Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Read With Us: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter


Today is our first discussion of I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. S├ínchez. We're trying a slightly different format than we have before. Carole, Kym, and I have each posted/asked a different question on our blogs and we hope you'll answer our questions in the comments. You are invited to be part of a never-before-attempted-3-blog-extravaganza!



Parental expectations are a major theme running through I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Did Julia's relationships with her parents turn out in ways you expected? Was Julia's mother toxic in the restrictions she put on her daughters? How did Julia's relationship with her father affect her, or did she even have a relationship with him? 

As the first-born child in my family, I often felt that I had to live up to my parents' expectations of and for me. This was probably partially due to my personality, but I often felt like I had disappointed them when I didn't get an A in French or only managed a C in Organic Chemistry. These hopes and assumptions shaped the person I became, and I was well into my 30s before I really began to question them. I know how I struggled with these expectations, and I can well imagine how the even more intense expectations of Julia's Mexican immigrant parents and their seeming overprotectiveness placed constraints on Julia. So what do you think? 


I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say. Please be sure to visit Kym and Carole and let them know what you think about their questions!


But wait, there's more! Once again we have a “book lovers' surprise package” thoughtfully and generously provided by Kym, to be awarded to one lucky reader! Your name will be placed in a hat EACH time you make a comment on each of our book discussion posts and we will then choose a winner. Thanks for participating!

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We're planning a further book discussion with another different-than-before-format, a Zoom call. What would work better for you - a weekday or weekend? Do you have any time preferences - daytime or evening? Let us know in the comments so we can include as many people that would like to participate as possible. We will let you know the details as soon as we have them!

20 comments:

  1. I am glad we are discussing this question! I grew up in a city that had a large Hispanic population, and today it is a majority minority city. Julia's mom was exactly like every Hispanic mom I knew growing up. Julia's friends moms that were not like that just didn't exist. I found that to be very "not believable" in the book. I loved spending time in one friends house especially - the Reyes family had come here as migrant workers and while they were not overflowing with material things, their house was warm and so welcoming! They tolerated many of my embarrassingly ignorant questions - but they helped me grow and learn. My friend argued with her mom in ways that sounded similar to how Julia argued with her mother. (My friend had no sisters, but had 5 brothers!) But the expectation for all the kids was to work hard and do well in school. It was not a house where a lot of goofing off happened, they were all focused in ways that I was not (and did not get).

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    1. I only know one Hispanic family well enough to know their familial expectations, but it's quite similar to your experiences, Kat. When I first met them, the parents were just beginning to learn English, and the oldest son acted as their interpreter - at the bus stop, the grocery store, doctor, and even at his own parent teacher conference. Marco was only in 1st grade then, but he was mature beyond his years in many ways. I thought Julia's mother had high expectations for her children, but only because she wanted the best for them. Thanks, Kat!

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  2. I really empathized with Julia; though my relationship with my own mother was never nearly as fraught, I did have issues about my mother's high expectations for me (and it took several years of therapy to unravel all the issues surrounding them). I know there are cultural differences at play, but I think there's also the dynamic of being a first-generation child of immigrant parents. Every parent wants their child to do well and even to achieve beyond the parent's own accomplishments, but there seems to be even more pressure for children of immigrants -- and Julia gets even more pressure because she is the only child after her sister's death. It would be interesting to see how the parent/child relationship developed as Julia got older; I think many of the conflicts were probably exacerbated by the age she is and the tendency of teenagers to push back against their parents as part of discovering their identity.

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    1. I also empathized with Julia because of the parental expectations I felt. I balked at my mother's expectations for me and never really understood why they were so different from the expectations she had for my younger sister, but I was the complacent child who did what was asked of her and was afraid to rebel. It was an issue for me for a while, but once I had children of my own, I understood where my mother was coming from. I felt like Julia would have had a much more complicated time of things, with the additional cultural and child of immigrant parent issues.

      You make a good point that Julia is a teenager, so it's her job to argue, fight back, and rebel, even though she may not have understood why her mother especially acted the way she did. I like to think that as Julia matured and gained knowledge that she would come to better understand and even appreciate that her mother was acting out of love.

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  3. I just couldn't get a handle on Julia's mother and what her motivations were. I wrote on Carole's blog that I wasn't clear about her motivations for sending Julia to Mexico. I could relate to the feeling of always disappointing the mother though.

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    1. I think that Julia's mother just wanted the best for her family and she expressed this through expectations that her children would do well, behave, and get educated, seeing these things as their keys to having the good adult life she so wanted for them. I also don't understand why she sent Julia to Mexico, but maybe it was something the author wrote so Julia could begin to understand where her parents were coming from and the lives they had led. Since it's a YA book, by going to Mexico, we don't have to wait for Julia to grow up and mature before reaching a bit of understanding.

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  4. Expectations - wow! That is something I never really felt growing up. Sure my parents wanted me (and all my siblings) to do well, but the overriding sense was they wanted me/us to be happy. One more reason I had such a hard time relating to/enjoying this book...and now I'm having a really tough time even remembering it - lol. I think YA fiction is just not my genre.

