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Salvadoran author traces his own migration experience in latest children’s book
Salvadoran children’s book author, René Colato Laínez, poses with his most recent bilingual book, “My Shoes and I: Crossing Three Borders.” Courtesy: renecolatolainez.com

The known stories of migrants are various and varied. Some are recent, others that date back to a past that reminds us that these obstacles persist. Some perhaps involve new characters, but with the circumstances the same or worse.

This social phenomenon has gained special global attention after being documented and spread with great effort across social media networks that document testimonies of the protagonists. Even so, the day when we’ll finally see a consensus reached that offers a solution seems distant, because the origins of migration is the result of a fairly complex reality: world economic crisis, wars, violence, climate change, corruption and social inequality.

These realities may not be present in the conscience of the most innocent, children, who too are also migrants. They are forced to leave their homes, family and friends, to go where they hope to be reunited with their loved ones. Migration narrated from a child’s eyes can describe scenes, that with innocence, reflect that hope or desire, but also the need to seek new opportunities.

The candor that characterizes young migrants has been well captured with words and images in the recent book by René Colato Laínez, prolific and renowned author of Salvadoran origin, whose work is narrated from the perspective of a child. René himself embodies a migrant who, as a child, had to flee his country in the face of prevailing violence.

His recent publication, a bilingual reissue of “My Shoes and I: Crossing Three Borders,” is a children’s book beautifully illustrated by Mexican artist Fabricio Vanden Broeck, and sponsored by the publishing label Arte Público/Piñata Books, in which the author shares his odyssey from El Salvador to the northern border of Mexico.

A little boy alongside his father runs away from his homeland and heads north to meet his mother, who awaits them in the United States. Together they cross three borders and on the way little René is helped by a magical object: a pair of new shoes that his mother sent him before leaving that become a good luck charm and traveling companions that give him strength to continue his journey. Along the way, father and son must face challenges and threats that not everyone, much less a young child, could and should not face.

Despite being a brief autobiographical work, the richness in the language and images with which the author narrates his journey allows any reader to imagine not only the spaces described, but also the emotions of a small migrant child who with an innocent lens, explains to himself the reasons that place him in each of the situations that he must overcome. Walking, running, swimming without fatigue, are the actions that he must carry out with strength and optimism until he reaches his goal: his mother’s arms and a new opportunity for a better life.

“One, two, three, my shoes and I have to continue. We have to cross these mountains and a river. Mom will be waiting for us on the other side, says Dad. We run. We stop. We fall. We get up. We walk. We rest. We run again.”

It seems that, in the eyes of adults, the reality around the phenomenon of migration can be explained because they have more experience to understand the social, political or economic reasons that produce it. But from the noble eyes of a child, those reasons are unnecessary when it comes to running away from danger or facing uncertain fears in order to be close to their loved ones once more and to try their luck in another place far from violence and inequality.

The reader of this book becomes a witness and traveling companion of all the Renés who come and go across borders, overcoming obstacles and leaving their childhood behind because they must bravely hold on to hope. This is a must read to “put yourself in the shoes” of those who migrate, to understand where they come from, what they leave behind and what they crave.

To purchase this and other titles published by this renowned writer, visit Renecolatolainez.com

Story by: Katie Beas