Monday, January 31, 2011

Character Interview + Book Giveaway: Maria from Marina Budhos' Tell Us We're Home

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview one of the main characters of Marina Budhos' book Tell Us We're Home. This book is about a strong friendship between three girls who find themselves united by a common thread: they are all the poor, immigrant children of maids in a wealthy New Jersey suburb. This book has been called a YA version of Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Here's my interview with Maria.

Hello Maria!

I am sorry to admit that you were not always my favorite person in this story. I was upset at you for much of this book because I did not always agree with the choices that you were making and the way that you treated some of the people in your life, particularly your mother. But, by the end of the book, I felt as though you has changed the most and I felt like I was super proud of you. How has this transformation affected your life for the better?


The biggest change is I feel more confident.  I’m not trying to please everyone all the time.  I think I kind of romanticized some kids, especially the American kids, like Tash.  Lola says I had stars in my eyes.  And maybe she was right.  It feels good to be a little more grounded.  Sometimes it’s a little harder, though.  I don’t get lost in my fantasy-head as much anymore.  And I feel as if I can see through some of the phony kids more.  But that’s probably good stuff—it’s what you need getting through high school.

 
I am not from an area of the United States that is even remotely like the one described in this story. I live in a rural part of the country where most people are very poor. There are some immigrants living and traveling through our state, but not in the isolated area where I live. Do you wish that you lived in an area where the average white people were less wealthy? Do you think that would have made a difference in the treatment that you and your family received in this story?


I can’t say I wish I lived in an area where the average white people are less wealthy, because I don’t know what that’s like.  I think it’s true that where I live I learned there really are all these levels to people.  What street you live on, what kind of car your parents drive, what camp they send you to—it all means something.  It’s a lot to understand and decode for someone coming from the outside.  So maybe in that way it might have been different if we were on the same economic level as everyone else.  But still, no matter what, it’s hard being different in any area, especially when a lot of people in my family don’t speak very good English.  And the impression I get is people have a lot of prejudice against Mexicans these days, so it’s especially hard for us.

 
I was appalled at some of the events that took place surrounding the treatment of day laborers and young men like your cousin, Renaldo, especially the game of "Jumping Mexicans." What would you like to say to those people who are willing to hurt another person just because of their nationality or immigrant status?

 
To realize that we are no different than all of you.  In fact, we have to do a lot of scary and hard things, just to be regular.  Like my cousin standing around in a parking lot, hoping someone picks him for a job and doesn’t throw a can at him.  Or my mother having to ride a bus really late at night, sometimes not in great neighborhoods.  Ever since the stuff with Renaldo, I’ve done some reading, and I’ve learned that a lot of people feel we’re taking jobs away from ‘hard working Americans.’  But I just wish they’d see how hard we work.  My uncle, he works all the time.  If his boss needs him for an extra job, he never says no.  The lights are on in our house all the time because somebody is always coming home from a shift, or a double shift, or some extra job. I just want people to understand that.

 
I love that you're a bit of a revolutionary by the end of this book. Who are your heroes?

 
My biggest hero right now is Sonia Sotamayor!  Can you believe we have a Latina Supreme Court judge! No, seriously, she’s my hero for other reasons.  She is calm and reasonable, and she got where she did through so much hard work.  I loved that story of her arriving at Princeton and she realized she was so far behind and she took the summer studying and reading all the books that the rich kids had already covered.  And now look at where she is!

 
You're in high school now. What are your plans, if any, for college? Will you continue to fight for human rights?

 
I think I learned that I am a fighter.  I didn’t know that about myself.  I hate hurting people’s feelings or having any big conflicts.  But I learned so much recently by being, well, not all that nice.  That sometimes you do hurt feelings.  And it hurts you inside, too.  But it’s worse to keep it all bottled up inside you.  Maybe that’s what human rights means.  That after a certain point, even those of us who want to stay nice, we can’t stand it any more.  We have to burst out.  We have to fight for what’s wrong.  We have to speak the truth.

