Migrant workers in North America have often faced marginalization. This issue rarely gets the attention it deserves, however, particularly in Canada – a country that prides itself on equal and fair treatment of citizens, and strong human rights policies. In her own way, writer Maxine Trottier has addressed this issue in the most unlikely of mediums: a children’s picture book. Migrant was a finalist for the Governor General’s award, and critically acclaimed in the New York Times one of top ten illustrated books of 2011.
Migrant focuses on a very particular population: the Mennonite Mexican population who travel to Canada each year to harvest vegetation. While in Canada, these people live in terrible conditions, and are shunned by Canadian society. “Canada is wonderful, but there’s always room for growth and improvement,” Trottier told The Daily in an interview. “There is a lot of room for improvement, [migrant workers] have to go to work somewhere and their [workers’ rights are] taken away. Children aren’t supposed to work, but they do, and they enrol in schools and then are forced to leave in October and spend all this time getting back to Mexico. This is tough on adults, but it’s really tough on children too.”
The narrative follows a young girl, Anna, and explores, with artful subtlety, the woes of being a child in this kind of situation. Anna explores feelings of impermanence and seclusion in a country where she doesn’t understand the language or the customs.
Why Anna’s story is jarring, she acts as a strikingly relatable character for any child that has felt alienated in their environment. In one encounter with a student (Trottier was a teacher for 31 years), a student asked her, “Why do you always write about horrible things?” Trottier’s response: “If I don’t tell those stories, who will know the truth of these things? So the awful things don’t keep happening.”
The afterword, which includes a description of the marginalization facing Mexican Mennonite migrants along with a call to action for Canadians, brings the story’s social imperative sharply into focus. The effect of this striking narrative isn’t only reserved for children. “You will read a book [like Migrant] to children and they’ll enjoy it on one level, and adults take it in on a completely different level,” explained Trottier.
Through Migrant, Trottier proves that picture books are not simple fare. The narrative that Trottier created in Migrant, and in the case of many of her other socio-political books for children and adolescents, is not unlike that of a journalist: to inform the world of the horrors that exist, so that they might no longer exist in times to come.