In this guest post, author D. H. Figueredo discusses the message behind his book, When This World Was New, and his hope in the American Dream.
My story, When This World Was New, might have several messages, or meanings, which have been assigned to the narrative by readers and not by me. But I do have a conscious message I want to impart to you, an informal legacy of sorts. During this particular moment in the history of our wonderful country and in the history of communities throughout this land and in the history of immigration to this nation…well, my message is best depicted by a drawing made by the illustrator of my book Enrique A. Sanchez, from the Dominican Republic.
Halfway through the story, the father ascends a hill blanketed with snow. The illustration that matches the text shows the character opening his arms to embrace the hill and the snow and the landscape before him. The gesture signifies the character’s wishes to welcome into his old world, the country he left behind, the new world about to become his new home. It is not a conquering of the new world the way it was done five hundred years ago by the Spaniards, the French, the British, and the Dutch. It is an encounter of unity with this new world, a transformation of the man from the Caribbean into a citizen of the Northeast of the United States. The drawing and story celebrates a newcomer’s wish to join a society that is foreign to him but that will soon become familiar, a story of friendship with hope.
The new world in the story also embraces the newcomer. The narrator is taken to a school where he is matriculated; the father is taken to a job where he is welcomed as a new worker; the mother watches through the window to her husband and son and welcomes them back into her new home. In my story, no one fears three strangers who crossed a watery border to settle in a new home. There are no walls and everything points out to a welcoming experience.
For me and for my family, this country is a home that opened its doors, neighbors shook hands with me, teachers and professors and writers and editors took my words and my writing and helped me make it better.
All strangers welcoming strangers.
My children’s book affirms my faith in the American Dream. Not the dream of cities of gold and of wealth and power but the dream of belonging and of celebrating the diversity of humanity, a dream that doesn’t belittle the humanity in all of us but places us atop a hill from where my father admired the newly fallen snow, reassuring his faith in his future in his new world and his capacity to do well in this new world, a hill from where I began to contemplate the possibility of a child who didn’t speak English becoming a writer who wrote stories in English.
I can’t tell you what messages to share in your stories and what messages to motivate your story. But what I can suggest is the gift of family love and support, and the gift of humane strangers who welcome you and celebrate your talents. What I can suggest is to use your gift to place all of us high on a hill that looks at a goldenly bright new world.
D. H. Figueredo is the author of LEE & LOW’s When This World Was New, and The Road to Santiago. A native of Cuba who has lived in New Jersey since he was a teenager. Figueredo is the director of the Bloomfield College Library and is the author of Cleaning Dayand Big Snowball Fight, published by Bebop Books. He lives in Piscataway, New Jersey, with his wife and their children.