School of Art + Design Publishes Bilingual Children’s Book for Refugees

April 9, 2020

Published by SDSU’s School of Art + Design, La Luciérnaga y Sus Estrellas Fugaces is more than just a bilingual bedtime story.

Translating to “The Firefly and Her Shooting Stars,” the story was written by Yolanda Varona, director of DREAMers Moms USA/Tijuana. The book follows the story of Mama Firefly and her two children (portrayed as shooting stars) and their attempts to be reunited after Mama Firefly is taken from them.

The storybook is one of seven in a series entitled Cuentos para Dormir, a project started by artist, educator and UC Berkeley Ph.D. candidate Sophia Sobko. Each of the stories in the series was written by a parent who has been separated from their children as a result of deportation. The stories use allegory, magical realism, metaphor and imagery to explore the themes of loss, loneliness, detention, domestic violence, love, resilience, solidarity, and activism.

Sobko started the project in 2015 when she met and formed relationships with members of DREAMers Moms USA/Tijuana, parents from San Diego who were deported to Tijuana (whether or not they were from there) and separated from their children. She started Cuentos para Dormir, which translates to bedtime stories, as a way for the parents to write stories for their children despite their physical separation.

“When I shared the idea for a children’s storybook project with Yolanda, she was very excited and said that she had already been writing creatively for her children, as had been another member of Dreamers Moms,” Sobko said. “The original intention of the project was just for a group of parents to each make a book to give to their kids, but over time the parents wanted to share the books with wider audiences, as a pedagogical and political tool.”

The partnership between SDSU and Sobko began in 2017 when Sobko participated in an exhibition at the SDSU Downtown Gallery called We Are Here/Estamos Aquí, which focused on U.S./Mexico border and the culture/transnational dialogue that exists along all 2,000 miles of the border. As part of the exhibition, Sobko showcased prototypes of the storybooks and brought the authors in virtually to talk about their experience with the project. One of the attendees was Carlos Castro, an assistant professor within the School of Art + Design. Moved by the presentation, Castro applied for a grant that would help the School of Art + Design publish one of these storybooks.

The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.