A growing number of innovative authors and writers are creating children’s books that accurately capture the experiences of Latinx immigrants in the U.S. Among them is Beatrice Zamora, an artist, activist, retired educator, and award-winning children’s book author from San Diego, California. Her latest bilingual children’s book, Am I Blue or Am I Green? – Azul o verde¿ Cuál soy yo? follows an unnamed child who is an American citizen (Citizen Child), his parents who are undocumented immigrants, and the child’s quest to understand the difference between the blue of the American flag and the green of the Mexican flag.
In the story, Citizen Child examines his life where he enjoys the “American” experience and lives in a home where his parents speak Spanish and practice the traditions of Mexico. He reflects on the differences between being a U.S. citizen and an immigrant, confronts the fear that he feels about his parent’s uncertain immigration status, and struggles with feeling that he doesn’t fully belong in either country.
“The child is really on an identity quest, and trying to figure out how he makes sense out of his world,” Zamora explained. “He observes his parents live in the shadows with little command of the English language and living undocumented, while he, on the other hand, is an American citizen.”
Zamora has lived much of her life near the U.S.-Mexico border and was determined to make the book as relatable as possible to children, especially in light of how stories depicting the experiences of Chicanos, Latinx people, and immigrants are scarce. Data from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), which has compiled statistics on diversity in U.S. children’s books since 1985, shows that of the 3,134 children’s books it reviewed in 2018, only a mere 5% depicted Chicano/Latinx characters. And while Am I Blue or Am I Green? is about the experience of living in a mixed-status family, it also wrestles with the nuances of living as a bicultural person. According to an analysis by the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration and the Center for American Progress, about 16.7 million people in the U.S. have at least one unauthorized family member living with them. Of that, more than 5.9 million of these people are citizen children, U.S.-born and naturalized citizens. That statistic in part influenced Zamora’s choice to keep the book’s protagonist nameless throughout the story to emphasize how common his experience actually is.
“There are very few children’s books written about kids from this cultural background,” Zamora said. “Being a child and never seeing yourself represented sends a message. That message is that you don’t matter and your voice doesn’t matter. And in turn, other people that don’t see us or our experiences also feel that [way] about our communities.”
Zamora’s inspiration for Am I Blue or Am I Green? originally came in 2019 as the result of an assignment while taking a writing course through UCSD Extension.
“I didn’t even know at the time if it was a story; I didn’t know quite what to call it. It was originally called What’s the Difference Between Blue and Green?” Zamora recalled. “For a while I just had this story sitting there not knowing what to do with it. I didn’t know if it was a poem or even a real story. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but I knew it needed to be in a book.”
Zamora was then approached by Berenice Badillo, a community artist and a Chicano Park muralist who wanted to collaborate as an illustrator for the book. Badillo is an immigrant herself, originally from La Piedad, Michoacán, Mexico. She was instantly moved after reading a first draft of the story and was brought on board. Badillo’s illustrations are filled with references to Azteca-Mexica culture and mythology. In a nod to the hyper-militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and its deferment of countless dreams of immigrants aspiring for a better life, the book also has political imagery featuring faded American flags that have lost their stars and others that have their stars replaced with barbed wire.
As a former educator, Zamora is well aware of the importance of reading literature from diverse cultures, and the power of children seeing themselves depicted in stories and being able to connect with characters. She hopes the book will not only help children living in mixed-status homes, but serve as a powerful tool for parents, teachers, and communities working with immigrant populations as well. Given the country’s shifting demographics, stories like Am I Blue or Am I Green? can provide an insightful view of the challenging world traversed by citizen children and their immigrant parents in the U.S. Additionally, the current xenophobic and racist rhetoric regarding immigration has only underscored Zamora’s mission to reach children at a young age through her work.
“I think it’s really important to send a message, especially at a time where national discourse actively pushes so much hate,” Zamora said. “I really do believe this story goes beyond the Mexican or the Latin American experience of immigration. We are a country of immigrants and a lot of different people can relate to this story at some level.”