trekking alongside a river bank, piling onto a migrant train, crossing the desert, meeting young people from other countries.
But there’s also a picture of a child peacefully sleeping, dreaming of being safe in his mother’s arms, an echo of Argueta’s extended cloud metaphor, which appears in several poems like a lyrical chorus drifting in and out of our consciousness.
The final poem, about buying paletas from a Señor Celsio in Los Angeles, circles back to the second poem in the book, where a child describes a rooster in his old neighborhood who eats coconut popsicles sold by a Mr. Silverio. This sense of continuity, a flash of the familiar, offers a ray of hope for a new beginning in a strange land. When “we are like the clouds” becomes “we are the clouds” near the end of the book, Argueta offers a strong affirmation for these brave nomads: “You are a champion.”
Hopefully, the child immigrant’s point of view will speak to our common humanity and promote a little more understanding and empathy for those we sometimes too hastily disdain or mistrust.
Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds has been receiving very positive reviews, including two well deserved *starred reviews* from Kirkus and Booklist.
Don’t miss this important, timely collection. These poems are great for facilitating meaningful discussion about an issue that affects us all.
First, touch the heart with a poem, then spark the mind with awareness and knowledge.
SOMOS COMO LAS NUBES/WE ARE LIKE THE CLOUDS
written by Jorge Argueta
illustrated by Alfonso Ruano
published by Groundwood Books, October 2016
Bilingual Poetry Picture Book in Spanish and English for ages 7-12, 36 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note
**Starred Reviews from Kirkus and Booklist
***On shelves October 1, 2016
⛅SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! ☁
The publisher has generously donated a copy of the book for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, September 28, 2016. You may also enter by sending an email with “CLOUDS” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!
Check out this NY Times Documentary for more info and insight. It primarily focuses on three Honduran teens hoping to make it to the U.S. Warning to sensitive viewers: the video contains a graphic image of a murdered female + mention of drugs and sex trafficking.
The lovely and talented Catherine Flynn is hosting the Roundup at Reading to the Core. Click through to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week.
*These excerpts are taken from Somo como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds, text copyright © 2016 by Jorge Argueta, illustrations copyright © 2016 by Alfonso Ruano, English translation copyright © 2016 by Elisa Amado. Reproduced with permission from Groundwood Books, Toronto. www.groundwoodbooks.com
* Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.