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Migration & Belonging: Learning from Dreamers

It feels difficult to end this academic year. I have been teaching two related courses for the past 10 weeks: Anti-Bias Education and Social Justice in K12 Schools. When I joined our learning community for our final discussion of spring term last week, tears welled up in my eyes. I had been keeping it together at home -- processing the interconnectedness of mass shootings, racism, white supremacy, misogyny with my children and students but never releasing the waves of emotions that kept coming one after the other. I confessed to my students that I didn't have anything wise, healing, comforting, or even hopeful to say.

And instead of being disappointed or hopeless, they kindly and gently invited me into our regular weekly practice. Because that practice was enough. The relationships we developed and the liberation we collectively dreamed of could hold us. The simple and yet incredibly complex act of being together and learning together throughout the spring, of being together on another terrifying, sad day was everything.


Besides these weekly discussions, participants in our learning community also met in small anti-bias book club groups or pairs for four consecutive weeks. Throughout the four weeks, each group or pair spent time with a single powerful picture book with one of the following themes (scroll down to access the reading guides on each book):

  • allyship & co-conspiracy (reading The Rabbi and the Reverend by Audrey Ayes)

  • migration & belonging (reading Dreamers by Yuyi Morales)

  • Indigenous voices (reading When We Were Alone by David Robertson)

  • Black Lives Matter (reading Breonna Marches Through Time)


For each book theme, students read one picture book and used the correlating Reading Is Resistance Reading Guide.


During the first two meetings of their book clubs, students took a deep dive into a single picture book and its associated Reading Is Resistance reading guide. During the last two meetings of their book club, they brainstormed and created content about their reading/discussion experience to share out into the community via social media

This is part of a much bigger Picture Book Project, a project through which we explore the ways children’s literature can support grown ups in recognizing and replacing and/or complicating learned dominant narratives and learning gaps from K12 education. We achieve this through filling gaps in foundational social justice and identity learning that may not have been offered to us or cultivated in us as children. Read “What Adults Can Learn from Reading Children’s Literature”for a sneak peek into just some of the benefits reading children's literature holds for adult learners.

This blog post shares out the work from the Migration and Belonging book clubs. I hope you'll spend some time with each image and paragraph. These reflections in response to Dreamers demonstrate the power of children's literature as a mirror and a window. And we encourage you to spend some slow reading and thinking time with Yuyi Morales' Dreamers as part of your own anti-racist practice.

This book signifies the power of language, identity, strength, and creativity. One can see that as immigrant families come to a new place, it is hard to adjust and be accepted. They have to have the level of hope and trust that they will put in all the effort and hard work in order to make it work. It is an illustration that not being able to speak the language in the place one is living does not restrict and limit the individual because their creativity and identity are stronger and will help them overcome the feelings of doubt and exclusion. As Portland State University students, this book demonstrates to us the importance of inclusion of all ideas. #strength #betruetoyourself #showyourvalue #immigrantfamilies #thedreamers #creativity #acceptall

Yuyi Morales creates a beautiful depiction in her book, Dreamers, about how we are very much like butterflies, and that we can also become something that we may not even be able to imagine. This story artistically addresses migration, loneliness, language and cultural barriers, and identity through Morales’ experiences with her young son. #YuyiMorales #Dreamers #Identity #Butterfly #ReadingIsResistance

Books became our language. Books became our home. Books become our lives. We

learned to read, to speak, to write, and to make our voices heard. --Yuyi Morales, Dreamers

Literature that promotes diversity, action, inclusion, and justice are key elements for

children’s development in understanding their identities and the diverse communities they live in. Reading, writing, and words are a source of reflection, empowerment, and action. Diverse and inclusive literature are vital in building childrens’ personal and world views aimed towards nurturing a sense of social awareness and justice. These themes are embodied in the children’s book Dreamers by Yuyi Morales. Following a mother and young child’s immigration from Mexico to the United States, the story illustrates how the pair find a safe haven in the library where they discover the power of words and the books that contain them. They find a space where they can learn, imagine, and dream.

