By: Alexa Ramirez
*Warning: Contains spoilers
Book by: Erika L. Sanchez
I first started reading ‘I am not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter’ with a hope that I would relate on the unique experience that is growing up a Mexican girl. This book allowed me, and many other readers, a chance to explore a perspective they could either relate to or learn from (or both!).
This book explores many topics, some being: poverty, sexism, and classism. The main character is a 15-year-old high school girl named Julia Reyes who lives in an apartment in Chicago with her parents. They are both poor immigrants from Mexico who had two daughters, but early on in the story you learn that their oldest, Olga, had just recently gotten hit by a semi and died. She was the parent’s idea of a perfect daughter; she didn’t go out often, she focused on school, she helped around the house cooking and cleaning, and abided by their rules.
Julia, however, was the opposite. She wanted to go out to the city and she smoked and drank and partied, she had no idea how to cook and broke most house rules they had. But Julia was extremely smart; she had skipped a grade and read and wrote constantly.
When Olga died, she and Julia weren’t that close, but it tore apart their family. Their parents were devastated, and Julia was in complete shock. They fought all the time because her parents started comparing the two girls which hurt Julia, but she never wanted to be home anymore and was over analyzing the death of her sister, which hurt her parents.
Now Julia was going to have to figure out how to continue to learn about her sister’s death without her parents approval, since they found it disrespectful to pry in her things, but Julia felt that for her own closure, she needed to know about Olga’s life before she died, which was turning out to be more unpredictable than she had expected.
Although she faces difficulties with criticism and judgement from her mom on various aspects of her life, Julia remains a fiery and expressive person. When teachers gave her a hard time, she defended herself and on one occasion even left the classroom because her teacher was picking on her. When she was going to the university Olga had attended before her death, in search of answers to her questions about Olga’s mystery life, she got in a big argument with, and wasn’t afraid to tell off, the woman at the desk who wouldn’t give her Olga’s records even after she knew who she was and why she needed them. It shaped up to be an explosive encounter but Julia never backed down.
This aspect of her character was one I cherished and was inspired by. It was my main takeaway from this story because she goes through so much in every way imaginable; her family’s money struggles have put her through hunger and denied her many opportunities, she has a troubled relationship with both parents (and for a lot of the story with her best friend Lorena), and faces many little struggles with her school and in the area of Chicago where she lives. Plus, on top of all of this, is grieving the loss of her sister.
Despite this, she never looses the fire she has that allows her to stand up for herself throughout the story. In situations where she needs to advocate for herself with her mom, her best friend, boys and men in her life, her voice saves her and is really all she can depend on. The strength she had to continue advocating for herself, despite all of the people shrugging her off and silencing her, gave me hope for the times I’m feeling ignored or weak and inspired me to continue to encourage myself and those around me despite what I’m going through.
Another aspect of this story that was important was the amount of cultural and generational trauma that was embedded into the plot and into the characters. It was obvious that Julia had some issues with the way her family saw the world and was constantly criticizing her sister for having conformed to many dated norms that were enforced by her parents, like staying home and cooking and cleaning because she was a girl in the family, without a problem. This was something that had obviously been taught to her parents and had been the norms in their societies for a long time, which is why that was the standard for their children, too. Applying this to the plot of the story was something that made all the difference, since it left another layer to analyze and learn about from the perspective of someone going through it firsthand.
Those clever applications of the real world struggles of a young girl character, and its unique plot really raised the bar and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I rate it a 4/5 because though it was good, I would’ve liked the plot to move faster but would recommend it and am glad to have read it.