Betita barely remembers the mountain in Mexico where she was born, which her family left because “bad men” hurt her uncle and would have hurt her Papi. Her life in east Los Angeles is all she knows. There’s her loving Mami and Papi, her best friend Amparo and her fourth grade teacher, Ms. Martinez, who taught her to express her feelings in “picture poems,” drawings accompanied by brief lines of verse. Papi tells Betita stories about their people, how they came from a place called Aztlán, “the land of the cranes,” but left because of a prophecy, which also says they will return to it one day.
One day, Papi doesn’t arrive to pick up Betita from school; Betita learns that he has been picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and will be deported to Mexico. Soon after, Betita discovers that Mami is pregnant, which is both wonderful and scary news. It’s something else Betita feels must be protected. When Betita and her family try to go see Papi at Friendship Park in San Diego (the park spans the U.S/Mexico border, which allows those on either side to see each other), they miss their exit and accidentally drive to the border itself, where agents declare their paperwork inadequate and send them to a detention facility.
Aida Salazar’s second novel in verse is a moving portrait of a family longing for freedom and fighting to be free. Betita is an observant and sensitive narrator with a fierce heart, whose caring parents play a key role in helping her dig deep to find bravery and remain grounded, even in an environment of uncertainty, fear and cruelty. Salazar’s verse is spare, intimate and full of striking imagery, both beautiful and horrifying. Rooted in Betita’s experiences and perspective, Salazar tells an emotional, necessary story that doesn’t shy away from the harsh treatment many people, including children, experience in detention centers. Land of the Cranes issues a powerful call to recognize the struggles faced by migrants and act from an acknowledgement of our shared humanity.