The other day I arrived home to find waiting in the mailbox a weighty, Voces Sin Fronteras: Our Stories Our Truth. It proved not only weighty to the hand, but once I began peeling its pages back, weighty to the soul. The 16 bilingual (side-by-side English then Spanish) comic book autobiographical vignettes that fill out Voces prove just how powerful word-drawn narratives can be, not just for us readers but for those telling their stories. Only a carefully geometrized visual of Salvadoran Ermina struggling to climb out of a hole with familia looking at her in puzzlement can convey what it means to be forced to leave family, or risk being swallowed hole into the abyss of a country ripped apart at the seams. The stark black and white line-work and minimalist panel layout that Yesi uses in “Lost in the Dark” conveys her sense of abandonment and isolation; as a child, her parents were forced to leave her and country behind to find work in the US; she cried every night of the 16 years that she was separated from them. In “Looking For Hope” Yeca uses a minimalist, iconic style to recreate herself as a young girl straightjacketed by a family’s machista ways El Salvador. She’s not allowed to play sports. She’s not allowed to attend school. And while initially her dislocation to the US becomes yet another form of isolation, when doors to education open, Yeca celebrates.
Created by Latinx youth who attended a comics and writing workshop with Shout Mouse Press, these autobiographical comics easily stand their ground next to some of our giants like Marjorie Satrapi, J.P. Stassen, and Thi Bui who use word-drawn narratives to transport readers into the subjectivities of youth displaced by war and genocide. Taken as a whole, Voces powerfully immerses us in the trauma of lives torn apart. They also stand as powerful testaments to the resilient power of today’s Latinx youth to grow, create, and transform in spite of it all. We need these word-drawn stories—now more than ever.
-Frederick Luis Aldama, professor at Ohio State University