Jóvenes Escritores Latinos (JEL) is a publisher that emerged to meet the needs of the Latino Community. Miriam Burbano, the founder of JEL, is one of the many writers who has published her work and become a bestseller. JEL was founded on the roots, culture, problems and heritage of the Latino community.
The vision for JEL has been to “accompany every dreamer in the conquest of her own dreams,” tells Manuel Osmoss. JEL’s objective is to motivate storytellers to write their own stories and publish their books,”because if you don’t tell your story, no one will tell it for you.”
Below, Miriam Burbano tells the story of the birth of JEL, its growth into Latin American countries and why it is vital to make space for unheard voices that empower young writers to write while retaining ownership of their stories.
My name is Miriam Burbano. I am a writer and educator of Ecuadorian origin, living in the United States for about 20 years. My forte is education. Since I got here, I realized that Hispanics had to overcome very difficult challenges to finish their secondary education in public schools and, not to mention, go to college. At that time, only 50 percent of students managed to finish high school. So, maybe by luck or by blessing, I became the co-founder of an independent school here that was called, Los Angeles Leadership Academy, a leadership academy where we worked as a team with the student while trying to meet the needs of the family so that more students could graduate from high school, and that goal was achieved.
The school opened the doors early so that working parents could drop off their children as early as 6:30 a.m. and the doors closed when the last parent arrived to pick up their children. This way, the students were not on the streets or without adult care. Serving the community in this way gave us great satisfaction, even though there is still much to be done.
In the same way, I continued with my own education and that of my family which consists of my husband of already 30 years of marriage, and two children, who are adults. One studied at the University of San Bernardino pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and my daughter continues to study in a PhD program in New York in neuroscience.
When my children became involved in their own careers, I found myself with more time to devote to writing for a cause. I founded the organization #JEL – Jóvenes Escritores Latinos, officially since 2014, although we were already working long before in an un-official way.
The idea was to motivate young people and adults to read more, write and become activists using literature as a tool. The satisfactions of this project have been innumerable and have filled those of us who form the #JEL Team in several Hispanic countries with pride and gratitude.
What motivated the beginning of Jóvenes Escritores Latinos (JEL) and what is the mission of the publisher?
The JEL organization was started out of a need. JEL was born because there were a lot of attacks on the Hispanic community from many sides, including from Hispanics themselves who were already here in California.
A group of us started thinking, how do we prove that Hispanics or Latin Americans came to the United States to enrich the culture, to work, to propose, to do new things, even to do jobs that nobody wants to do? Next, we worked with a group of 16 young people and over 40 adults from the community and interviewed everyone that gave us the opportunity.
We interviewed people of Hispanic origin; council members, senators, small merchants, businessmen, architects, engineers, but what was the purpose?
The purpose was to prove in some way and leave in writing that Hispanics come here to contribute, to seek their own progress and that of their family- therefore, the aggrandizement of the country. Thus, our first book was born: Memorias Migrantes, an open window to the past.
We took the manuscript to many publishers and most of them never answered. The few who answered about publishing the book told us that the content was irrelevant, that it wasn’t really sellable and that they couldn’t publish it. And then there were some that charged exorbitant prices.
For example, there’s a publisher that invites writers to fancy conferences to tell you how to publish your book and basically to ‘brainwash’ you throughout the day, from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon. Then, they tell you that publishing the book costs you thousands of dollars. Faced with the the lack of resources for publishing work in our communities, inspired the idea of a publishing house and #JEL – Jóvenes Escritores Latinos was born.
I started looking for ways to open a publishing house, to make us a non-profit organization and always do the opposite of what they did to us. Open the door to everyone, charge almost nothing, give letters for tax deduction payments, because we invest everything, the profits, back into the community.
And the mission of Jóvenes Escritores Latinos is to motivate young people and adults to write their stories, because if they don’t write them, no one is going to be able to write them for them. JEL was born from the need to publish our own book and we were successful. We published it and many other books followed Memorias Migrantes, which is already on Amazon.
