From ‘Dirt’ to dignity: How to join the movement to promote Latinx voices

Just like that, the conversation has moved from frustration to inspiration.

My post yesterday about the misguided bestseller “American Dirt” was not quite as constructive as I usually like the Daily Boost to be, but our fearless leaders were already miles ahead: the key voices of protest against the novel had already hatched a plan for positive action. The brand-new #DignidadLiteraria campaign aims to revolutionize publishing and get publishers to prioritize Latinx voices.

The founders are writers Roberto Lovato, David Bowles, and flat-out badass Myriam Gurba, whose scathing piece “Pendeja, You Ain’t Steinbeck: My Bronca with Fake-Ass Social Justice Literature” sparked a lot of the current conversation. (She deserves some sort of award simply for starting a headline with “Pendeja, You Ain’t Steinbeck.” You can listen to her starting at about 8:05 on this episode of the Latino Rebels Podcast, where, unsurprisingly, she continues to not pull any punches: as she introduces herself, she calls the book like “a narconovela written by a gringa who went to Acapulco for the weekend… It’s ghastly.”)

#DignidadLiteraria is showing the full power of a hashtag. People are using it to share books you should read instead of “American Dirt,” offer their services as publishers or editors to Latinx writers who have a manuscript that needs supporting, and more. If you are interested in this topic, or just in seeing how people can pull together in the face of something that could have been simply infuriating and exhausting, then follow #dignidadliteraria on Twitter or whatever social media you use.

If your main interest is checking out Latinx writers and journalists, here are the first four that have actually made it onto my Kindle or reading pile after following the hashtag. (I know, Amazon is bad, but one thing at a time.)

  1. Children of the Land,” by Marcelo Hernández Castillo, 2020 – This is a brand-new memoir about growing up undocumented in the United States. As #dignidad boosters are saying, let’s make this one a gargantuan bestseller! What’s more, a book about post-immigration life in the United States addresses a huge truth that “American Dirt” gets wrong: life after crossing that border is not a bed of roses. 

2. “Enrique’s Journey,” Sonia Nazario, 2006 – As I wrote yesterday, this book really did change the way I understood migration. It’s based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the LA Times and is absolutely extraordinary. Like “Children of the Land,” it also focuses extensively on the long-term impact of a migration journey after arrival in the U.S.

3. Um, all of these books in this photo from @booksonthepark! Although “The House of Broken Angels” by Luis Alberto Urrea is calling my name in particular, as is his “The Devil’s Highway.”

4. “Tell Me How It Ends,” by Valeria Luiselli, who was born in Mexico City and grew up in South Africa, recounts her experiences as a translator for child migrants in New York. It sounds like it needs to be read with a stiff drink in hand, but so do all of these books.

The Texas Observer published a list of many more books to read, and #dignidadliteraria will keep ’em coming in the days ahead. What are your favorite books on immigration or by Latinx writers in general? Do you subscribe to any media, magazines, ‘zines that help support writers of color in your community? I’d love to learn more, because it’s all hands on deck to turn this around.

(If you’d like to learn more about some amazing young Costa Rican writers, you can check this out.)

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter).  

The overlooked mental health of migrants – and a wellness tip for all

In what I think of as both of my countries, the United States and Costa Rica, waves of migrants and refugees fleeing violence and oppression have dominated plenty of headlines in recent years. However, the impact of migration on mental health is generally not at the forefront, at least not for adults. Since I’m an immigrant myself, this topic is close to my heart, not despite the privileged way I migrated but because of it: the fact that I immigrated voluntarily with every economic, linguistic and cultural advantage, but experienced loneliness and homesickness nonetheless, makes me particularly keen to know more about how the migrants and refugees pouring over borders are coping.

I know lots of Daily Boost readers are in the same camp, so this seemed like a natural place to start when exploring mental health this month. Obviously, it’s incumbent upon the countries that receive migrants and the public and private entities that serve them to provide medical care for serious mental health issues, but I was also curious how organizations are dealing with the earlier steps – providing general support and alleviating sadness. To learn more this, I called Margarita Herdocia.

