Gaby, Lost and Found: Expanding the Conversation on Latinx Kids Books + Immigration

FullSizeRender (1)Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes tells the story of Gaby Ramirez Howard, whose mom is deported to Honduras. Gaby is left under the care of her father, who she does not know well and who does not seem too interested in parenting. Gaby’s story is one that remains painfully relevant. Since 2009, more than 2.5 million people have been deported.[1] Many mixed status families have been impacted by poor, and xenophobic, immigration laws that only seem to do more harm than good. The Supreme Court’s deadlock on DAPA has left many families vulnerable.

Cervantes’s novel does not attempt to provide a solution to the fraught immigration system that has taken Gaby’s mom away. Nor does she give Gaby the happiest of endings. Gaby, Lost and Found presents a realistic telling of the fear, anger, and pain involved when a child’s parent is deported. While immigration continues to be a prominent theme within Latinx children’s and young adult literature, many of the text focus on Mexican experiences. Even then, most of those stories often involve immigrating through legal means. Luis J. Rodriguez’s América is Her Name was the first Latinx picture book I read that has an undocumented protagonist. Off the top of my head, Jorge Argueta and Rene Colato Lainez continue to be the leading authors writing Latinx children’s books that center Central American experiences. Clearly, there’s a need to broaden discussions on immigration in Latinx children’s literature in order to capture and represent the multivalence experiences of being an immigrant. It was for this reason that I found Gaby to be an extraordinary story. Gaby was the first Latinx children’s literature novel that I’ve read where the mother is deported and does not return. I found this ending compelling because it captures the reality impacting many young Latinx living in mixed status homes. Providing a happy ending to this story in where Gaby and her mom are reunited would have been a beautiful and heartwarming ending. However, I fear that it would have alienated the children whose mothers have not and cannot return. My concern for a happy ending, as it relates to immigration stories in Latinx kid lit in general, is that it might minimize the severity of the issue at hand. As if to say, it wasn’t that bad because everything was resolved at the end.  By straying away from neat and happy endings, Cervantes points out the long term implications for families that have been separated by failing immigration systems.

Gaby is in sixth grade, loves cats, and is a storyteller. An ICE raid breaks out at the factory where her mother works which results in her deportation back to Honduras. Despite the bullying she experiences at school because of her family’s situation, Gabby is convinced her mother will return soon. She is completely distraught when her mother tells her the journey back to Kansas City is too expensive and too dangerous. At this point, readers can tell that Gaby has been bottling up her feelings regarding her mother’s deportation and her father’s inability to take care of her. While her burst of emotions is not entirely surprising, it is heart wrenching to read her outpour of anger and frustration aimed at her mother:

“‘No, Mom! I’ve been patient. I’ve been patient for three month! And stop calling me your princesa. If I were your princesa, you’d be here. You said before that I was worth the journey. I’m your daughter and I want you to come back! You promised!’ […] The silence that followed sent a sharp pain through Gaby’s whole body. How could she hang up on her mom? She ran out the front. Her father yelled after her, but she wasn’t stopping” (156).

Gaby’s justified outburst reveals that her mother’s absence has ruptured the unspoken expectations between parents and their children. Parents are expected to take care of their children and, at this moment, Gaby blames her mother for her inability to do so. I found this a rather painful scene to read precisely because it is not Ms. Ramirez’s fault. Broken immigration systems that thrive on separating families make it extremely difficult for parents to parent. As a result, the children are left feeling abandoned and unworthy. The above quote also makes clear that Gaby feels a sense of responsibility to keep it together for her mother’s sake. Gaby is sensitive to her mother’s situation and is aware that it must also be difficult for her. Because of this, Gaby does not let her mother know how much of a hard time she is actually having. For majority of the novel, Gaby is the one nurturing others. Separating mixed status families changes the dynamics and roles of the family. Children are forced to mature and parents who have been deported must find new ways to parent.

Whilst dealing with her situation, Gaby and her schoolmates volunteer at an animal shelter as part of a class project. Gaby is made responsible for creating flyers with stories about the shelter animals in hopes that someone will read them and give the animals a home. Gaby meets Feather, an abandoned cat who she takes a liking to. Gaby is so determined to keep Feather from her original, neglectful owners that she steals the cat from the shelter and takes it home with her. Gaby feels abandoned and vows to nurture Feather the way she wishes someone would take care of her. The deportation has taken away Gaby’s sense of security and has deeply impacted her emotional well-being. After the deportation, Gaby sleeps by the door with the phone under her pillow so she doesn’t miss her mother’s return, she is not eating well, and she begins to push her friends away. Cervantes’s narrative details Gaby’s downward spiral due to the trauma wrought by her mother’s deportation. By the end of the novel, Gaby is in a much better state of mind. She has a better understanding of how dangerous it might be for her mother to attempt to cross Guatemala and Mexico to get to Kansas City. She finds comfort in knowing her mother is safe and in knowing that her mother will love her despite the distance.

Cervantes’s novel is a much needed addition to conversations around Latinx literature and immigration. I can see myself teaching this book and continue to recommend this book precisely because it addresses issues related to mixed status families including deportation. Gaby is indeed a multi-dimensional character whose story extends beyond her mother’s deportation. The narrative gives hints to Gaby’s life with her mother before she was taken away and, clearly, Gaby has other interests. Gaby is a fun, cat loving, regular girl but it is also evident that this deportation will impact the rest of her life just like it does for real Latinx children whose parents have been deported.

 

Other resources:

Leisy J. Abrego. Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love Across Borders. Standford, CA: Standford University Press, 2014. Print.

“Lost in Detention.” PBS: Frontlines, 2011. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/lost-in-detention/

Author Angela Cervantes on Publishing & Her Animal-Loving Latina Protagonist: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2014/05/19/author-angela-cervantes-on-publishing-her-animal-loving-latina-protagonist/

[1] http://fusion.net/story/252637/obama-has-deported-more-immigrants-than-any-other-president-now-hes-running-up-the-score/

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