Join us in celebrating the book birthday of JOVITA WORE PANTS, The Story of a Mexican Freedom Fighter!
We sat down with award-winning Musa Aida Salazar to learn all about the inspiration behind this book.
But first, a little bit about Jovita Wore Pants:
Jovita dreamed of wearing pants! She hated the big skirts Abuela made her wear. She wanted to scale the tallest mesquite tree on her rancho, ride her horse, and feel the wind curl her face into a smile.
When her father and brothers joined the Cristero War to fight for religious freedom, Jovita wanted to go, too. Forbidden, she defied her father's rules - and society's - and found a clever way to become a trailblazing revolutionary, wearing pants!
This remarkable true story about a little-known maverick Mexican heroine is brought vividly to life by her great-niece and Américas Award-winner Aida Salazar, and Eisner Award-honoree Molly Mendoza.
1. How would you describe your main character? Why did you create your character that way?
Jovita Valdovinos was my distant great aunt. In the 1920s in rural Mexico, she dressed as a man, commanded a battalion of 80 men in the Mexican Sierras in an armed fight for religious freedom. She was a defiant, courageous, fierce, and unstoppable woman who turned her country’s cultural patriarchy on its head by wearing pants and engaging in combat – things women of that era were forbidden to do. This real-life heroine is someone from which I learned and was inspired not only because I descend from her lineage but because her life carries many powerful traits from which we can all gain.
2. Where did you get the idea to write this particular story?
The idea came from my mother, Isabel Viramontes. Her father, my grandfather, Chema Viramontes, was Jovita’s cousin and fought alongside her in the Cristero War. She often heard the many stories they shared when Jovita and my grandfather Chema got together to reminisce and Mami treasured them. Mami gave me Jovita’s memoir because she was so proud of her tia’s life and because she knew we also carried Jovita’s feminism and fire. One of the most memorable lines in Jovita’s memoir was a wish she had when she was a little girl – to wear pants like her brothers Ramon and Luciano. That gave birth to the central concept in this story. But also, I wove it into the Mexican saying “Tiene los pantalones bien puestos,” which literally means “They wear their pants well,” but in reality, it describes someone with a lot of courage and gumption. I also drew from her life-long love of the campo. It was easy to craft the story using all of these elements. I was able to demonstrate Jovita’s remarkable transformation from adventurous girl in love with the campo to fierce revolutionary hero who fought and survived a war waged in the campo.
3. Can you share your path to publication for this book?
This book has taken five years to publish. It was the first picture book I ever sold back in 2017. However, as it often happens in publishing and when in collaboration, all of the players need to be in the right space and the project needs to have the right circumstances to make the work possible. It took many turns – dates pushed because of my publication schedule, the illustrator’s publication schedule, editors leaving, and so on… – however, it all happened just as it was meant. I have learned from this process that each book will make its own way to the world and no matter the turns and my disappointments, it will arrive at the perfect time.
4. What was the most difficult scene to write in this story?
Jovita suffered tremendously before she was actually involved in combat. Because her father and brothers were involved in the fighting and were leaders, their enemy, the Mexican government soldiers, held her captive and tortured her so that she would give up the whereabouts of her family. The details of that torture were too intense to share with young children and so I had to lean on metaphor (as is my tendency as a poet) to help me tell this difficult part of the story in a figurative and age-appropriate way. Also, the illustrator, Molly Mendoza created a visual spread that so absolutely captured the intensity of that moment without being graphic – the mark of a wonderfully skilled artist.
5. What message are you hoping readers will take away from this story? I hope young readers can find inspiration from Jovita Valdovinos’ life, her courage, her love of family, her feminism, and her brilliance. I want others, girls especially, to imagine themselves as daring, as tenacious, and fierce, when they wear pants.
Aida Salazar is an award-winning author, arts activist, and translator. Author of the middle grade verse novels THE MOON WITHIN, LAND OF THE CRANES, and A SEED IN THE SUN. Her picture books include IN THE SPIRIT OF A DREAM and the bio picture book, JOVITA WORE PANTS: The Story of a Mexican Freedom Fighter. She is the co-anthologist with fellow founding MUSA, Yamile Saied Méndez, of the forthcoming CALLING THE MOON: 16 Period Stories by BIPOC authors. Her awards include The America’s Award, The Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, Jane Addams Peace Honor, the California Library Association’s Beatty Award, Northern California Book Award, NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, NCTE Award for Poetry/Verse Novels, International Latino Book Award among others. She lives with her family of artists in Oakland, CA.
Author's Social Media: IG / TW / TikTok: @aida_writes; FB: @aidawrites
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