This interview was part of my Thesis: The Authentic Latino Immigrant Experience in Picture Books
René: Immigrant children go through stages of uprooting to adapt to a new country (mixed emotions, excitement or fear in the adventure of the journey, curiosity, culture shock that exhibits depression or confusion and assimilation/acculturation into the mainstream). I know that you were born in the United States. What was your experience as a child of immigrants? Did you go through some of these stages?
Juan Felipe: I was pretty insulated-- living on the outskirts of cities, in small, tiny towns, mountains, rancho and lake communities. When I did enter school, the big shock did come -- however it was a muted shock; how do you talk about it, what is it that is happening; it's like losing your voice when you are thrown into an opera on your life. My imagination flourished; I became a passionate observer and dreamer, I created a parallel universe.
René: How are these experiences reflected in your books?
Juan Felipe: With subjects, language, landscapes, stories, word-names, from my experience, family and communities; in some cases the books are more like memoir-diaries, in others I am finishing and extending life-chapters which were left undone.
René: What is the message in your books you want to give to immigrant children and their families living in the United States?
Juan Felipe: Own your experience, it is your source of inspiration and healing. Expand your conversation with the experience of your communities and world, put yourself in the shoes of everyone else around you and far from you and you will walk with many friends and families and create a bigger and better world.
René: What elements does an immigration story need to have in order to be authentic?
Juan Felipe: Honesty at all levels, real words from real people and incidents, crises and transformation, suffering and joy. The book must have a kind mind and warm giant heart.
Juan Felipe Herrera has received numerous awards and fellowships. With twenty-one books in total Juan Felipe Herrera's publications include fourteen collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels and picture books for children. He is the author of The Upside Down Boy/ El niño de cabeza .