Writer and poet Jorge Argueta has a goal in life: to promote books as a tool for change and healing, and encourage young Latino readers to see literature as an asset rather than a luxury. His new book, Caravan to the North: Misael’s long walk is a chilling tale written for children about the experiences of migrant kids on their way to the United States. 

Argueta will be speaking about his book and the humanitarian crises in Central America and Mexico on Saturday, Oct. 26 at Answer Coalition’s offices at 2969 Mission St. 

In Caravan to the North, Argueta introduces us to a child named Misael as he leaves his home in El Salvador, in search of a better life. At first, the trip feels like an adventure for many of the migrants, many of whom  had never even left town. But it soon it takes a dark turn. 

The tale is based on real-life experiences of migrants, many of them still children, as they made the 2,000-mile journey in caravans from Central America. Argueta said he decided to write the book after conducting interviews and seeing firsthand hundreds of people fleeing for the U.S. border.

“If it happens to kids why don’t they deserve to know about this? They are capable of learning and comprehending this. They’re the victims. If this stuff happens to them why can’t they read about it?” said Argueta, who was born in El Salvador but left the country during its civil war in the 1980s. He arrived in San Francisco in when he was 19 and opened Luna’s Press, a small children’s bookstore, at 3790 Mission St., near Park Street in Bernal Heights. He co-owns the store with Holly Ayala, his wife.  

Argueta in October 2018 found out about a large gathering of migrants that were planning to leave El Salvador and travel to the US-Mexico border. He lives once again in his home country and the group was set to meet at midnight at Plaza El Salvador Del Mundo in San Salvador. 

Jorge Argueta’s new book, Caravan to the North: Misael’s long walk.

When he arrived at the staging area for the march, some 400 people were already there and a few of them were teens and children. Through interviews, Argueta learned that the underage travelers were leaving because they were afraid of gangs or felt that life was too hard in El Salvador. Some had been forced to go alone by their parents and others were leaving with their families.

“They were set on leaving El Salvador. The country couldn’t provide even the most basic things, so they were tired of seeing crime and poverty,” Argueta said.

Argueta spent the entire night talking to the migrants, who then departed at dawn.

Serendipitously, Argueta was invited to a conference in Mexico City a month later, and his arrival coincided with the arrival of another caravan from Central America. While at the conference, migrants who had traveled with the caravan that year were brought in to tell their stories of which he described as a humanitarian issue.

Many of the migrants tried hopping on the large freight trains they call La Bestia, or “the beast”. Others took buses, drove or walked the entire way — but not all made it to Mexico safely. At the conference, Argueta met people who had come to Mexico in search of missing family members who had disappeared from the caravans. 

Caravan to the North: Misael’s long walk was published by on Oct. 1 by Groundwood Books.  He’s published 20 other books, and won numerous awards.

On Saturday, Argueta  sharing the stage with Manlio Argueta, another Salvadoran writer — whom he is not related to —, who is promoting his book, Asi en la Tierra Como en Las Aguas, about Central America’s fight against filibusters like William Walker.

Organizers are requesting for a $10 donation — though no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Jorge Argueta with some of his books. Photo by Lydia Chávez