Hope is an infinite source of magic. It serves as an antidote to suffering and makes space for the dreams of the past and the future. We all have something that we need to go through. No matter what we may have lost, or what we want to achieve… no matter how dark or difficult the situation, hope is the only way that we can move forward. A collective journey of being human is filled with hope and kindness; the only journey worth taking.
‘A Journey Toward Hope’ is a children’s book celebrating the power of hope, humanity, and finding connection at the bleakest hour as four children finding their way to the country of hope: America. Though their reasons for taking the journey are different, the four unaccompanied minors bond over the dreams of the past and their hopes for the future, creating an exquisite story of humanity.
Barack Obama once said, “In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.” This story, too, has nothing but the truth at its core, and it is a story of an arduous journey through Mexico to the United States border.
Co-authored by Victor Hinojosa and illustrated by Susan Guevara, ‘A Journey Toward Hope’ is a tale not only for children but also for adults who are looking for reasons to persist through whatever struggles they may be facing. In this article, we speak to Victor and Susan who throw light behind the genesis of the book, offer notes on everything that hope entails, and detail the true story of roughly 50,000 unaccompanied minors who arrive at the US/Mexico border to present themselves for asylum or related visas every year.
What inspired you to write ‘A Journey Toward Hope’?
Susan Guevara: It is a complex problem with historical roots in the political US intervention of Latin American governments. As a US citizen, I feel a certain obligation to speak the truth of the story’s context. More than that, my grandfather emigrated from Mexico to escape the tyranny of revolution and an untenable political environment. This immigration story is a part of my family’s history.
Victor Hinojosa: For me, this came from a course I have been teaching at Baylor called “Child Migration in the Western Hemisphere,” which focuses on the Central American refugee crisis. From the start, my students had this belief that if others knew what they knew about this crisis, they would want to help. And so my students wanted to tell this story.
Could the theme be considered too heavy for children?
Susan Guevara: Children understand the internal and unseen world of spirit very naturally. We tend to call this understanding “imagination” and imply that it is not real. In this internal place, we are able to see without our eyes and hear without our ears. In so doing, a natural empathy is born toward others. This is something to cultivate; not try to eliminate in children. In A Journey Toward Hope’s visual literacy, I try to allude to that unseen world and appeal to that empathy.
Victor Hinojosa: This is certainly something we wrestled with and we did take great care in the way we told this story for a young audience. But children are often more aware of their surroundings than we give them credit for and they can learn about hard things and be exposed to difficult things.
How do you aim to bring awareness to the issue with children and adults through the power of books?
SG: To be able to hold a book in one’s hands, to turn the page, smell the ink and paper, is to walk through a doorway to the world of that story. In the best-case scenario, the book is a platform for experiencing something other than oneself.
VH: It all starts with empathy. Changing hearts and minds starts with the stories of real people.
What are some of your favorite bits from the book?
SG: The Baylor students, at one point, had suggested that it might be near Dia de los Muertos when the children enter Mexico City. I loved the idea of that, as I’ve experienced the color and vibrancy of Dia in both Oaxaca and Patzcuaro, Michoacan. While this market I’ve illustrated may be more like one in either of those places more than Mexico City, it still has the feel and movement of celebration and honor that I experienced when in Mexico during that time. I truly fell in love with my characters when illustrating this picture of them and, for that reason, I like this spread best.
I also love when Laura comforts her little brother on top of the train, telling him everything will be alright, that it will be so much better. I love her for that unwavering hope. I also love Alessandra’s ability to “see” her ancestors in the flight of the butterflies. She is doing exactly what an artist would do, cultivating her inner vision.
VH: I have a lot of favorite bits 😊. I like the sibling stories – Laura and Nando making the journey together; Rodrigo not wanting to leave his sister.
The use of the Mayan language, Q’eqchi,’ is an important part of Alessandra’s story and serves as a subtle reminder of the particular struggles of indigenous communities in Guatemala.
As someone of Mexican descent, the artwork of the market in Mexico City is especially moving because it is so beautiful and there are so many images of things deeply important to me and important to my own culture and story.
Perhaps the most moving single spread is when the children make it on top of the boxcar and they celebrate that they are moving – and the image of Rodrigo’s shoe being sliced in half by the train simultaneously reminds us of the dangers they face.
What does ‘Hope’ signify in your book?
SG: If we look at the efforts of these children as an expression of hope, hope means persistence, courage, willingness, and certainly kindness. These children are masterful at this expression.
VH: Certainly, we hope our characters win their asylum cases and are reunited with their families in the United States. But even more, we hope for a more just and humane world for these characters and for all of us.
How would you describe your book to a 5-year-old?
SG: Here is a story about some brave children who are like you, but who aren’t safe in their home because there are too many bad people in their town who want to hurt them. They are coming to the United States to find a safe place to live. They have to make a long and scary journey, but they know that if they can make it they will be able to grow up and go to school, and learn what they want to learn and become what they dream of becoming, and maybe you will meet them one day and get to be their friend.
VH: This is the story of a group of children who set out to find their families and become friends along the way.
How can children’s books change the course of their upbringing?
SG: We can see ourselves in books. We can find encouragement to not run from the harder aspects of life, such as fear, loneliness, loss, and death. We can see, in those harder aspects, the possibilities and gifts that are also given by life. A good story does this by “showing, not telling.” It helps us feel. And by deeply feeling the emotions and content of that story, we grow empathy. We expand our range of feelings and change.
What is the one message that you’d like to give parents of today?
SG: Never back down from the truth. Never squash the innate hope your children have.
VH: Your children can learn about hard things, and they can learn to identify with people different from themselves.
Who or what inspires you?
SG: I am inspired by the natural world, by the constancy of the seasons, even by the dramatic effects of climate change that show unfailingly the interconnectedness of all things. I’m inspired by artists with enormous discipline and vision; even if their creative acts are done for their own value, without recognition by the world at large. I’m also inspired by parents who juggle the responsibilities of jobs and children and their own parents and friends and life in general. And by the people that make this journey, by their resilience and courage. I’m inspired by people with challenging illnesses, by their grown children who come to their aid. I’m inspired by elders who face their own death and, in so doing, give us gifts even in their passing. I am inspired by this thing we call life.
VH: The strength and courage of these children inspire me.
If you’re looking for hope this year, we implore you to read this gem of a book. You can find it here.
And if you just can’t get enough:
Feature image via Six Foot