June 15 is the ninth anniversary of the passage of DACA. It’s been nine years since a ground-breaking movement of young undocumented immigrants revitalized and reframed immigration reform. It’s been nine years of fighting to make these protections permanent at the federal level, along with other changes that would honor the dignity and contributions of immigrants and refugees who call the United States home.
By Alejandra Domenzain, Coordinator of Public Programs, University of California, Berkeley
What were you doing nine years ago? I was an elementary school teacher trying to find books as mirrors for kids to see themselves, windows to experience new things, and doors to taking action in the world. I had worked in the field of immigrant worker rights before that and supported the incredible advocacy of my colleagues organizing low wage immigrant workers in Los Angeles—campaigns that showed us how janitors, day laborers, domestic workers, hotel housekeepers, home care workers, garment workers, and others could defy the odds and speak out, take a stand.
However, there were very few children’s books that reflected those vibrant movements, so it was hard for immigrant children to see the leadership of their communities reflected back to them, hard for non-immigrants to gain awareness about these issues, and hard for all young people to feel invited to join these campaigns. It hadn’t occurred to me yet that I could write my own book to help fill that gap.
According to a 2020 report by Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), only 5.3% of the 3,716 books it surveyed published in 2019 had Latinx main characters. There were more books published about animals, robots, or other objects than all books with “minority” characters combined. Among those children’s books that do address immigrant issues, how many show immigrants as agents of social change? My collection fills up half of a cube on my Ikea bookshelf.
This small but mighty family of books includes picture books about Latinx janitors, car wash workers, fast food workers and restaurant workers taking action for fair working conditions. It includes middle grade and young adult novels about undocumented young people who not only “made it” here but got involved in making structural change. Now, that cube also includes my book about an undocumented girl’s journey to discovering the power of writing, finding her voice, and becoming an activist for immigration reform and labor rights. I’m saving a space for the children’s books I hope will come, written by undocumented activists themselves, telling us how they asked this country live up to its ideals of “justice for all.”
Where do you want to be nine years from now? Do you hope that these struggles will be relics of the past, and we’ll finally be using our precious energy not just to survive but to thrive and build healthy, joyous, creative communities? Getting there depends on what we teach our children today. Let’s show our children through all the vehicles we have access to—books, storytelling, media, art, our own actions—that we want them to dream bigger dreams, and then work hard to make them a reality.
Alejandra Domenzain is the author of For All/ Para Todos, a bilingual children’s book written in verse about immigrant rights activism, released this month. She has been an immigrant worker rights advocate for 20 years and was also an elementary school teacher. She worked with the education team at UnidosUS when it was still NCLR. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a parent of two school aged kids and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.