A letter from Yamile Saied Méndez, Author of WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

Where Are You From?
by Yamile Saied Méndez; illustrated by Jaime Kim

Dear Reader,
Although I have lived in the United States longer than I lived in my birth country, Argentina, and have been an American citizen since 2004, not a day goes by in which I’m not asked a simple question for which there’s not a simple answer: Where are you from? Usually, the person is curious about my accent or my name. Always, the question reminds me that I’m not fully seen as an American, but rather still a foreigner, no matter what my documents say. As an immigrant, I have come to accept the price of living in a land in which I’m the root of my children’s family tree instead of the fruit. But my children have struggled with this question much more than I ever did.

When my oldest son was ten years old, he and I were at our local bookstore for his favorite author’s new book signing. We were speaking in Spanish, when, unexpectedly, the author asked my son, “Where are you from?” Singled out in front of strangers, questioned by a person he deeply admired, my child looked at me, taken aback. In his big, brown eyes I saw a cry for help. He didn’t know how to reply. Unlike me, he hadn’t yet developed a repertoire of answers. I said to my son, “You’re from here. You’re an American.” However, the author wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to know where my son was really from.

This experience illustrates how my children, and others like them, have to explain and even excuse their identity and existence to complete strangers, with the emotional cost that comes from having to sort through confusing concepts of origin, belonging, and identity, all on display in a public setting.

My picture book Where Are You From? was born of my desire to help answer this question. Borders on a map move. Countries disappear (like my Abuela Isabel’s Yugoslavia). Some of us had to run away from oppressive governments or after natural disasters, leaving family pictures and loved ones behind. But the love of the family from whence we come is stronger than ideologies, more powerful than changing laws and hurricanes. Our legacy isn’t only the citizenship stated on our passports, but also the unspoken attributes that were passed down from generation to generation.

My book started as a poem. The influence of my agent Linda Camacho, my editor Clarissa Wong, the illustrator Jaime Kim, and the designer Erica De Chavez, all women of color, added layers that go beyond the words and pictures on paper. Together, we collaborated in creating a powerful book that takes ownership of the question Where Are You From? to highlight the richness of the journeys that brought us all together.

Dear reader, I hope you share this book with others in your life, and that this not-so-simple question becomes a bridge that bring hearts closer. Now tell me, where are you from?

Yamile Saied Méndez


"Lyrical language and luminous illustrations…an ideal vehicle for readers to ponder and discuss their own identities." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"An enchanted, hand-in-hand odyssey opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the many, many backgrounds, roots, histories, of those who live in these United States." - Shelf Awareness

"This touching book addresses a ubiquitous question for children of color, and in the end, the closeness between the girl and Abuelo shows that no matter the questions, she knows exactly where she’s from." - Booklist