Meet the authors and illustrators of our Pauline Kids editions. Sometimes quirky and always fun, these are the people whose passion inspires us to see things from a fresh and creative point of view.

Meet Lizette M. Lantigua!
Meet Lizette M. Lantigua!
Posted by Brittany on September 25, 2012 09:00 Article Rating

To continue with our e-launch of Mission Libertad, allow me to introduce you to the author, Lizette M. Lantigua. Pauline Kids met up with Liz at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Miami, Florida.  

             [Liz standing with the image.]

Escape, spies, and heroic rescue! What inspired you to write Luisito’s story?

Luisito is a little bit of many young kids that have arrived through the straits to Florida. I got inspired because as a newspaper reporter I had to cover that many times in the 80s. They all came with incredible stories. It was like a Hollywood drama, but it was real. I wanted people outside of South Florida to know more about the incredible tragedies that people have been through and how they overcame them. They started again their lives here in this country; and they even contributed to this country afterward.

The scenes in Havana are so vivid! How did you capture what life was like in Cuba 40 years ago?

Research, people that I interviewed, and then I grew up also constantly going to places, meeting people who are Cuban, asking them questions, being interested in their stories, and the fact of how their families were separated. They had many things in common. But they also had their own unique stories and their own unique drama that was so sad and yet so inspiring. I also wanted to make sure that when young people read the story they realized how precious freedom is and that it’s not something you take for granted. 

The novel takes place in 1979 and 1980. Besides describing hair styles and fashion, what was the most fun part of writing about teenagers from this era? How are teens similar today?

Well the fun part was remembering things – you know, because I grew up in part of the 80s – and also, doing research. One of the fun parts I wanted to introduce was the pet rock because I thought that was so silly! I remember being little and seeing all the people with their little pet rocks, and they really didn’t do anything. Today, kids who are full of gadgets and electronic stuff might say “Oh [wow], people actually bought this little rock?!?” The similarity is that there’s always a fad that passes, that goes, that comes back. 

In terms of emotions, thoughts, behaviors, are teenagers similar today as they were in the 70s and the 80s. Could Luisito fit in with today’s kids?

The difference with Luisito is that he comes from another culture, and he went through things that people who were born in this country probably have not gone through. when you grow up in a safe environment, when you don’t have any fears, maybe you have more time for play, for interacting with other kids. When like Luisito you’re born in a country where you fear what you’re going to say, where you’re not allowed to go to Church - different things like that - you’re more aware of what’s going on around you, more aware of politics because you might hear it at home.

Luisito grows into the Catholic faith over the course of the novel. How does your own faith play into the writing process, especially with this book?

Well, I was born Catholic, and I never had a situation where I had to fear for my faith or anything of the sort. Faith is a journey. There’s growth. I want to describe that in the book. [Luisito] starts out with just knowing a little bit of his faith because of his grandmother and then how he develops that faith, because our faith is all about always learning, always participating in the sacraments, always getting the strength from the sacraments. I try to go to Mass every day because it helps me start my day well….I wanted to describe the importance of the faith, how [Luisito] is re-learning the faith, how he grows in his faith. Toward the end of the book you see how much he’s learned, how much he appreciates things. Here in the shrine they have the actual statue that was smuggled from Cuba. So I wanted kids to have a journey and learn about their faith – they could not only read it, they could actually go to a place and see the actual objects and places that do exist.


[The Shrine was built to reflect the shape of the dress of the image of Our Lady of Charity.]

You pepper the novel with so much Cuban culture! What foods should readers try first, and what should they know about Cuba today?

That first meal [Luisito] has when he arrives – how he ate the roasted pork, the black beans and rice, the flan. Those are very typical Cuban foods that people can actually try. I [also] wanted people to know about the popular sayings, and I wanted that in Luisito’s character. You see, Luisito has gone through a lot, and just like the typical Cuban, they’ve gone through a lot, but they always make jokes. So I tried to make Luisito like that - a typical Cuban boy…. 

What’s your favorite Cuban food?

I have too many! [laughs] Oh, I love sweet plantains, ground beef with rice, black beans. But since I am product of the U.S. and Cuba, I also love American food. Sometimes I’ll mix it. I’ll have my rice with beans with a steak and an apple pie.

What’s going on in Cuba today? How can kids find out more?

Right now, there’s a lot of information that comes out on the radio, especially in South Florida. There’s not a lot of information that goes out maybe to other parts of the U.S. That’s why I think it’s so important to write this book. I try to purchase books about Cuba all the time. Sometimes people don’t realize the situation in Cuba, that there’s communism. I don’t know how they’re able to, but there’s a group of dissidents in Cuba that are able to get information out to reporters. The newspapers are able to get the Cuban paper and get an idea of what could be happening because the news there is different. They’re more like a P.R. kind of thing.

Why have Luisito live in Baltimore with relatives?

I wanted Luisito to have a real culture clash and learn about the United States in a place where they celebrated the [American] culture, not like in South Florida, which is more a mosaic of different ethnic groups. If he would have stayed in Miami, he would have blended in with other Cubans or other Latin Americans, and it wouldn’t have been that much of a clash. He wouldn’t have missed his country so much. But going to Maryland, I wanted him to discover different traditions; I wanted him to be different; and I wanted him to go through what many kids go through when they’re in an area when they’re not surrounded by their ethnic group. But he also had an opportunity to tell his story about Cuba.

How did you decide to include the main story about the spies and the mission to get the statue of Our Lady of Charity to the United States?

If I write a story about this, it looks like a made-up story, and yet how incredible that it’s actually the truth – that people went through all this trouble to get this image here to the U.S. – an image that’s not old, that’s not a weapon -  to get an image that symbolizes faith. I put the spy situation in because there have been cases of Cuban spies here. At the end of the book, I put what was fact and what was fiction, because even the real truth seems incredible. I thought it was important for people to know about Cubans.

Luisito is called “King of the Proverbs.” What is your favorite Spanish proverb?

Most of my favorites I put in the book….They’re so cute; they’re so used in the Spanish language. They say so much in rhyme. It’s part of that happy character that Cubans have despite the tragedy and things they go through. It’s how they lift their spirits – just a way to survive in Cuba with so little. I wanted to put real-life examples for teenagers how people go through trials and drama in their life; how they’re able to survive it and have fulfilling lives. Most of the stories out there are very depressing, and I don’t want kids to have the idea that being an adult is depressing. I want them to know that life is beautiful, and has a lot to offer. Even at their age, they have a lot to give.

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