Bilingual is Better

Immigration is such a difficult subject to breach even among children. Imagine, then, having to talk about it with children. While I can’t lie and claim that my children—who are way too young to understand any of this anyway—are directly affected by our nation’s policy on immigration, as an immigrant myself, it would be a mistake not to start introducing some of the issues as they get a little bit older.

Luckily, there’s an excellent bilingual writer who has made it a bit easier to talk about this sensitive subject, especially with young children. His name is René Colato Laínez—an award-winning author whom I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time. René’s latest bilingual book is called From North to South/Del Norte al Sur and it’s published by one of our favorite publishing houses, Children’s Book Press. (By the way, getting a book published by CBP has been one of René’s goals ever since he started submitting manuscripts for publication. ¡Felicidades René!).

When I got the press release about the book, I immediately knew I wanted to review it for ReadMe and I was happy I had held out on interviewing René because this is such a relevant topic. As the title aptly describes, Rene’s latest book tells the story of a boy whose mother is deported to Tijuana for not having the “right papers” and of his journey from north to south to visit her at the center where she’s staying until they figure out how to be reunited. It’s a heart wrenching story told through the innocent eyes of a young boy whose family has been torn apart.

“Deportations happen every single day in the USA. Everyone talks about the people who have been deported but what happens to their children? Those who are left behind with a relative or a neighbor?” asks René. “These children also have voices and they need to be heard. Their stories are important too.”

He’s absolutely right. If only those so vocal against any kind of immigration reform would just remember the basics: deportations break families apart and separate children from those they love, trust and depend on the most, their parents.

“This is the story of a family who is separated by a border,” explains René.  ”But their love and affection cannot be broken by any law, frontier or language.”

Immigration is not a new topic for René nor is it something far removed from his own life. The prolific writer, who is now a U.S. citizen, says he’s gone through all the immigration status including being undocumented. He vividly remembers  how scared he was as a teenager that “la migra” would deport him and his parents back to El Salvador. No wonder the story of José in From North to South is so believable.

“Now I am an elementary school teacher and I’ve had many students who have suffered their parents’ deportations,” he says. “The idea for this book was born when one of my students told me that his father was deported to Mexico.”

René wrote the story in English-only because most publishers only accept manuscripts in this language-and then translated it into Spanish. The bilingual and bicultural author says his books are reflections of living in two cultures, something that’s obvious from the titles of his books: The Tooth Fairy Meets el Ratón Perez, Playing Loteria and René has Two Last Names – among many others.

Bilingual and bicultural children have more fun and adventures speaking two languages and enjoying two cultures,” René says. “Parents can read my books to their niños in English and español. My books can be little windows where they can discover pictures, flavors, traditions, culture and familia.”

René was born in El Salvador and came to this country when he was 14 years old, so he did the majority of his schooling back home in Spanish. He didn’t learn English until high school and he soon discovered the benefits of being bilingual.

Check out the rest of the interview and don’t forget to enter the giveaway to receive your own copy of From North to South:

SB: As a writer, can you talk about the importance of literacy among the Latino community?

“As a general rule the media says that Latinos do not read. It is in our hands to prove that this fact is wrong. Latinos read and they want to read their stories. But we need to promote books in schools, community organizations and public libraries. Books need to be available to the community. Reading is great because it opens many doors where we can find adventures, friends. We can even reach for the stars.”

SB: What do you think about the concept of raising kids bilingual and bicultural?

“Raising kids bilingual and bicultural is the key for a better world full of opportunities. Our kids need to learn about their families and that country that was left behind but it is always present in the kitchen, the radio, the bedtime stories, and our hearts.”

SB: How and why did you become a writer? Why write for children?

“I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first poem when I was 7 years old. In my high school and college years, I wrote many short stories, plays, and novels. I decided to publish for children when I discovered the picture books in my classroom. I said, ‘Wow! These books are great. I want to publish children’s books.’”

And we’re so glad you have, René! ¡Muchas gracias!

The Giveaway

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the winner: Vanessa Delgado!

For your chance to win a copy of  From North to South please tell us if you talk to your children about immigration and what you tell them about it. Maybe you tell them your (or your family’s) immigration story or you talk about news events regarding immigration… I don’t know, but would love to find out.

This giveaway ends at midnight EST on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010. Entries/Comments that do not follow the submission guidelines will be invalid and automatically deleted.  Sorry, just need to keep  it fair. Good luck to all!

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