In 2007, a longtime Mexican-American friend told me about an unfortunate incident with the police and her sons that upended her family's peaceful life in the United States. When I encouraged her to tell her story to the media, she refused. She wanted to spare her sons further heartache. So, she and her husband decided to leave the life they had built in the US to return to Mexico. My friend and husband were legal American residents. Their children were full American citizens.
Her decision left me unsettled. The feeling gnawed at me for years. I couldn’t understand why such a generous loving woman, who always thought of others before herself, was forced to leave. I firmly believed her story needed to be told. I started to read as much as I could about Latinos in the news. A picture began to emerge that reinforced my belief that, while we Latinos are an integral part of the American fabric and provide texture and richness to it, we remain elusive in children's books. So I set about creating a collection of stories that portray coming-of-age experiences in the context of current events that affect young Latinos in the United States.
I spent years reading, listening, observing and collecting news articles. I spent months writing, rewriting, reading my stories aloud, and sharing them with fellow writers and editors.
The pile of research material and revised manuscripts grew tall as I pursued finding just the right voice for each individual story. I wrote my friend’s story, “The Attack,” from three different points of view before I found the right voice and tone.
Emilio from 'The Attack' ©Lulu Delacre
To illustrate my stories, I created unfinished portraits of the main characters with the goal of establishing a connection with the reader on an emotional level. Each mixed-media portrait began with a layer of torn newspaper. Then, I added a pencil drawing on a translucent plastic sheet called acetate. I finished the piece with pierced thin rice paper. Just as I began my research process with a true story or piece of reporting, so I began my illustrations, linking in this way expository and literary writing. I left the drawings incomplete to suggest that each young person is a work-in-progress. The top layer is rice paper pierced with tiny holes at equal intervals. The piercings increase in number, subtly marking the growing presence of Latinos in the United