Children’s Book “Dear Abuelo” By Grecia Huesca Dominguez Is a Gift
“Dear Abuelo,” by Grecia Huesca Dominguez, beautifully and delicately depicts the emotions immigrant children face upon their arrival. Through a series of heartfelt letters to her grandpa, Juana, the story’s protagonist, chronicles leaving her beloved Mexico and coming to New York City. She discusses her feelings about the good and bad days at her new school, what it feels like to be “othered,” as well as the joys of a new friendship. She also describes her new environment, struggles with assimilation, and appreciation for allyship.
For those of us who have experienced the duress of the migrant journey, we know all too well that our children need accurate representation. Especially, given today’s political climate. Feeling seen is inherent to their well-being. The language of “Dear Abuelo” is authentic and playful. The endearing illustrations by Teresa Martinez, takes the musicality of the narrative and splashes its pages with vibrant color. The scenes are lush with the newness of the energy that The Big Apple brings, while giving Juana, an Afro-Latinx immigrant kid from Mexico, an opportunity to shine.
LatinX recently got a chance to speak with Grecia to discuss the success of “Dear Abuelo” and what it’s like to work on both sides of the publishing industry. You can read out complete interview with her below and learn more about her projects at @greciahdom and through her self-started @latinxwriterscollective.
LX: Most people familiar with your work know you as a poet. What inspired you to write a children’s book?
GHD: I work at the publisher, so my story is a bit different. Before this book, the publisher only worked on programs for schools, we were not selling trade books. I was approached by an editor about writing a book for one of our programs. They wanted a book that teachers could use to talk about letter writing. The moment she said that, I knew what story I wanted to write. So I said yes and starting drafting the book. At the time, I wasn’t writing a book that was going to exist outside of the school system, so I wrote it thinking about the kids in schools that didn’t get to see themselves in most of the books they read—so telling a story that they could resonate with was very important to me.
LX: I noticed you dedicated the book to your daughter, Iliana. What was her reaction to it?
GHD: My daughter was very excited. She literally said, “My mom is the author!” I was very proud to show her the book and talk to her about the story. My daughter was born here and her dad and I both speak English, so she hasn’t really had to deal with most of the things I dealt with when I was in elementary school. It gave me the chance to explain to her more about what Mami’s life was like when I was little. I dedicated the book to her, because she kept complaining about her name. I hope she grows to love her name like me and that she stops asking me why I didn’t name her with an English name like Stephanie.
LX: You have been with Benchmark Education Company for a while now. Most of us have no clue what goes into a project like this. Can you describe the process of children’s book writing?
GHD: I’ve worked in the editorial department for the past five years. I started as an editorial assistant and worked my way up to editor. And the thing most people don’t understand is that projects like these take a long time. I wrote the manuscript for this book back in 2017 and it is [just] now coming out. Because I originally wrote this story for a program, we have one version of the book for schools and when it was picked up to become a trade book, it was re-illustrated, so I went through the process twice. When I first wrote it, there was a lot of back and forth with the editor to make the story work and to write out the illustration specs. I was able to look at both sets of sketches and give feedback about the illustrations, although I didn’t have complete control of that. It was really cool to work on a project as an author and not as an editor. It was a nice change of pace here in the office.
LX: The book is currently available for pre-order via Amazon, and will be available in retail stores November 1st—just in time for the holiday season. Congratulations, that’s huge! How satisfying is it to be at this point? Will you be writing more of this kind of book?
GHD: The way everything happened has been a whirlwind. Like I said, I didn’t write this originally thinking it was going to be out in the world for everyone to read, so I think I am just wrapping my head around that. Growing up undocumented, I often tried to keep my dreams realistic because I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment. So this is bigger than anything I had imagined. I am mostly really excited for kids to see a story similar to theirs in a book. So many of us had to deal with learning a new language and being in a new school. And so many of us also struggled with having our names pronounced correctly in school. I didn’t really make people do that until I was in high school. For a long time, I went by my middle name Karina because it was easier for people, some of my middle school and high school friends still call me that because they met [me] before I decided that I was going to just go by Grecia and that people were going to have to struggle their way to say it correctly. I hope this book inspires kids to that earlier and to not give in to the idea of having an “easier” name. I certainly do have more ideas for more books and hopefully more will be coming soon.
