06 Apr 2022

¡Si, Tú Puedes! MBA Students Write Children’s Book about Latinx Identity and Leadership


by Shona Simkin

During a one-year deferral from Harvard Business School (HBS), Adriana Garcia Ceja (MBA 2022) was scrolling through social media when she paused on a classmate’s post. Shekeyla Sandore Caldwell (MBA 2021) had just published a children’s book, A Name Like Mine. Inspired, Adriana wondered if writing a children’s book could be how she addressed some of the issues she encountered as a Latina. Upon her return to HBS this fall, she mentioned the concept, and its potential as an independent project, to two of her classmates. Without a moment’s hesitation, they both asked if they could join the venture. We asked Adriana, Ale Eguren (MBA 2022), and Claudia Lopez (MBA 2022) about the book, how it addresses issues in Latinx culture, and how it fits in with their educational and career goals.

Tell us more about why you decided to create a children’s book.
Adriana: I saw Shekeyla’s post and bought her book—it seemed like such an awesome idea. I really admired what she did and it sparked my interest to do something similar for the Latinx community. There are a lot of similar difficulties, and our backgrounds are similar, but of course the struggle is different. I met Claudia and Ale last semester through the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) and told them about the book and we all just got really jazzed about it. The goal was to showcase the Latin identity and to try to inspire the next generation of Latinx leaders through our stories.

What is the story?
Ale: The protagonist is Camila, a young Latina who has a desire to be greater. She goes to an underprivileged school that lacks some resources, and they’re trying to organize a talent show. She isn’t sure what her talent is and ends up discovering it by holding a fundraiser that provides new things for her school and friends. Her family and teachers tell her she is very talented at organizing and leading. We see her eventually become the CEO of a company.

How does the story address some of the Latinx identity issues you mentioned?
Adriana: When we discussed our own experiences growing up, we realized that while there is no one story that describes us all, because we come from different cultures and countries, we did see some similar threads. One is family, which is core to the Latinx identity—this is the story of a daughter, a mom, and a grandmother. Another is that there is not a lot of emphasis on the business community in Latin heritage and culture. We wanted to not just showcase a leader, but a leader in the business community, to hopefully instill the idea of business—that it can be a path even if it’s something a child hasn’t seen or thought of before.

We also looked at a map of Latin America and asked how we could incorporate as many of the cultures as we could. Some of those are a bit broader, like empanadas, but capoeira is from Brazil, the poetry part is based on Pablo Neruda from Chile, and the soccer player is named Lionela after the world-renowned Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi. It was important to us that this just wasn’t only our own cultures—Claudia and I are Mexican and Ale is from many places—we wanted this to be about what it means broadly to be Latinx.

Ale: One of the themes is highlighting the many Latinx identities and their different intersections—each character is a different intersection of their identity. There are elements of AfroLatinidad, Spanish speakers, and non-Spanish speakers. We wanted to build elements that show that all intersections within the Hispanic identity are ok. The book is targeted for second to third graders, right when kids are learning their sense of identity. We wanted to make an impact right then and there.

Claudia: I grew up in underserved communities—our school didn’t have a talent show because we didn’t have the funds. It was a very humble setting and my parents didn’t go to college. Many in our community have the common thread of believing that education is important and how you can make progress. So we started with family encouragement as a theme and from there the main character expands through leadership and education.

What were some of your first steps?
Ale: We looked at what is being written for children about Latin identity. There were many books about helping to understand the differences within Latin identities, which seemed to help others understand our identity, but not much on inspiring folks within that identity to be free to whoever they want to be. We decided that was something we needed to address. We remembered stories about wanting to become a firefighter, a doctor, or another common profession—but what if you just wanted to be boss, a leader?

We also realized that none of us are writers and we are all extremely busy, so we hired a ghostwriter. In business that happens all the time—you have an idea, but not the skill set to execute it. We decided to control what we could: the story we wanted to tell. We wrote a very detailed manuscript of what each scene should cover and the messages and themes for each character, and different beginnings and endings. Claudia’s brother is an illustrator, and we hired him to illustrate the book.

How does creating this book align with your overall goals and experiences at HBS?
Adriana: This last semester, and this project, is very different from what I first thought I’d be doing at HBS! I thought I’d be on a very traditional path, but I discovered entrepreneurship and will be starting a search firm after I graduate, which is the most entrepreneurial venture I’ve ever done. I’m super excited. Entrepreneurial thinking is what led me to believe we could create a book and leave a legacy, which was important to me—LASO has been tremendously important during my time at HBS, and I wanted to give back to the community.

Ale: After my first year I felt like I was involved in too many things and was spread too thin. I decided that this year I would be very focused—becoming involved with LASO and making sure that I had an impact was at the top of my list. That involvement led me to Adriana, and when she told me and Claudia about the idea, it just fit so well within the theme of wanting to do something greater for the Latinx community. I’ve also been getting involved in more creative work and really enjoying it. I hired a designer to design shirts and sweaters for LASO and I started a blog that I update weekly. I discovered that writing is a great way to structure my thoughts and become a better communicator and thinker. Being a creator is a different way of operating in life—instead of trading your time for a salary, you trade your time for a product which eventually creates a benefit for the world. That’s how I saw this book, as a way to trade my time with a team for a product that will create a lasting benefit. When I graduate I’m going to be an operator in health care, but I love this creative work on the side. It’s really fun.

Claudia: Prior to HBS I was in oil and gas. I came to HBS because I wanted to pivot into something different. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted, so like many people I did a lot of soul searching. Business school has taught me a lot about leadership, finance, and business in general, but the biggest thing I’ve learned is about myself—how much I can handle, how much I can really do—I really can do it all! I’ve had two kids, one just born in February, and my husband is also getting his degree. It’s a lot of moving pieces, but it's really fun and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve had to prioritize my time—my top two clubs are the MomMBAs and LASO. These are two huge parts of my identity. I wanted to do something that had an impact for the Latinx community and that had a piece of me that I wanted to share. Obviously those two things bring that together, the book is about a Latinx mom and a kid. This was perfect for me. For my next steps, I’m interested in strategy and had a great time at a retail internship. I’m recruiting right now and we’re moving to Minneapolis when I graduate.

What’s next for the book?
Claudia: We just had our second revision and I think it’s almost final. We had great feedback from our advisor, Professor Jose Alvarez, and LASO alumni. Then we’ll go into copyright, look for a publisher, and start marketing.

Adriana: We split the work into three streams: creative, publishing, and marketing. We decided to self-publish because it streamlines a lot of the process. In terms of creative, we have the draft story and the next part is translating it into Spanish. For marketing we have a Kickstarter campaign. We also applied for grants from the Harvard Office of Diversity and Inclusion Office, which will hopefully allow us to give copies to the Harvard community. We’re hoping that a portion of the profits, if not all of them, will go back to the Latinx population in the form of book donations to Latinx schools or initiatives.

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