I want to go to college, of course.  But right now I’m trying to focus on high school and not getting too distracted.  (There are a lot of cute guys, here, hey!)  But seriously, I’ve got a lot on my plate: doing my work, and being a part of clubs, and helping my family.  It is different for me.  I still have a lot of responsibilities at home.  And Mami, she’s proud of me, and she wants me to go to college, but I don’t think she wants me to go away for college, like most of these American kids do.  That would be too hard.  So I’m taking it day by day.  Change comes little by little, I guess.


And, I always try to bring every interview that I do back to my classroom. Right now we're studying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in my sophomore English class. Do you feel that young people have the power to change the world for the better?

 
I totally do.  But it isn’t easy.  And I think I learned something too.  It’s not enough to just want to change the world. You have to ask Why do I want to change the world? Am I doing it because it makes me look good, or I feel a little better for a while? Or it makes me look cool in the eyes of other kids? That’s not enough.  You really have to want change because you think it will be something better for everyone.  Because you have a vision of what the world can be.  


*  *  *

Wow. Thanks to Maria (and Marina Budhos) for this incredibly powerful interview. I love it when authors are able to capture the beauty, pain and truth of real life in their writing. This book, Tell Us We're Home, is painfully truthful, but ultimately inspiring. Thanks again!

Giveaway details: I have one copy of this book ready to send off to one US resident. To enter, simply comment on this review explaining why you'd like to read this book. This giveaway closes February 7th at midnight (EST).  Make sure to leave an email with your comment so that I can hunt you down if you win!

14 comments:

  1. This book sounds really good! I would like to read it because I grew up the daughter and graddaughter of poor immigrants, and it just touches me that someone else wrote something about my life, you know? Anyways, thanks for the interview and the giveaway!
    apereiraorama[at]gmail[dot]com

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  2. I think this book would be interesting to read. In the town I am living in, which is a smaller town, we have several multi-millionaires, but many people are struggling just to not be homeless. I grew up very poor, but yet I have met alot of the millionaires in my town. I would really like to read this book.
    twoofakind12@yahoo.com

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  3. I am currently reading The Help and if this is being hailed as a YA version of it, I know I am going to love it.
    rickimc[at]aol[dot]com

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  4. I read Budhos' Ask Me No Questions when it first came out and loved it. I would be really excited to read another one of her books. Even if I don't win the giveaway, I am so glad that I heard that she has another book out via your post!

    mrsvsreviews@gmail.com

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  5. I would love to have this book in my classroom library. This would be something my students would line up to read.

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  6. I'd love to read this. It just sounds so interesting. Books about friendships are one of my favorite things to read. Thanks so much for the giveaway!

    erinberry12 at charter dot net

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  7. I loved The Help and if this is anything like that I can't wait to read it! Thanks for the giveaway!
    lexie.bookbug(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  8. I love books about friendships. It's really intriguing to see how the characters develop. Plus, we always need a little girl time in our lives.

    Vivien
    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

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  9. I would love to win this book because I have not read anything from this author and I love reading new authors (at least to me) - and this just sounds very interesting!

    Patricia
    PelicanJL{at}hotmail{dot}com

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  10. I would absolutely love to win this book because it sound wonderful! I love how it said its the YA of The Help.

    Bianca

    infinitemusic19 at gmail dot com

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  11. I just got this book and am really excited to read it. This interview just makes me want to moreso.

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  12. Great interview! And it's not enough to just ask "Why?" you want to change the world, but "How?" "How" gets the project started once "Why" identifies the issue!

    meredithfl at gmail dot com

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  13. Well, before I even read the interview the cover really caught my eye! I'm always a sucker for a good cover!

    This story sounds very moving. Hearing about the lights are always on at her house because someone is leaving for work, waking up for work, extra shift...made me so sad. I know that a lot of immigrant families truly struggle just to keep food on the table.

    This sounds like a great read! Thanks for the interview!

    TaraTagli at gmail dot com

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  14. I love the cover! It caught my eye, and it's a bright pink. :P It sound really good, and I would love to read it! Thanks for the giveaway!

    horselovercutie@yahoo.com

    Mandi @ The Book Nymph

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