Junot Díaz is one of the literary world’s most important voices. Through his words, he’s documented life for the Dominican diaspora in the United States. It’s certainly not surprising that his latest book, Islandborn – his first foray into children’s literature that follows an Afro-Latina girl – is also rich and nuanced. In a conversation with María Hinojosa for Latino USA, he discussed how children are often viewed as more innocent than they are, so that some believe the genre should be simple. However, he stated, this is a disservice to young kids, especially those who belong to communities of color.
“Politics of innocence can be pernicious, it can be limiting,” he told Latino USA. “And for those of us that come from the kind of post-colonial traumas, they don’t allow us to fully explore the kinds of narratives that our young people are carrying within them and should have the opportunity to work through.”
Islandborn follows the story of a young girl named Lola who has to draw a picture of her homeland, the Dominican Republic, for school. Having moved as a baby, she doesn’t remember the island, so she interviews her family and neighbors to learn more. In doing so, she comes across some of the dark history, the reign of dictator Rafael Trujillo. And though the book does allude to Trujillo, it’s really about how we’ve persevered despite all the “political monsters” that have upended our lives and the lives of our families.
“This is a metaphor for political monsters,” he added. “You can’t come from backgrounds like ours and not have confronted political monsters that disrupt and damage societies and which often displace entire populations. For communities like ours, it’s an important reminder, a powerful reminder that we live in a United States that likes to malign immigrants all day every day that likes to depict us as some sort of invaders all day every day and that’s a way of erasing what we really are, which is we are heroes that are beyond the imagination. That not only have we survived monsters, but that our legacy is that we overcome monsters. That we face things that people could not imagine and under the blizzard of hate, of racism, all of that can be forgotten. And i think it’s important to constantly reinforce this, that we are not the stories that people who are full of hate tell about us. That we are in fact, heroic to a dimension that, I think, escapes the larger culture.”
Listen to the rest of the interview below.