Latin American Representation in Children’s Literature

by Pascale Joachim, ’23 (CLAS)

Luisana Duarte Armendáriz
Luisana Duarte Armendáriz author of the New Visions Award winner Julieta and the Diamond Enigma

Luisana Duarte Armendáriz is a PhD candidate with a focus on Children’s Literature, and author of the New Visions Award winner Julieta and the Diamond Enigma. 

The award is given by Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, and is meant to recognize and uplift people of color who write for children and young adults.

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma book cover
Book cover for Julieta and the Diamond Enigma

Interestingly enough, it was not Duarte Armendáriz’s idea to submit her manuscript for this award because she was not aware she was a person of color. The concept of race was very different to Duarte Armendáriz growing up in Juarez, Mexico. Historically, Spanish colonizers amalgamated with the indigenous communities that already occupied Mexican territory, resulting in unique racial demographics. So, when Duarte Armendáriz’s editor suggested she submit her manuscript for consideration for the New Visions Award, Duarte Armendáriz was both surprised and intrigued by the idea. “It was what led me to be interested in the research I’m currently doing. Where does that point of demarcation exist? How ‘colored’ does someone have to be in order to be considered a person of color?”

Despite this, Duarte Armendáriz didn’t let racial technicalities deter her from creating a protagonist who represented Mexican-American culture in an authentic way. From including an exchange in the novel where Julieta explains how to properly pronounce her name to being fluent in both Spanish and English, Duarte Armendáriz was very intentional with crafting a character that would fill a gap she’s noticed in YA literature about Latin American children. “Julieta lives in the States, she has family problems, she gets in trouble, but it’s never about her being an immigrant, it’s about her being a kid.” 

Duarte Armendáriz tells me that she’s tired of reading children’s books where the identity of fictional Latin American characters is consistently centered on their immigration status. Similar to the recent call for Black joy in YA literature, Duarte Armendáriz feels she is making the call for Latin American joy in stories. She believes that children need to feel connected to their cultural community and one of the best ways to do that is through the stories they read. “Every kid should know that the experience of being Latin American is varied and joyous, so why should our books be all about suffering?” 

Duarte Armendáriz is currently working on translating Julieta and the Diamond Enigma into Spanish and a sequel for her novel (spoiler: Julieta is going to Mexico!). Part of winning the New Visions Award is a contract with Tu Books, and Duarte Armendáriz had nothing but positive things to say about her experience with the imprint. As an educator, she appreciates their connections to schools and libraries and their unwavering dedication to all of their stories. 

Duarte Armendáriz and I had a wonderful conversation and I could go on and on, but I’ll end with this gem she shared with me: “Stories are the basis of our lives. I feel that sometimes we dismiss fiction as simple entertainment, but I’ve been saved by books. There’s always a story that can soothe you. You can cry with a story. You can be uplifted by a story. So even though I think we get looked down upon by other disciplines, I believe it’s writing that moves the world.”