Who does JEL help and what benefits does it bring to the individual?
Our publishing house #JEL has a presence and literary projects, or #JEL clubs, in El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and in our last satisfaction, our greatest joy of this moment, is Honduras. We have a group of 20 young people in Honduras writing an anthology called, El Corazón de Honduras.
#JEL also benefits adults when they want to publish their books and no one accepts their manuscript. We have a long, extensive contract that the writers have to sign with us, but there are two important lines in this contract that everyone should pay attention to.
One says that the authorship of the book will be 100 percent the author’s, and the other says that 100 percent of the royalties of that book will be the author’s; we do not ask for royalties, percentages. The most important thing is for everyone to maintain control over their written thoughts, because they belong to them and we want to respect them in that way.
The #JEL Clubs in each country concentrate on the issue that most motivates or afflicts them; for example, Colombia has two themes: family violence and depression in young people.
In Los Angeles, California, young boys concentrated on writing letters to the president denouncing the problems we have in the community. Cartas al Presidente was led by a twelve-year-old boy named, Emmanuel Salazar.
He called his friends, the conversation began and now we have a book that a president could read to see what children think about their community: that rents are very expensive, that they need more art and music classes in schools, that the population of homeless people on the street is painful for children as well.
We all benefit from the work that Jóvenes Escritores Latinos is doing in the company of a very strong group of community members who support us.
What has been one of your most impactful projects and what wait that highlighted this project from the others?
It is important to impact our young people by reading how wonderful the feelings of love, of friendship are but there are projects that are not positive themes that have also left a great mark on our hearts and on the history of #JEL.
The project that has moved me the most, one that hurt me, especially, is an anthology written by about 15 young people in Popayan, Colombia, and is called Caricias Sin Amor. Caricias Sin Amor deals with the issue of domestic violence. They talk about what it means when you are affected in your own home, regarding this type of behavior shown by parents, by children, the sadness suffered by grandparents or stepfathers, boyfriends, husbands.
Everyone can fall into this or when we hurt someone who lives with us, who is close to us and who are the most important person we have in life. It is sad to read stories about the time of courtship, when a bride or groom wants to oppress the other person. The cellphone has become a weapon of oppression. When you say ‘give me your cellphone, I need to check it’ or when you say ‘if you don’t do such a thing, I won’t give you the cellphone.’ They are forms of oppression that we have in our environment and oppresses men and women alike.
All these kinds of things are no longer so prominent in the lives of those over 30 or 40 years old and that is why, when we read it from the pen of young people, we learn about the new challenges that must be faced. The writings of young people who talk about the manipulation and violence that is experienced with the people they love, which is called domestic violence and has many characteristics.
Because many times we talk about domestic violence, or we look at or accept domestic violence, as a part of ‘our culture’ and it’s not normal. “My dad did that to my mom, my grandpa did that to my grandma, obviously they have to do it to me, too,” says one of the stories but also says it’s time to break the cycle of abuse.
Is there an issue today that JEL wants to highlight that is not an issue that is discussed in Latin American countries?
There is a very important issue and we have not yet achieved it; that is our objective. It is always good to have a dream that is a little difficult to achieve to continue being motivated and working on that goal. What’s more, there are two issues: one is financial education.
As a teacher, I have been hired as a tutor to millionaire children and for three hours I am paid more than I earn every day in a class. Why do I get paid so much? To teach finances to children whose parents live in mansions of 10, 20 million dollars.
So, if millionaire kids are taught how to create and manage money to become millionaires, why don’t our kids get finance education classes? The children of the millionaires begin to bet on the stock market from a very young age, they already have their account and begin to know the rules of the game of money. And they’re catching that skill of which companies are doubling their money or which are the companies that lose all their money. Because with the stock market you can become a millionaire overnight, and you can also become totally poor.
Millions of children will never know about the stock market and will continue to wonder how someone becomes a millionaire, but #JEL aims to clarify that mystery, at least in theory. We talk about saving, investment, and if I don’t even have enough to eat, what investment are we talking about?
