It’s Not What You Think: Mexican Americans in YA
Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Contrary to popular belief, this is not Mexican Independence Day (that, if you’d like to mark your calendars ahead of time, is September 16) but rather a day that celebrates the 1862 victory over the French in the state of Puebla. The holiday is celebrated primarily in that state and in the U.S., not so much the rest of Mexico.
Considering the misconception that this is a major Mexican holiday, I wanted to create a booklist that might help to address other misconceptions about Mexican Americans, as well as help you bulk up the diversity in your collection or personal reading. This list aims to highlight books that are not about the usual story — emigrating from one country to another, working as migrant laborers, or dealing with racism — and instead aims to show how Mexican American teens are, you know, teens. That’s not because those stories aren’t important — of course they are — but because when we talk about books about minorities， they tend to overshadow contemporary realistic fiction about the types of issues all teens face, like identity, cliques, and romance, and fantasy rooted in cultures other than western Europe. So, without further ado, here are some novels that might break down some stereotypes and clichés.
Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
In 1968 New Mexico (Hollywood refers to a neighborhood near the town of Ruidoso, not the land of celebrities), Sammy falls in love with Juliana against a backdrop of the Vietnam War, poverty, and racism. Unlike many other books, this one does not italicize Spanish words when they appear, integrating it fully into the story just as Spanish and Spanglish is integrated seamlessly into the lives and language of people who live on the border. While certainly serious in tone, there is humor, too, and the audiobook has gotten high praise.
Honey Blonde Chica by Michele Serros
While chick lit for adults tends to deal with a very limited demographic, this novel pushes the boundaries a bit in placing a Latina girl at the front of the narrative. Evie is caught when an old friend returns from Mexico City with a new identity that’s at odds with the group she’s been hanging out with, the Flojos. For teens looking for light beach reading that is a little less run-of-the-mill, this book might deliver.
Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe García McCall
This is a magical realism retelling of the Oydssey set in Texas. Need I say more? García McCall, who was a Morris Award finalist for her first book, Under the Mesquite, has a lyrical quality to her writing that fits with the epic the story comes from. Mixing the characters and trials from Homer’s story with Mexican and Mexican American folklore like La Llorona and the chupacabra, this book is unlike other retellings out there.
Sofi Mendoza’s Guide to Getting Lost in Mexico by Malin Alegria
Sofi Mendoza, like many real life teens, is Mexican by birth and heritage, but not by upbringing. When she sneaks off with friends to Tijuana, a green card snafu leaves her stuck in a country she doesn’t really know. Like any good teen mixup book or movie in which a spoiled princess has to learn to live with less, this book is about how Sofi navigates the new surroundings she finds herself in and learns to appreciate them.
Rogelia’s House of Magic by Jamie Martinez Wood
Like Practical Magic or The Craft, this book has us following three girls who stumble across a curandera, or healer, who helps them tune into the magic each one possesses. Dealing with Wicca, upper-class Mexican American life, and the joys and struggles of friendships, this book might appeal to fantasy readers tired of the same old thing.
The God Box by Alex Sanchez
This book is just different. Paul has always been religious, and he has always been dating Angie. Then he meets Manuel, who says he is religious, too — but also gay. Delving deep into cultural and Christian issues, this book packs quite the punch for the right reader.
I decided to make this list when I realized that books that didn’t deal with the usual gangs or immigration issues weren’t coming to my mind quickly. When so many common depictions of Mexican American teens focus on one color of skin, one religion, and one socioeconomic class, we miss the stories that these books tell. And even those of us who identify as minorities or who read widely about as many different types of teens as we can may be missing out because so many of the books being pushed at us are telling us the same things.
What books have challenged your stereotypes about a group or opened your eyes to diversity within groups?
– Hannah Gómez, currently reading Sudden Flash Youth, edited by Christine Perkins-Hazuka, Tom Hazuka, and Mark Budman