In October 2018, the night before a caravan of fellow citizens planned to leave San Salvador for the United States, eminent author, poet, and humanitarian Jorge Argueta spoke with many of them who had gathered at the Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo, a large public square in the city.
As someone who had fled El Salvador over 35 years ago, Argueta understood only too well why they had chosen to risk their lives and that of their children to undertake the arduous 2,500-mile journey. He listened to their stories, offered encouragement and support, and was no doubt profoundly moved by the hope they carried in their hearts: hope for a safe haven from gang violence, hope to escape the demoralizing cycle of poverty, hope for a chance to rebuild their lives with honest work, hope for better futures for their children, hope for kindness and compassion from the strangers they would meet along the way.
Inspired by these conversations, Argueta wrote a verse novel told in the voice of Misael Ramírez, a young asylum seeker who joined the caravan with his parents and brother Martín.
Caravan to the North: Misael’s Long Walk (Groundwood Books, 2019), is a realistic, heart-wrenching account of the physical and emotional hardships families like Misael’s endured as they left El Salvador with nothing more than a jacket and a small backpack of hopes and dreams to face the unknown.
Look who’s here! 🙂
By now, most of you know I’m a big Jorge Argueta fan. I’ve previously featured four titles from his fabulous bilingual Cooking Poem Series here at Alphabet Soup: Rice Pudding/Arroz con leche (2010), Guacamole (2012), Tamalitos (2013), and most recently, Salsa (March 2015), all published by Groundwood Books.
Today, Jorge is here to talk about Olita y Manyula: The Big Birthday/El gran compleaños (Luna’s Press Books, 2015), a new bilingual picture book that represents yet another milestone in his esteemed literary career as author, poet, publisher and bookstore owner — a semi-autobiographical story that’s especially close to his heart.
Since founding Luna’s Press about 20 years ago, Jorge has published a number of chapbooks by San Francisco poets, but Olita y Manyula is the press’s first children’s book. This charming story features a young girl named Holly (Olita) who travels from the U.S. to visit friends and family in El Salvador. Once there, her aunt, cousin, and two friends excitedly escort her to a special birthday party for Manyula, whose house is within walking distance.
On the way, they stroll through the San Jacinto neighborhood with its colorful painted houses under the “tik-tik, tok-tok” of warm, intermittent rain, laughing and jumping in mud puddles. Rather than divulge any details about Manyula’s identity, the boys instead focus on pointing out several notable landmarks en route (the San Salvador volcano, beautiful Alcehuate River, a cement statue resembling a big handkerchief).