LX: The lead character of your story, Juana, is both Afro-Latinx and an immigrant from Mexico. We are beginning to see a greater emphasis on diversity all across the board. With that in mind, what does it feel like to be telling this kind of story, and making it palatable for children, all during the Trump-era?
GHD: I think the current moment we are experiencing within the Latinx community is much bigger than Trump. The Non-Black Latinx community really needs to face our Anti-Blackness head on. It is time we expand upon the idea of what a Latinx person looks like and expand upon the representation that is out there that always prioritizes White Latinx people. I was given the opportunity to write this book and I didn’t want to continue to contribute that to those images out there. I felt like the story lent itself to be anyone, and therefore why not have the characters be Black Mexicans. This story is about many things, but it is definitely a story about immigration, and Black Immigrants are so often left out of the conversation.
LX: Did you receive any pushback from your editors and how did you navigate those conversations?
GHD: I didn’t receive any pushback about the story. I was able to review the sketches of the book and give feedback. As I mentioned, there are two versions of the book: one for schools and the trade book version coming to stores this November. I do feel like I had a bit more control of the illustrations on the book available only for schools and the characters on that book are darker. I do wish that Juana and her grandmother and Elizabeth were darker in the trade version. I love the illustrations so much and the flowers throughout the story, but if there was one thing I could change it would definitely be to have characters that don’t seem more Brown and that were definitely Black, but I didn’t get to have the last call on that.
LX: As a parent, what do you look for in a children’s book? Is there anything in the industry that you feel is lacking?
GHD: My daughter is very fair-skinned, definitely a White Latina, and therefore she has a lot of representation out in the world, so I really try to expose her to characters and authors that are different than her to reinforce that white should not be the norm. I see a lot of parents that shelter their kids from the reality that other kids have to deal with and I really don’t like to do that. It is very important to me to teach her in a way that is appropriate for her age, but not in a way that completely erases reality. And I think we need more of that. We need more stories that reflect the different realities many kids live in rather than always painting a rosy picture of the world that makes it harder for kids to understand the world they are actually living in. Of course, it is very hard to balance how to do this in a way that doesn’t trigger our kids or gives them more anxiety than they already live in, but we still need to do better.
LX: You are an immigrant female author of color. That comes with its own bevy of challenges and stigmas. How do you meet those obstacles, and in what ways does this inform your work and projects?
GHD: I grew up in a way that never made me feel that being a woman or undocumented would keep me from doing anything I want to do. And I am very fortunate, and privileged, to be able live my life like that. I don’t let anyone dictate what I want to write about. I am fortunate to be writing in a time where we have many more outlets to showcase our work. We don’t need to wait to be recognized by a big institution or publisher anymore. We can connect to the readers in a more direct way and there are so many amazing community spaces around the country open to us. Social Media has certainly changed the game and I don’t think we need to necessarily be in spaces that are not welcoming to us anymore. When it comes to obstacles, I feel my biggest ones are mental obstacles. I have been working on a poetry manuscript for a long time and I am in the process of doing major edits and I often wonder why I put so much work into it if it’s not as good as the work of other poets. I have had some really great successes this year by having some poems accepted for publication by The Acentos Review and the upcoming Break Beats Poets Vol. 4 Anthology, but I still very much doubt myself. Believing in myself as a writer is still a struggle.
LX: Who has inspired you most in your writing journey? What would you say to other young women who also want to be published authors?
GHD: I am grateful for so many amazing writers that have come before me and contemporary writers that I have found through social media that are doing great work that remind me that my story is worthy of being told. Writers like Julia Alvarez and Sandra Cisneros are two greats that keep inspiring me every day. And contemporary artist like Elisabet Velasquez, Elizabeth Acevedo, Danyeli Rodriguez del Orbe, and Yesika Salgado are amazing writers that inspire me to keep writing my truth. I have some very close friends that are always honest about their feedback when it comes to my work and they are very encouraging. I hold them and their opinions with very with regard and it means so much to me to know that believe in my work. It certainly helps to keep me inspired when I feel like my writing just isn’t working. And my younger self. Growing up in a tiny town in Mexico, I just saw women getting married and having kids and I always wanted something different. I didn’t know what was waiting for me beyond those town lines, but I definitely never dreamed it would be something like this. And now that this happened, I am very open to other great opportunities coming my way that are beyond my range of imagination. Knowing that definitely inspires me to keep going as well.
“Dear Abuelo” —Written by Grecia Huesca Dominguez & Illustrated by Teresa Martinez is now available for pre-order via Amazon.com.