Why did you write the book?
I’ve worked as an immigrant worker rights’ advocate for over twenty years. This has given me both outrage and hope.
On the one hand, I’ve seen the same patterns– hard-working immigrants doing important work put in unjust conditions: garment workers who get paid pennies per piece, forcing them to work long hours in unsanitary sweatshops; day laborers who get picked up to work for the day with inadequate equipment, no access to bathrooms, and no protections if they get injured; janitors who clean buildings alone at night vulnerable to being harassed by their supervisor; domestic workers who use chemicals that are harmful to their health; farmworkers who are not given shade, rest, or water in extreme heat; hotel housekeepers whose workload is so heavy that they injure their backs and arms… . These workers are put in impossible situations. They are told to put up and shut up or else they will lose their job or even get deported.
On the other hand, I’ve seen the incredible courage of immigrant workers who stand up for their rights and make meaningful changes. I’ve had the privilege of being part of organizations and movements that change laws, hold employers accountable, and fight for social justice.
I wanted to find a way to honor the experience of these workers and their children. I hope the dignity, strength, generosity of spirit, and humanity of the characters comes through.
I’ve always believed in the power of books and writing. Having worked as a teacher and now being a parent, I found it was hard to find children’s picture books that center the role of immigrants themselves as agents of change. I wrote the book to help fill this gap.
I also wanted to challenge us to think about what kind of economy, society, and morals we want to uphold. I hope readers will be curious to find out more about what’s going on and motivated to use their voice and votes to create justice and conditions where all of us thrive.
What other personal connections do you have with the book?
I came to the U.S. from Mexico when I was in the middle of first grade, so I relate to Flor’s process of adapting to a new school, language, home, and country. My parents came from families with limited education and income, studied medicine at the public university in Mexico City, and got a work visa to finish their training in the United States. We did not face the hardships of being undocumented and my parents had well paying jobs. We were able to go back and forth to Mexico, so I remain close to my extended family there.
I share Flor’s experience of the power of writing as a tool to understand yourself and communicate your truth to others. I got my “green pen” when I was young and have been writing ever since.
Lastly, I connect with Flor’s conviction that loving your country means believing it can live up to its ideals and working hard to make that happen. Both my sister Gabriela and I became activists.
There are many remarkable books by authors who were or are undocumented immigrants– I encourage you to read them because they have unique perspectives. I also hope there will be many, many more in the future- the publishing industry will be richer and deeper as it seeks out more diversity in authors and themes!
Is this book based on reality?
The fictional name of “For All” is meant to refer to the United States of America, but could also stand for other countries struggling to incorporate immigrants into their promise of justice for all. The circumstances faced by Flor and her dad are common in many countries– feeling forced to leave a home filled with memories and loved ones in order to survive. In the U.S., many immigrants fill jobs where their labor is not valued and their health and safety is not protected.
The situation of Flor and her dad getting papers with an X is fictional, meant to represent not having the right documentation for basic things such as getting a drivers’ licenses, financial aid or scholarships for college, legal work permits, passports, etc. Dreamers, or young people brought to the U.S. by their parents without documentation, have organized powerful movements in the past few years to advocate for a path to citizenship.
What was the process to get the book published?
I wrote the book during the 2016 election. One of the issues at the forefront of the immigration debate was the plight of Dreamers like Flor, and one that I wished were at the forefront was the issue of unjust working conditions for immigrants. It took a long time for me to figure out how to get the book published. First, I had to learn how to put together a story that included all the elements I wanted and write it in rhyme, which is really hard! I thought since the content was so intense, the rhyme would help move the story along and make it more musical. Then, I found Katherine, a wonderful illustrator, and worked with her to develop most of the pictures. Lastly, I had to find a way to get it published. It’s not easy for a first time author with no agent to convince a publisher to take on her book– especially a book that is not guaranteed to be a mainstream commercial success.
When Hardball Press told me they were interested in publishing the book, I was overjoyed. Their “Little Heroes” division houses a unique collection of children’s books that take on issues of economic justice. Because it is a small publisher (more a labor of love than a business), my book had to get in line behind many others. It took over two years for it to get through all the steps: revisions, translation, design, etc.
How come the book doesn’t reference family separations at the border?
