Rodolfo Alvarado is an author I had the pleasure of meeting at a local author fair. We got to share a table at the event and I'm so pleased I had the opportunity to meet this fascinating man.
He's written several thought-provoking and intelligent books for adults, as well as powerful books for children and young adults.
His latest book, Junior's Dream is written for tweens and follows a family of migrant workers. It's Junior's coming of age story, and will release on August 1, 2020.
I encourage readers of all ages to see what Rodolfo Alvarado's collection of books has to offer them.
SJ: What was your initial inspiration for writing Junior’s Dream?
RA: Oh my! Well, as you know, I’m an eclectic writer whose fiction and non-fiction has been published by popular and academic journals and presses. It was while I was researching an academic work titled Mexicans and Mexican Americans in Michigan for Michigan State University Press that I came across a newspaper article in which two farmers were discussing how Mexicans were lazy because when they make good money one year, the next only the men show up to work. What the farmers did not understand, and my parents knew well, was that if you had the chance, and most importantly the money, children stayed home so they could continue their education and wives stayed home to care for them.
SJ: The book is based on your life experiences. Was it difficult to write fiction from life or was the story arc clear in your mind from the beginning?
RA: The truth is that it was a little of both: Hard because I had to think back on days and times I spent with my family working the cotton fields of West Texas. My mother and father have passed away, and I hardly see my sisters, so it was emotional thinking back on those days when we were together every summer. On the one hand, writing the story was fairly easy because the book was based on a short story first published in the Latino literary online magazine, Somos En Escrito. But even then it was difficult because I had to lengthen the arc of the story, which in the end I hope helped to heighten the point of the story.
S.J.: Which was?
R.A.: To show that migrant farm working families are people just like you and me and that Junior has dreams for himself and his family. Most importantly, it was my goal to write a book that opened up the topic of the role migrant farm working families play in our world. They feed us; clothe us; contribute so much to the life we live.
S.J.: Without giving anything away, are you particularly proud of a specific scene in this book?
RA: Most definitely, it’s the scene when Junior stays with his eight-year-old sister at the migrant camp where they are staying for the summer, while everyone at the camp goes to work in the fields. For the entire day they do nothing but play and Junior shares stories with her about the traditions of the camp and of their family being a part of those traditions for generations. This is his sister’s first year of picking cotton so it means a lot to Junior to hand down these stories to her.
S.J.: I understand that the English and Spanish versions will appear in the book. Is that correct?
R.A.: Yes, it is! I am very proud of the fact that the English and Spanish versions of the story will be published in the same book. I am also grateful to Dr. Gabriela Baeza Ventura for her extraordinary translation of the book into Spanish. She is on the staff of Arte Público Press and a wonderful person to work with, as was everyone else there. I must also thank Dr. Nicolás Kanellos, the founder of the press, who also edited the book.
SJ: The book is geared toward tweens, grades 7-9. This sounds like a powerful book for young people. Are there any plans to work with schools to help get diverse titles like this into the hands of students? Are you available for school visits?
RA: Excellent question! As you know, the book is being published by Arte Público Press, the oldest and most prestigious publisher of Hispanic literature in the U.S. My agent and I selected the press to publish the book specifically because it has a long standing relationship with schools across the country, as well as a reputation for placing diverse titles into those schools. I also worked hand-in-hand with the press on a teaching guide that will accompany the book.
Yes, I am available for school visits. I have put together a presentation that focuses on the role migrant farm working families play in our everyday lives. The program has components that involve students, and the book, in a number of ways.
SJ: You’ve written several intelligent, compelling, and award-winning books for both young people and adults. What are some of your favorite things about writing for youth?
RA: There are a number of them, but a couple of my favorites are: One, when I’m writing and thinking through the story for young people I get to be young again! Think young! Feel young! Secondly, I love the challenge that comes with writing for young people because you have to keep them involved and interested from one page to the next. It’s a challenge, for sure!
SJ: Your personal story is amazing. Would you mind telling readers a little about your journey from migrant worker to Ph.D. holder living in southeastern Michigan?
RA: I owe it all to my mother, Cruz. She never let me forget that I could achieve anything I set my heart and mind to, so thanks, mamá. She also stressed the importance of staying in school and being a good person. Above all, she taught me that nothing in this life is free. You have to work for everything you get, that is perhaps her greatest lesson, and one that I gladly pass on to young people whenever I can. So the journey has been one of hard work rewarded by long hours of laughter and joy!
SJ: What most inspires you to write?
RA: Sharing what I feel about life and how much I’m going to miss it when I’m no longer here.
SJ: I know Junior’s Dream will release August 1, 2020, but are you working on your next project?
RA: I am, thanks for asking! I just finished writing The Number on My Father’s Arm, another book for tweens. Arte Público Press is going to publish and release the book in October of this year. I think the book is available for pre-order at the current time. This book is based in part on a screenplay I recently completed titled Undesirable. The story is based on the true story of Anthony Acevedo, a WWII medic who was the first Mexican American to register as a Nazi concentration camp survivor so if there’s any producers reading this, boy, have I got the script for you!
SJ: Because of the realities of Covid-19, some people are discovering for the first time, how valuable and essential migrant workers are in the US. From your experience, what is something you wish everyone knew about migrant workers or the actual work?
RA: What a wonderful question! It is the question that Junior’s Dream answers! Like I said before, I wrote the book because I wanted to make the point that migrant workers and their families are human! They, like Junior, have hopes and dreams! Mothers and fathers want their children to achieve their dreams, and the young among them have dreams and hopes and desires, and for some, like Junior, they want nothing more than to continue working the fields like their fathers and their fathers before them.
SJ: Who are some of your favorite authors?
RA: Rudolfo Anaya, Sandra Cisneros, Isabel Allende, Meg Medina, Junot Diaz, Elena Ferrante, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amy Tan, Pam Muñoz, poet Gloria Anzaldúa, Elizabeth Acevedo and you, of course--and the list could go on and on!
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your latest book. Best of luck with your future projects!