I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Some people have a weakness for handbags or designer shoes.  Some people are coffee  connoisseurs.  Some people live for garage sale bargains.  My father collects old phonographs and my mom has acquired an assortment of small wooden and ceramic chickens from around the world.  My husband adores tacos, my eldest daughter is devoted to sitcoms from the 90s and my youngest daughter is a puzzle enthusiast.

I love books…I love books more than ripe mangos and dark chocolate and nearly as much as I love travel…travel with books is my idea of heaven:)

My love for books runs deep.  On the surface I adore the rush of entering a book shop with aisles upon aisles of written word.  I like to trail my fingers over book covers and to read the biographies of authors and illustrators.  I feel secure and snug in my home office where shelves of my favorite novels and children’s books surround me.

And on a more profound level, I love what books provide me with…imagination, escape, contemplation, reflection and above all, perspective.  I am a 41-year-old woman from the United States living in Guatemala and yet when I open a book, I am given a ticket to enter  a world that may belong to a character whose life looks very different from my own.  This ticket is what Rudine Simms Bishop would call a “window,”  an opportunity that offers a reader a  view into the lives of others.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez was my invitation to experience and relate to the life of fifteen-year-old Julia, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, who is growing up in a gritty Chicago Neighborhood.

Let’s imagine, even if just for a moment, what our world could be if we took the time to relate to others, gain new and different perspectives, learn of the struggles and accomplishments from people who have stories that are not our own.   I am not a social scientist, but I am a preschool teacher, and I spend most work days  living in a microcosm of a mini society.  I predict that if we collectively read more diverse books that provided us with “windows” into the lives of others, empathy, kindness and compassion would  replace judgement, assumption and discrimination. 

Title:  I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Regional/Cultural focus:  USA/Mexico

Author:  Erika Sánchez

Genre:  juvenile fiction

Themes:  cultural identity, family, coming of age, grief

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is brilliantly told through the voice of teenage Julia.  She is grieving the death of her sister Olga, who had always been “the perfect Mexican daughter.”  Olga was everything that Julia is not.  Olga was dedicated and obedient.  She had an ordinary job and spent time in the evenings watching telenovelas with her mom.  Julia is rebellious,strong-willed, sassy and  confrontational.

After her sister’s  death, Julia is surprised to discover a few provocative accessories in Olga’s bedroom.  She is determined to learn more about Olga’s not-so-pristine identity and in the process, she gains new insight into her family, her friends and ultimately herself.

We journey with Julia through her day to day…in her house where her family is falling apart in light of  tragedy, in high-school with the complexities of friendships, in cultural worlds of meeting family expectations while following her academic dreams.

What I love:

  • Julia’s voice is deeply present throughout the novel…painfully vulnerable at times and shamelessly hilarious at others.
  • Erika Sánchez doesn’t sugar coat difficult themes in her novel.  She explores topics such as death, immigration  and depression in a way that is both real and approachable.
  • While not the focus of the novel, there is a touch of romance.

Discussion:

  • In the first chapter of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter we learn that Julia is grieving the death of her sister.  Have you ever lost someone close to you?  What words come to mind when you remember that period of your life?
  • Julia feels that she is not meeting her family’s expectations of who she should be/who she should become.  What are the expectations that Julia’s family has for her?  How do they differ from her own hopes and dreams?  What are your hopes and dreams?  Are they the same as the expectations that your family has for you?
  • While Julia often feels alone, there are people throughout the book who play important roles in supporting her.  Who are they?  How do they help her?  Who are the role models/helpers in your life?

Activities:

  • In many ways I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a story about identity.  Make a list of words that come to mind when thinking about your identity.
  • Write a short diary of your day-to-day, from morning to night.  What do the details of your daily life reveal about your identity?
  • Learn more about mental health resources and how you can be a support system for friends who are struggling with depression.

 

 

 

 

 

Nochecita–Little Night

Regional focus:  Mexico

Author:  Yuyi Morales

Illustrator: Yuyi Morales

Genre:  children’s literature

I’ve been thinking about mothers.  I am sitting in the airport in route to meet my mother in New Orleans.  Despite the fact that I am nearly 40 years old, she is traveling from California to meet me mid way between Guatemala, where I will receive an award on behalf of La Puerta Abierta for Innovative International Library Programs from the American Library Association.  While I am now a mother myself, my mom is still MY mother, and I will bask in her love and support over the next few days.

As I remember my own mom, my mind wanders to the current issues of the US, the heart-breaking stories of children separated from their mothers in unfamiliar territory, without the guidance, love, warmth, and security that we associate with motherhood.  I imagine the what ifs…what if my daughters were separated from me, and I was unable to protect and sooth them?  Sigh.  Deep breath.

And my thoughts drift  back to our sweet students at La Puerta Abierta in Guatemala who spent the day honoring  Mother Earth by planting trees to the mountain highlands with their teachers and families.

Today, I share one of my favorite stories about mothers.  

Meet Little Night and Mother Sky in Morales’ dreamy tale of the love exchanged between mother and child. Mother Sky prepares her tiny daughter, Little Night, for the evening. As Mother Sky attempts to set the scene for bedtime, Little Night engages in clever games of hide and seek, inspiring her mother to discover where she is hidden. Children will love the idea of a girl who plays while she should be sleeping.

What I love:

  • Morales captures the loving rituals between mother and child.
  • The illustrations allow one to feel as if they have walked into a dream.
  • Little Night and Mother Sky are beautifully brown, round, and dressed in traditional Mexican clothing.
  • The book can be found in both English and Spanish.

Themes: family, rituals, the night sky

Discussion:

  1. What are your family bedtime rituals?
  2. Do you have a favorite bedtime story? What is it?
  3. What can you see from your window at night?

Connections:

  1. Take a walk with an adult at night to admire the evening sky.
  2. Use black, white, purple, blue and yellow paints to create your own night sky.
  3. Record and draw the moon phases for a month.

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