When I wrote the story, this policy had not yet started. As I mentioned above, the book was written in 2016. Many people have been working hard to end this soul-wrenching, unconscionable policy. I hope that, in time, authors close to this experience are able to capture the impact– both the suffering and resiliency– so that we can all grapple with what happened and make sure this kind of abuse stops.
Do you plan to write more books?
Yes! Even though I am also busy with other work and life goals, I have two books on paper looking for wings to get out into the world, and I am sure many more will come. For now, I am very interested in stories that show the structural causes of social problems and feature characters with the moral imagination to re-frame them and the courage to take action. I hope to be a vehicle for other stories that are moving, refreshing, inspiring, and thought provoking.
What recommendations do you have for kids who want to be writers?
First, if you write in any way, you are already a writer! You don’t need to have a plan, or an audience, or to be published anywhere. Even if you have the desire to write but haven’t quite gotten comfortable with it, you are a writer. You just need to trust that if the urge is there, your words will come. Give it time and don’t judge yourself or the process; just let it flow through you. There are things that only you can say, in your particular way, so stay open and keep showing up for writing– so that when the words come, you are ready.
There are many other ways to express your creativity, so explore them! Stick with writing if it seems to help you make sense of your thoughts and emotions, or taps into your ideas and dreams, or gives you a thrill or ache or satisfaction, or allows you to express things that won’t come any other way and somehow feel important and true.
Write, write, write! Even if it’s just for yourself– you are enough. Write imagining that someone you trust is listening. Write even if you don’t know where it’s going and why it matters One day you may find that something you wrote feels like an offering for others, and if it’s accepted, if it has a place in the minds, hearts and spirit of others, you will feel deep gratitude, like you were the one that was given a gift.
What recommendations do you have for kids who want to be activists?
First, find the things that reach inside you, grab your attention, make time stop, twist your guts, make your heart speed up, your face feel hot, your chest feel heavy… the things that make you infinitely sad, outraged, impatient, vulnerable– or on the other hand, that make you light up with joy, conviction, motivation. At any age, you know when something is wrong, when something could be better. In fact, young kids can sometimes see this more clearly and have more energy and less fear to act on it. You also know which solutions feel like they are worth fighting for.
You may be thinking, “But I don’t fit the personality type of an activist.” Guess what? All personality types are effective! You can be the quiet, approachable person who talks to others one on one and earns their trust. You can be the fun bubbly person that organizes social events everyone wants to be at. You can be the smart person behind the scenes figuring out the strategy. You can be the one with their head in the clouds that puts out bold ideas that seem crazy at first. You can be the nerdy one who double checks things so everything works.
You may also be thinking, “I’m not sure what I have to contribute.” Again, there are endless ways to be an activist! Maybe you like graphic design, playing music, cooking, drawing, coding– you can find ways to use anything in support of causes, organizations, and movements. You don’t need to make activism your “official career”– you can do it along with other things. Most of the time, it’s not even what you do, but how you do it. Whatever you do with awareness, love, and moral courage is an act that will have an impact.
So next time an adult asks you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Say, “First, I already am something really special. Second, I want to be someone who cares about important issues and making things better. I know I will find ways to do this, no matter what job I have.”
Lastly, if you do want to make activism a career, there are so many organizations you can join, or you can start your own! Imagine getting paid to do something you absolutely love, something that gives you meaning. Imagine working with other people who care passionately about the same things as you, who inspire you, who work hard to do incredible things as a team. It’s a pretty awesome life path. Also, when you see things out there going wrong, you don’t get overwhelmed or hopeless because you have a vehicle to fight back– the challenges can just motivate you to keep going!
How can I support the book?
Use it to raise awareness and start conversations. Donate copies to schools, libraries, community organizations, or detention centers. Use it to fundraise for good causes. Ask your local bookstore to carry it. Tell us how it has been an effective tool for you so we can share this with others.
What can I make a difference on these issues?
Educate yourself. Educate others. Learn about the demands of immigrant workers and Dreamers and amplify them. Find organizations doing labor and immigrant rights work and support them. Use your voice and actions to uphold justice. Believe in a future where we are committed to everyone having what they need to shine with their full light so that all of us shine a little brighter together.