My nonfiction picture book THE POWER OF A DREAM: MARIA FELICIANA ARBALLO, LATINA PIONEER will be released on Tuesday, February 26. The beautiful illustrations are by Debbie Bolton.
I first learned about Feliciana Arballo when I was doing research for my young adult historical novel Yakimali’s Gift, in which fifteen-year-old Fernanda, of Pima Indian and Spanish ancestry, joins a colonization expedition from Mexico to California. On the journey, she discovers not only romance, but truths that change the way she sees herself, her family, and her ancestry.
Feliciana is a fictionalized character in that story, but I wanted to write a nonfiction book solely about her.
I chose to write it as a picture book because, since I’d written the novel for teens, I wanted younger children to know not only about the 1775 expedition (a little-known part of U.S. history), but also about Feliciana and the power of her dream that brought her to California.
Though Feliciana’s husband died before the journey began, Feliciana still chose to make the arduous four-month journey with her daughters: the infant Estaquia and four-year-old Tomása.
Feliciana is referenced in the diaries of Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, who led the expedition, and Father Pedro Font, who also went on the journey. Feliciana was an inspiring, brave, and remarkable woman, especially for the time in which she lived. She loved music and dancing, and she helped distract the colonists from the hardships they faced.
She hoped to find a life free of discrimination in California. Just as there are prejudices today, so there were in the society of 1775 New Spain. Everyone wanted to be known as Español, meaning you were of “pure” Spanish descent. You were looked down upon if you had mixed ancestry. Many historians believe Feliciana was born into a wealthy Spanish family. Defying her parents and society, she married José Gutierrez, a man of Spanish and Indian descent. People with this particular mixed ancestry were labeled “mestizo,” making Tomása and Estaquia mestizos as well.
In California, Feliciana would leave a legacy of the power of a dream not only for her family, but for California itself: Many of her descendants, showing the same courage and conviction as Feliciana, became important figures in California history. My author note discusses these descendants, and another note provides a background of the expedition itself.
Professional reviewers: If you’d like a review copy (available now), please contact me.