May 19, 2020

The power of reaching a young person’s heart

Behind the Book by
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Look at my books and you can tell I don’t shy away from difficult subjects or hard truths.

The decision to write this book wasn’t difficult for me. I knew I had to write it. What I didn’t know was whether it would be published. Whether anyone would care about it. The only thing I knew for sure was that it refused to be silent.

What happened is not difficult to explain, and yet, sometimes I feel it’s hard for people to understand. Really, what happened is simple: I saw children on the news. Children running for their lives, children asking for help, children in unimaginable, perilous situations.

I saw them.

And when I looked at their faces, I saw my family. All of my family. I saw my siblings. I saw my cousins. I saw my own face as a child. I saw my parents’ faces as they looked in their late teens, in their early 20s. I saw the faces of my daughters and my son.

I’m a daughter of immigrants. My mother is from Guatemala and my father from El Salvador. The majority of my aunts and uncles have migrated to the United States. So I grew up sitting at kitchen tables, listening from hallways, to the stories of immigrants, to their hardships. I grew up looking at their faces. I grew up embraced in their arms. I grew up tracing their calloused hands.

I grew up and fell in love with my husband, an immigrant from Mexico, and my culture and my family expanded. I sat at more kitchen tables, was embraced in new arms, heard more stories that were different but familiar. And now my children grow up hearing the stories of their grandparents, of their great aunts and uncles and cousins. They trace hands less calloused because of the love and sacrifice of those who came before them.

I believe a story can work itself into someone’s heart, quietly nestle there, and stay with them forever.

So the story behind this book is that it’s personal. The story of immigrants—of starting anew in a place that does not want you, that often belittles you, that scorns your attempts to dream even the simplest of dreams and at times even questions your right to live—is incredibly personal to me.

When I saw children at the border, children whose faces I know and love, it hit a nerve. It broke my heart. It made me angry.

When I feel passionate about something, what I know and feel compelled to do is make art. Many times I feel like, what is writing a story compared to the heroic actions of people who organize and execute action, journalists who risk their lives to unveil and report truth, people who walk deserts and save lives by leaving water, food and supplies for migrants? Compared to these people, to these actions, it can feel like writing a story is not enough.

And yet, I know this art is important, too. I know there is power in it.

So I do it.

I continue writing stories because I believe a story can work itself into someone’s heart, quietly nestle there, and stay with them forever. I believe stories, books, characters have the capacity to impact how people think, how they act, how they live. I believe they can become intimate, lifelong friends.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of We Are Not From Here.

I believe this power is even greater when a story reaches a young person’s heart. Young people who might read a story like We Are Not From Here—a story that might be similar to their own, or remind them of their parents, and know it is a testament that someone saw them. That someone bore witness and won’t let history hide the injustices done. And those young people who otherwise would not know the story behind the faces they see on television or scroll past on a timeline.

That is the story behind this book. It exists because I saw the faces of loved ones. I hope that because my heart went into it, that it reaches the hearts of readers, and nestles there.

I hope it stays with them forever.

Jenny Torres Sanchez

Get the Book

We Are Not From Here

We Are Not From Here

By Jenny Torres Sanchez
ISBN 9781984812261

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