The cover of Areli is a dreamer by Mexican-American author Areli Morales and illustrated by Luisa Uribe presents two cities – Mexico City and New York with a young Areli straddling the border between the two. Art evokes the lived experience of immigrants who live between two worlds, never fully belonging to one or the other. In the picture book – released June 8 – Morales tells her story of being a young girl who grew up in Puebla, Mexico, with her grandmother and brother while her parents live in New York City. She eventually moves to New York as an undocumented immigrant and experiences the ups and downs of this new home. In the author’s note, she sums up the gist of the book: “I was the child of two worlds – a Mexican citizen by birth but raised like an American.
Living in the middle means actively balancing two different cultures and for Morales retaining her Spanish is a way for her to stay connected to her Mexican heritage. “Language is part of our identity,” she says HipLatina, adding that she is happy that Spanish speakers can read the Spanish version of the book, Areli Es Una Dreamer. She shares that she hopes the book will inspire other undocumented children to dream big, work hard, and feel empowered to share their stories.
The colorful illustrations are beautifully paired with Morales’ words as she writes that she eventually has to part ways with her grandmother to move to New York City. From her Abuela’s modest home with pictures of her family hanging on the walls to Areli playing with chickens in the backyard, the attention to detail conveys the family life she has lived in Mexico in all its natural splendor to the warm shades. She is then propelled into an entirely new home and culture that Morales skillfully describes both in her beauty and hardships, and which Uribe exemplifies in cityscapes and starry nights.
At one point, Areli talks with her mother about the kids at her new school who tease her for not speaking English and call her “illegal.” His mom explains that “illegal means against the law” to which Areli replies: “I am not against the law! Morales writes, “She didn’t want to break the law just by being who she was.” But as she slowly begins to acclimatize, Areli begins to feel right at home in New York City as she learns English and enjoys traveling on the F train to Coney Island and watching the fireworks. July 4.
“I wanted to show both the hard and the easy parts. It was difficult and traumatic to be teased by my classmates, but I was very proud when I learned to count and write in English. I wanted to celebrate any accomplishment, big or small, ”says Morales.
Morales was six when she moved to New York and describes life as an undocumented immigrant as a “frightening and unpredictable existence”. But with the introduction of the Deferred Action Program for Children’s Arrivals (DACA) by President Barack Obama in 2012, her life changed and she was able to return to Mexico and graduated from Brooklyn College in 2018 with a diploma in bilingual childhood education. She works as a substitute teacher and this is her first book, also the first picture book from a DACA recipient. She shares her story to shed light on the undocumented community and defend an agenda that was constantly threatened during Donald Trump’s presidency.
“I felt I had a responsibility to write this because there are still millions of undocumented immigrants who do not have the privilege of sharing theirs,” she says. “I hope my story can raise awareness of immigration issues and encourage people to support undocumented migrants. Undocumented immigrants have names, hopes and dreams. We deserve to live in this fearless country.
When Areli goes to Ellis Island on a school trip in Grade 5 and finds out about the more than 12 million immigrants who have passed through there on their way to America, it’s a major eye-opener for her. The moment made her feel like she wasn’t alone and, as she was on the boat looking at the Statue of Liberty, she felt like she was part of something bigger, a blink of an eye. eye to the ideals of the American dream.
“Standing on this historic island, I remembered that I was not alone in my journey as a young immigrant. So many immigrants came before me and encountered many difficulties, but they were able to overcome them, ”shares Morales. “I thought it was important to include my visit to Ellis Island in the book to show readers that immigration has always been part of the American experience. Many of us have left our countries of origin to seek a better life.
Areli feels a sense of hope and embodies a dreamer in the original sense of the word, believing that anything is possible as she embraces New York as at home. This intentionally hopeful ending to a history marked by struggles is one that Morales chose to include to inspire other undocumented immigrants like her. She remembers feeling a sense of pride and hope when Sonia Sotomayor, from the Bronx of Puerto Rico, became a Supreme Court justice and she too felt like Areli on Ellis Island.
“I hope the undocumented children who read my story feel inspired to continue working hard for their dreams. I want them to know that they are not alone on their journey and that so many people want to see them succeed, ”she said, adding,“ I also want the children to carry a message of hope: we can overcome our challenges and push to achieve our dreams with the support of our loved ones.