Behind the scenes of The Same Sky

To research The Same Sky, I visited Brownsville, Texas and San Diego, California to talk to unaccompanied minors who had been caught trying to enter the United States illegally. At each shelter, the children would be asked if they wanted to tell me their stories. Then I would listen as kids from the age of five to seventeen told me where they had come from, why they had left, and what they hoped to find in America.

I met a boy who had seen his family shot by a gang, a girl who had seen a friend attacked by an alligator crossing a river in Mexico (the coyote made them leave the injured girl behind), eleven year olds who had somehow brought their little siblings all the way from Honduras to the US border. One five-year-old boy was due to be flown to his parents in New Jersey the next day. They had not seen him since he was an infant. His smile lit up the room.

Every kid talked about food. As most had faced starvation either at home or along the journey to the US, every corn muffin, cookie, and bottle of clean water was described in loving detail.

Why had they come? Many had been left with relatives who had died or could no longer care for them. Some had joined (and been tattooed by) a gang and then a different gang had taken over their town. They were hungry. They wanted their moms. They wanted to be adopted. They told me God had brought them, and God would find them families in the US.

One girl's story was so harrowing and awful that my stomach hurt every time she said, "And then it was night." I racked my brain for something to say to make her smile. She was from El Salvador and her journey to California was different from the journey of the girl in The Same Sky (who had originally been named Elena).

Nevertheless, I told her that the girl in my novel was a girl so strong and amazing that she had made it to safety. I told her I would name the girl after her, and I did. Her name is Carla.

On my last visit to Brownsville, I saw collages the kids had made about their hopes and dreams. They dream of cookies, shoes, a baby (or being a baby?), a taco, a princess bed, perfume, a castle, Jennifer Lopez.

They dream of a family. And I hope that all of them, or some of them, or one of them, maybe Carla, will see their dreams come true.

How you can help

Many immigrants (including Carla and Junior) arrive at the "Brothers in the Road" shelter in Ixtapec, Oaxaca. At the shelter, they are fed and cared for by Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerrra, who risks his life daily to keep the shelter open.

Learn more and donate