Margarita Herdocia (second from left) with HUG fellows. Via FB/Ticos y Nicas

Margarita is an extraordinary leader in business and philanthropy whose life story could take up this whole post, but who, among many other efforts, is the president of the Asociación Ticos y Nicas Somos Hermanos, which helps fight xenophobia and support migrants to Costa Rica. Passionate about the violence taking place in her native Nicaragua and the need to help young refugees here continue their university education, she has spearheaded the Humanitarian University Grant (HUG) Program and to fund the continuing education of more than 21 young Nicaraguan refugees.

Thanks to donations from many supporters, the group keeps growing so that these bright young Nicaraguans don’t miss their chance to continue learning. The way Margarita sees it, it’s a huge opportunity not just for Nicaragua’s future, but also for Costa Rica as the host for these brilliant young people – and having met some of the scholarship recipients, I fully agree.

Here’s what she had to say about ways she seeks to support the mental health of her students, and how these practices can apply to all of us:

Mental health is something that, despite everything we talk about these days, is so taboo, and people are really stressed out. In particular, migrating is really stressful, and it’s something that’s usually not looked at. Migrants are seen as people who need jobs, and that’s mostly what is thought about: their Social Security coverage, do they have permits or are they working illegally. They are not thought of as people who really need mental health support.

At the HUG Program, we hold monthly meetings with the students, support-group style. I lead the support groups personally. We have total confidentiality and rules about how we can hear people as they communicate their needs, their distress, their life story, their current mental and emotional state. HUG students have become a social support network for each other… these young people stop being lonely migrants, and they know that they are not alone… You can’t overestimate the importance of belonging for a young person.

The HUG scholars also get exposed to different events with leaders of Costa Rica, whether they are social leaders, business leaders – we even take them to concerts and different types of events. They go from feeling irrelevant to, “Oh my goodness. Life is not only sad. Life is not only difficult. There are also connections, and these people I’m meeting have a big name, but they are also human beings.” That’s also character building. It’s what we call building social capital.

A key component that I think can help anybody – emotionally, spiritually, mentally – is that part of the deal of getting this HUG scholarship is that they must volunteer with one of the charity organizations that we support. These HUG scholars, young people, have to serve and help, whether it’s in an old people’s infirmary or having dinner with girls from orphanages that we sometimes take out, or visiting them in the orphanages – so they have an immediate switch from, “I’m a victim, I’m a migrant, I’m poor, I’m new in a new country” to all of a sudden, “I am a helper. I am the one who provides happiness. I am the one who gives emotional support.”

It is by giving emotional support that you actually strengthen your own, and that is huge. It’s not only something that can be done for students, but something that all of us have to do. The moment we stay inside our heads, thinking “Oh, poor me,” it’s just a downward spiral. The minute you step out of your mind and go serve another, you go from victim to helper, and that’s a huge leap in self-esteem.

That’s a prescription I recommend for everybody, whether you’re a migrant or not. Try, on a regular basis, to get out of yourself and go serve others. Then you’ll see how all problems take a different perspective, and it also becomes a mental health insurance and protection that is enormous. To me, that is the biggest anti-depressant: to go and help and serve others.

To learn more about the HUG program or the Asociación Ticos y Nicas and how to sponsor a HUG scholar, visit their website and Amigos of Costa Rica affiliate page. Read more about my January focus on mental health here.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter). 


‘Before you say you want to help, say you want to learn’

Allegra Love doesn’t mince words. It’s obvious from the pace and passion of her speech that she doesn’t waste time, either. The immigration lawyer can’t afford to, not with her clients depending on her – plus the onslaught of “thousands of emails” and calls since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, just one week before we spoke.

The waves of new attention come from people who want to help the organization she created: the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, which provides free legal aid to immigrant youth and their families.

At one point during our Skype conversation, Love stands up to go ask her colleagues for a website address she wants to give me. “I’m sitting outside,” she explains, “so I don’t disturb all the other lawyers while I YELL. AT. YOU.” She laughs for a split second, recognizing the heightened emotion that has dominated the conversation, and then the moment of mirth is gone and it’s back to the urgent topic at hand.

Continue reading ‘Before you say you want to help, say you want to learn’