Migration is Beautiful. It’s a natural phenomenon that has shaped our planet, impacting

almost every living being on Earth. As a symbol, the monarch celebrates the beauty of natural systems, and the resilience of those faced with injustice and inequity.” —Diana Sanchez, Gallery Interpreter at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Every year, millions of Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles round trip

between North America and Mexico following the cycle of changing seasons and temperatures. Over the years, the monarch has become a symbol for human migration, immigration rights, equality and justice. The Monarch butterflies have been used by artists, activists and supporters to humanize the immigrant experience, giving dignity and voice to marginalized stories. Colorful Monarch butterflies fill the vibrant pages of Yuyi Morales’ own immigration and empowerment story, Dreamers. The book allows readers to visually explore the topics of immigration, social justice, diversity, inclusion and empowerment through reading, writing and telling our own unique life stories.

Kelly and I were Dreamers in the sense that all immigrants, regardless of our status, are

Dreamers: we enter a new country carried by hopes and dreams, carrying our own special gifts, to build a better future. Dreamers and Dreamers of the world, migrantes soñadores. --Yuyi Morales, talking about her and her son)

Mexican American author Yuyi Morales discusses her story migrating to the United

States from Mexico with her infant son and all of the hopes, wonders, and fears they endured. Through vibrant and magical looking imagery, Morales depicts the positives of their experience, particularly their new found love for the library and escapism in literature. However, Morales does not hold back from also illustrating some of the darker and gloomier moments that come with migrating to this country as a family of color. Morales and her son find comfort and social justice through literature and community in this beautifully written and illustrated book. Children and families from all backgrounds can enjoy this book by either seeing themselves through the characters, or learning to understand the experiences of those different from them. Dreamers shows that social justice can be small and personal which can grow to positively impact our society.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales is about a young mother and child who migrate from

Mexico. It is a story about finding your way through life and new beginnings. This book

celebrates diversity, migration, family and self-identity. Morales captures the beauty of diversity and dreams. The book follows the mother and child through their adventure of migrating to a new world and the experiences and challenges presented throughout their journey. Dreamers is a true celebration of the beauty, hopes and dreams migrantes bring to a new environment.

Books became our language. Books became our home. Books became our lives... We

learned to read, to speak, to write, and to make our voices heard. -- Yuyi Morales, Dreamers

This image depicts the mother and child exploring the new world of books as they are learning about their new home. They were able to gain a new understanding of the world around them and the world they could enter through books. It allowed them to learn to read, speak, and write, something that many of us might take for granted. Being able to communicate provides the opportunity for them to express their feelings, knowledge, memories, and culture. In this image, the woman and child are walking across the pages of the books they are reading as it becomes a part of their journey. It highlights the importance of learning to communicate through reading, writing, and speaking, but also the importance of retaining one’s culture and individuality. Learning about a new culture and language doesn't necessarily mean that one should assimilate.

Deborah: These pages of Dreamers by Yuri Morales show the significance of learning to

understand and communicate within a new language and culture. Being able to express yourself through writing, speaking, and creativity, allows for individuals’ stories and thoughts to be heard. What I appreciate most about this book was that as the mother and child were learning about their new home, they still retained the memories and culture they left behind. It demonstrates the hardship and beauty of being an immigrant. This book makes me think of my mother and her experiences as an immigrant from Guatemala. It highlights the fears, challenges, excitement, growth, and hope involved in such a journey.

Eli: The pages perfectly demonstrate the importance of literature for immigrants in a wide

variety of ways. One important concept on the pages is how books provide people with the

opportunity to learn about language, culture, and society in a welcoming environment.

Additionally, the page provides a strong representation of the symbolism, themes, and values that are present throughout the book. The symbolism can be observed through the vibrant colors and the butterfly. In addition, the page provides an excellent example of the themes in the book by addressing the power of literature, the challenges immigrants face, and cultural pressure.

Genesis: As I read through Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, I felt my mother and her story

throughout each of the pages. My mother was also a strong Mexicana who immigrated from

Guadalajara, Jalisco to the United States at the age of 18, while also carrying my eldest sister

who was 6-months-old at the time. My mom was also scared and nervous as she entered this new country, this new journey of hers just like the mama and baby in the book. However, despite the fear and overwhelmingness of all that was new to her, she persevered and did what was needed for herself and her daughter, and without knowing, her next three future children as well. Looking at the pages above, I see my mom’s hands, her skin, and everything she had to go through to create the life she did for the rest of us; I see everyone else who had to walk through a similar journey — I see you and I thank you.


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