And then comes the important thing, what is the game of Monopoly? You don’t need to have money, but you need to have a strategy and you have money in your hands, which is the paper money. Incredibly, if you search online it is one of the best-selling games in the United States, not sold in Latin America.
There are little things that we can do for ourselves to understand money. We know that the real problems are not solved with money because, if they were, millionaires would not age and die, but it does help us have a life with more creative freedom and more options. One day, our young people will practice having that freedom thanks to #JEL.
The other issue is motherhood and, especially, motherhood in adolescents.
When you are given a person to do a heart operation, for example, how many years of training have you had? We are talking about 6, 12, 24, 30 years of forced training, every day and research because you have the responsibility to save that life, the life of a patient.
However, to procreate and have children, there is no education, voluntary or compulsory training; it simply happens. A large number of girls, I’m talking under eighteen years, who get pregnant without any training and when you ask them, “did you want to get pregnant?” 100 percent of the girls I’ve asked that question, said, no.
“No. I didn’t think it was going to happen to me. It was not my intention; it was not intentional. It was only once. I don’t know what to do.” It’s the issue that isn’t talked about and, what’s more, I myself had a lot of problems in school with this issue because the mothers told me that they didn’t give permission for their daughters to receive sex education.
The publishing house has been able to work with a variety of writers. What are the dreams of the writers of Jóvenes Escritores Latinos and what do they have in common?
What we have in common is that we all have a story to tell– all of us– whether we are writers or not, whether you have gone to school or not. We even have authors who do not know how to write, but what we have in common is a story, a story that burns inside of us and that we want people to know.
What’s more, we’re writing a book about cancer survivors and what that experience was like for them. And there are many cancer survivors who don’t want to tell their story; they prefer to keep it private.
Just as we hide anything that has happened to us in the past, for example, something that many people hide is when they have been sexually abused within their own family. It may have been a father, an uncle, a best friend, a cousin, who knows. They don’t say it. Why? They don’t want to hurt the aunt, the mom, the other brother, etc. and so they keep it hidden. But we writers have something in common. We want to tell our story.
Another common goal for many writers is to become a bestselling author on Amazon or other platforms. The publishing house #JEL would like all our writers to become a bestseller. Why? Because it is the maximum range that one can reach.
The adrenaline that is felt when you get the notification or see that your book is in first place of the 100 best-selling books is illogical but addictive. When I became a bestseller, I couldn’t believe it. I refreshed that screen, refreshed it again; El Mejor Regalo de Pepita Brown came to the first position in three different categories and I want everyone to feel that feeling. To feel the, ‘I have made it!’, just like for an actor it is to win an Oscar. I imagine, because they have all the money, all the power and when they win the Oscar, they are crying there in front of everyone. I used to criticize them, now I understand them.
I tell you that we are trying to create seedbeds of literature all over the world. #JEL is inviting young people to send their essays, their poems and receive in return up to $25 for entering this wonderful world of letters. We are a non-profit organization so we invite you to donate to our literary cause by asking for information at [email protected] or my personal mail [email protected] and everyone is invited to participate, to write, even if it is in their own journals, because there you will discover how brave you are.
I invite you all to participate in the book of poems celebration in February, 2022. Young people and adults are invited to participate by sending their poems for the book, Amistad en Versos to [email protected].
My name is Nancy Ortega and I am a current undergraduate student at UC Davis majoring in Animal Science and Spanish, but began my studies at Rio Hondo College. I am the proud daughter of two immigrants and the sister of a Dreamer. My interest in Latin America emerged due to the passion from my high school Spanish teacher. I became interested in the variety of cultures, the unique people, and the history still to be uncovered from underrepresented countries. In Latina Republic, I want to expand the beauty and complexity of Latin America and enrich my mind, as well as that of the readers, throughout this new experience. I look forward to meeting interesting individuals, hearing new stories, and coming out with a fresh mind set.