New Release: WHERE ARE YOU FROM? – Yamile Mendez ’17

Can you tell us how this idea came to you, and talk a bit about what it means to you?
I immigrated to the US from Argentina to attend college 22 years ago, and in all these years, I’ve been asked “Where are you from?” at least once a day. My answer varies depending on who’s asking and what situation I am in, but most of the times, I say I’m from Argentina. Although I’ve been a US citizen for a long time, in my heart I’m 100% Argentine. For my children, however, this is a completely different story. My husband’s Puerto Rican, and like me, he comes from a very diverse background. So for my children, the answer to this seemingly simple question isn’t simple at all. Many times I’ve seen them struggle with how to answer, and when they have come to me with this question, and I’ve answered with “You’re from here. You were born in this country,” I’ve noticed that this answer wasn’t enough. Where Are You From? was born of my desire to give them more, to help them come to the realization that in the end, we’re not from a specific place, but from many, and more importantly, we come from the family and the people who came before us and all their experiences.
How did you discover VCFA and decide to be part of the Writing for Children and Young Adults program?
Several years ago I attended my first writing conference: Writing and Illustration for Young Readers, organized by VCFA alumna Carol Lynch Williams. I had the chance to workshop with Martine Leavitt and Cynthia Leitich-Smith. For years I’d read the acknowledgements in a book and see references to the Vermont College of Fine Arts, so when my children were old enough for me to leave for 10 days a semester, I took the plunge. It was the best decision in my writing career ever.
What year did you graduate VCFA? Please share the name of your class.
I graduated in Winter 2017, and my class is THE HARRIED PLOTTERS.
How did WHERE ARE YOU FROM come together? What in your VCFA experience  helped you bring it to fruition? Were there particular lectures or experiences at residency or with your packet work that had an impact on the creation of this book?
I can’t pinpoint to any specific lectures or classes during VCFA to credit them in the creation of my picture book. I wrote it in between semesters, and I never turned it in to any advisors. However, I read it at my graduate reading, and the reception was so warm and enthusiastic, that after my graduation I submitted it to my agent who sent it out to editors. We had offers for it right away. Although the poem isn’t the direct product of one particular assignment, the collective influence of my reading and writing during the program definitely helped me write the poem that became my picture book.
How was it to work with your editor? Did the book go through your agent? What was the acquisition process like for you?
The experience of going to submission with the picture book was very unique, because although it did go through my agent, we didn’t revise it together at all, and then with my editor, we went through several phone conversations, and a revision, but in its essence, the poem remained the same. The parts that were changed as per my editor’s suggestions are so much stronger now after her feedback, and I’m so grateful for her vision. This was a collective work of love because every person involved in this project was a woman of color for whom the book had a deep, personal meaning. I have been on submission for other work, and by far, the one for this picture book has been the most pleasant of all because we had offers right away, and I’m so happy with my editor and the whole process. But this experience has been very different from that of my other books, so I cherish it as something super special.
What was your experience regarding the lovely illustrations? What was it like when you first saw the pages?
Jaime Kim has such a magical touch, and her illustrations are so dreamy, I was thrilled when I knew she’d be part of this project and team. Before I saw any of the illustrations for our book, I’d spend hours looking at the beautiful work on her website, and when I was finally able to see even the sketches for some spreads of WHERE ARE YOU FROM? I was blown away by how her images complemented the words, and told its own story. It was really a magical, emotional experience.
You wrote the book in both Spanish and English, is that right? Are there differences in meaning and translation from one version to the other? How was the process of composing both versions?
Because the language is so sparse, the translation in Spanish is very close to the original text in English. My main obstacle was keeping the vocabulary in a hopefully more Latin American Spanish instead of the more regional Argentine, with its peculiar pronouns and verb conjugations. But the process was very simple and straightforward, as I’m fanatical about grammar, punctuation, and accentuation in Spanish. I’m very fortunate that I was able to write the same story in the two languages of my heart, which is what my family speaks.
Your lyricism in the book is gorgeous and poetic. Could you share a few tips on how you came to this kind of rich language and imagery in your work?
I’ve thought so much about this question, and I’m so sorry I can’t answer with specific techniques I used. The process of writing this poem was very organic and heartfelt, and in a way, a surreal experience that I won’t ever be able to recreate in another picture book. But because of what I read, and the way we speak in my culture, the language came very naturally. Argentines (and I mention my fellow country people because this is such a personal piece. I can’t speak for other Latin American groups) are very poetic and metaphorical. I believe it’s because of the rich literary heritage of our country (Cortazar, Borges, Maria Elena Walsh, Alfonsina Storni, Alma Maritano) that I grew up reading that infused my writing voice.
Yamile Mendez

Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine-American who loves meteor showers, summer, astrology, and pizza. She lives in Utah with her Puerto Rican husband and their five kids, two adorable dogs, and one majestic cat. An inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant recipient, she’s also a graduate of Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Writing for Children’s and Young Adult program. She’s a PB, MG, and YA author. Yamile is also part of Las Musas, the first collective of women and nonbinary Latinx MG and YA authors. She’s represented by Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary. Find her online at