Meg Medina is an award-winning author of Latino children’s literature. Her work includes the children’s picture book, Tía Isa Wants a Car, which won the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation Award, and her first young adult novel, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. This month her latest book, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, will be released, and Medina took the time to talk to Mamiverse about it.
Mamiverse: You’ve written that the inspiration for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass finds its roots in your own childhood. Can you tell us more about that?
Medina: Lots of details are lifted from life and reworked into the story. Like Piddy, I grew up in Queens, New York in a single-parent home. We lived in a building with crumbling stairs before moving to a three-family house across town. My mom, like Clara, is Cuban.
But the biggest similarity is the opening scene. When I was in junior high school, a girl I’d never seen before came up to me in the schoolyard and informed me that one of the toughest girls in school was going to “kick my ass.” Being singled out and harassed in that way seemed to tease out all my sorrows and insecurities, and it was the beginning of a downward spiral for me. I had been a fairly happy kid in elementary school, but as the harassment continued, my grades dropped and I started to hate school. My relationship with my mother deteriorated. I became secretive and started to experiment with pretty dicey people in an effort to make myself street tough. Thankfully, my real life bully never did jump me in the way I describe in the novel, but the damage of nonstop dread was almost as destructive. It took years to shake off that feeling of distrust and shame.
Mamiverse: The main character, Piddy Sanchez, isn’t just worried about getting beat up at her new school. In fact, she has a lot of things going on in her life that she must deal with including the father she’s never met, the changes in her own body, the expectations of her mother versus those of her peers, and much, much more. Her story reflects the lives of countless young Latinas across the country. Why do you think they should read your book?
Medina: I gave Piddy a complicated life because it felt the most honest. Nobody I know ever juggles just one problem at a time—especially not teens. There are the normal stresses of dating, parents, body changes and school assignments. But for Latinas, you can also add straddling two cultures, rising above stereotypes, and dealing with the love-hate relationship this country has with our culture, too. All of this is reflected in Piddy’s story. I think Latinas should read my book because it is a powerful thing to have your reality reflected in the books you find in your school and library. It validates our story and our concerns. It honors what we live through. In this, I think books can be lifelines.
Mamiverse: Piddy also must cope with the fact that she doesn’t look “Latina” enough. This is an important topic today with the intermarriage of so many couples and their blended offspring. What are your thoughts on how our self-identity is frequently inextricably linked with our outward appearance? What would you say to young Latinas who find themselves in a similar situation as Piddy?
Medina: The idea that there is a legitimate Latina “look” has always felt ridiculous to me. It’s as silly as the idea that there is one “Latino experience.” We come in all nationalities, races, faiths, political camps, and styles. Some of us are immigrants; some of us were born here. Not even the ability to speak Spanish is a litmus test. I would urge Latinas to embrace our diversity and celebrate it. There is no need to explain your accent or lack of one, the shade or your skin or anything else. Your roots are your roots. ¡Y más nada!
Read Related: The Latino Children’s Literature Movement
Mamiverse: In your opinion, what can families do to fight bullies at school and elsewhere?
Medina: Resilience is the best tool, but it’s a life skill that families have to develop early in their kids. In my view, we build it by treating our children with respect and compassion, and by giving them a sense of pride in who they are and in the things that interest them. A sense of self is the strongest buffer.
But if bullying were already upon you, I’d urge you not to suffer in silence. Nothing good will come of enduring torment, and frankly, your kid deserves better. Schools and communities have started to take bullying—especially cyberbullying—very seriously. Speak up, be specific, and explore options. A good place to start researching suggestion is at the Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center.
Mamiverse: Yaqui Delgado is your third Young Adult novel. Do you have plans to explore other genres?
Medina: I adore writing for children of every age, from picture books to young adult. In fact, my next book with Candlewick is a picture book for kids ages 4-7. But there might be an adult novel inside me, you never know. I’ve learned to follow my writing and take risks, so I’ll have to keep you posted.
Candlewick Press has generously offered to give two Mamiverse readers a copy of Meg Medina’s latest book. To participate in the giveaway, simply comment below. You will automatically be entered, and two winners will be picked randomly on April 8. We will announce the winners on April 9 and contact them by email.
Learn more about Meg and her books on her website, MegMedina.com.