In this excerpt from her 2012 Pura Belpré acceptance speech, Under the Mesquite author Guadalupe Garcia McCall shares how writing the book helped her heal and brought her closer to her father:
My life with my mother was full of love and acceptance. I was blessed to be her daughter, even if for a little while. That’s why I wanted Under the Mesquite to be a true reflection of her nature. I wanted it to do what she did best—to nurture young people’s dreams, to give them the courage and strength to pursue those dreams. Writing Mesquite was both wonderful and painful. For in the process of writing this book, I pulled out and dusted off memories I had set aside, memories I had tucked into deep crevices in my heart, put away for fear of losing them. I am glad they are written down now. My mother lives because this book exists. It is her nurturing spirit that resides in these pages, her wisdom, her love, and I am so happy to be able to share her with you.
But, Mesquite did more than immortalize my mother’s love. It brought me closer to other members of my family too—my father in particular. For during my mother’s illness and especially after her passing, my father distanced himself. His loss and my pain pulled us apart. We found comfort in silence and solace. And as time passed and I grew up and moved away the distance between us grew; like a lake pooled by years of tears, it widened, expanded, and we found ourselves sitting on opposite sides of that mournful lake without a sense of how to get back across and reach out to each other.
While writing Mesquite, my editor at Lee & Low, Emily, suggested that I make Lupita’s father a bigger part of her support system. She wanted me to keep their connection even as I showed their pain. She suggested I find ways to show how much he was there for her. Therefore, I had to sit down and reach into the only source of inspiration I had for this book—I had to access memory.
So I sat on my porch in my little house in Somerset, Texas, and thought about my father back in Eagle Pass and tried to remember the goodness in him. It wasn’t hard. Almost immediately, the memories came flooding back to me like morning rain, like light summer showers, like blessings from above, and I remembered him as the father of my youth: the one who squeezed me tight the minute he stepped out of the truck when he came home from work every night, the one who taught me how to read and write, the father I had loved so much. I remembered things so vividly that I had to call him. And so it began the frequent phone calls, the visits, the, “What made you think of that m’ija?” in the middle of our ever-growing conversations.
It was then that I came to the understanding that I was raised by not one, but two very special individuals. That I was the product of two great parents. That God had taken but he had also provided much love in my life. That realization was a blessing because it built a bridge between me and my father, it closed the gap that used to separate us when we hugged, and it healed a wound in me.
Look for the full text of Guadalupe’s Belpré acceptance speech in the fall issue of Children and Libraries, and look out for Guadalupe’s newest book, Summer of the Mariposas, out this fall!