McHenry High School's student-written and -edited newspaper

The McHenry Messenger

McHenry High School's student-written and -edited newspaper

The McHenry Messenger

McHenry High School's student-written and -edited newspaper

The McHenry Messenger

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Creating a legacy

Author Matt De La Peña visited MCHS during this year’s writers week
Author Matt de la Pena addresses students at the Upper Campus on Feb. 8 in the auditorium during MCHS’s Writer’s Week hosted by the English Department.

Everyone is seated and quiet as author Matt De La Peña walks onto the auditorium stage. The bright lights hit his eyes as he greets everyone. He is excited to be at MCHS telling his story. He has done many school visits before and this one is no different…or is it?

Growing up in National City, California Peña lived a different childhood then many of the students at MCHS. National City is a border city with Mexico.

Living in America as a mixed child made life different for Peña. he would often go to Mexico to see his grandparents, and then drive back home for school the next day. 

“Living next to a border is a unique experience because you’re viewed differently depending on what side of this arbitrary wall you’re on,” said Peña.

Growing up, he struggled a lot with his identity of who he was as a mixed kid. There was not much talk about this dilemma when Peña was growing up, so he used his books to fix that.

“When I was growing up, when you’re a mixed kid, nobody talks about it and I just kind of wanted to explore it for myself … It’s like me trying to understand my experience because I didn’t see anything like that in books,” said Peña.

While Peña has won many awards and enjoys writing, being an author was not always the plan. Growing up he loved to play basketball and got fairly good at it.

He received a scholarship to go to college because of basketball. Peña says he owes his life to basketball because it got him to college. But basketball was not going to last forever.

“There always has to be life after your sport, for me it just so happened that I love stories and I wanted to be a part of that,” said Peña.

So Matt began to write. He developed a love for writing as it turned into his career. He published his first book “Ball Don’t Lie” in 2005 and his writing career took off from there.

“Your first book gets your foot in the door and you’re just so thankful to have a book … and the second one[book] can establish you as somebody,” said Peña.

And that is exactly what happened. In 2008, Peña released “Mexican White Boy.” This book was important because not only did it launch his career further, this book was based on his life. 

This book gave mixed kids like Peña somewhere to look when struggling with their Identity. Peña says that not only does this book give mixed kids a voice, but writing this book helped him understand himself better.

MCHS even entered this book into the freshman literature program. 

“I visit a lot of schools across the country and you never know where you’re going to end up but I’ve come to the Chicago area many times and I’ve always had good experiences here … I feel like this high school fits the demographic that I write about so it’s a good match,” said Peña.

But while some schools enjoyed the book, others did not.

A local high school in Arizona fought to get the book banned from their Mexican American studies program. While Peña was upset to see his book get banned, it sparked an activism of students at the school who fought for the book to stay.

“That experience just showed me the power of literature because these students were fighting to get the book back into their curriculum … They created an age of activism … all these kids were fighting and going to city hall to try to get their program back,” said Peña.

Peña has spent his whole life creating legacies. Whether it was being the first member of his family to go to college, or writing stories that no one else would. Peña created legacies thorough-out his whole life to help not only himself, but to give kids like him somewhere to look.

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