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    1. It's interesting how different people have such different experiences growing up! Someday we might have to read and discuss a book dealing with parental expectations! YA is usually a tough genre for me to relate to since I am clearly not the target audience. I find myself just wanting to tell the characters to "grow up" but the fact that they are in the midst of growing up is the point.

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    2. Yes, that's a good way of putting it - I felt the same - wanting to scream "just grow up" and then realizing that's what they are doing. Oy!

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  5. I thought this was one of the most well developed aspects of the book. Although a lot of the conflict was what I would consider normal for a teenager vs. parents, the author also managed to convey very well the fears of immigrant families attempting to raise children in what must seem a thoroughly alien and permissive society. The rules and norms were all different from what they would deal with in Mexico, and her mother's fears were particularly well portrayed. My parents had many of the same fears, but at least they had a better understanding of what I might get into! I also thought that the book also portrayed well the development over time of mother and daughter compromising and becoming more understanding of one another. I have not known very many Mexican men, but the ones I have known that were family men seemed totally focused on providing for their families. I think her father was subdued by the culture and was exhausted most of the time, so that interfered with their interactions. I thought the expectations were "normal" ones for the Mexican culture, in fact Julie tells us they are, but Julia did not "feel Mexican". She was trying to straddle two cultures, which must seem impossible, especially when you are a teenager.

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    1. You bring up a great point, Becky, about straddling two cultures. It was tough enough for Julia's parents to come from a Mexican culture to the United States in search of a better life for their family and have to deal with different rules and norms for what was accepted in families. But it would have been even more difficult for Julia to deal with "Mexican" expectations when she did not feel Mexican and couldn't understand why she wasn't allowed to be a typical American teenager. Her mother's fears were well portrayed, and I imagine that her mother must have been even more fearful (and stricter) after Olga's death.

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  6. I thought her parents and their expectations were pretty typical of 1st generation immigrants, even 2nd generation, but I didn't see those expectations as being at the root of the tension between Julie and her mother. Instead, I thought that Julie's unrecognized clinical and/or situational depression was the cause of the tension between the two. Once Julie was diagnosed and in treatment, both her and her mother gained insight. I think her mother's decision to send her to family in Mexico was a good one and allowed Julie the space to heal and gain self knowledge and a deeper understanding of her parents. The author gave a very good idea of how depression presents in an adolescent.

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    1. Thank you, Debbie! I had pretty much forgotten about Julia's depression, but I think you are certainly right. Being an adolescent, daughter of 1st generation immigrants, and suffering from depression would certainly be a difficult combination. There are members of my family that suffer from clinical depression, and it's difficult at best. You want to support and help them, but there are times it's been very hard for me to understand the disease and the best way to help.

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  7. After finding out Julia's mother's experiences, I understood her protectiveness a bit better. I still think she's a bit harsh. And the father made me sad--it seems like he's given up zest for life.

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    1. Once we as readers knew what had happened to Julia's mother, that did explain a lot of her strict protectiveness. She certainly wasn't a demonstrative type of mother, but I want to think that she loved Julia very much, and was just trying to be maybe be even more protective of her after losing Olga. I viewed her father as a hard-working provider who may have given up his zest for life, but I think that may be the result of his circumstances and Olga's death.

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  8. um, oops, this snuck up on me - I just started the book last night. Will do my best to be ready for the live discussion on Zoom!

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    1. Hope you enjoy reading. I think it was an interesting book, in many ways!

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  9. As I was reading, I had to keep reminding myself that we were ONLY getting Julia's side of the narrative. I'm sure my own daughter had many complaints in her growing up years that I was overprotective and meddling and asking too many questions, etc. I think it's natural . . . that loving parents . . . try to protect and coddle their children. So we really didn't get a balanced perspective of the relationship between Julia and her mother. I think "straddling the cultures" made normal, parent/teenager relationships stand out even more in this book. Julia's mom is still so tied to her old life and culture, and trying so hard to manage in a strange world without her family, while Julia . . . well, she's all about trying to make it in the only world she really knows. So not only does Julia's mom have a teenager . . . but she also has a teenager from an entirely different culture! (Not to mention her own baggage.) I think the author did an excellent job with this challenging relationship, and I'm so glad the book ends with some healing between Julia and her mom.

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    1. Now that would be interesting - a followup book written from Julia's mother's and/or father's points of view! Gary Paulsen (a prolific author of YA that had a big appeal for book-hating Justin) did something creative with his Hatchet series about a teenage boy stranded in the Alaskan wilderness. He wrote several sequels after the original book, re-examining what the main character might have experienced if things had been slightly different. I think that several of the sequels were in response to reader letters and both Justin and I really enjoyed the expansion of the story line in non-linear ways.

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  10. Julia's mother was a Mexican living in America, a place that she feared for many reasons. Julia did not have the same fears as she was American living with old Mexican standards and behaviors. Her sister understood and tried her best not to hurt her parents, but Julia butted against those same restrictions. She was throughly American. Her sophisticated, NY style and desires for the future didn't quite ring true for me. How did she grow into something so completely opposite of her family upbringing and expectations? I understand to some degree as I also railed against my family culture and had a very difficult relationship with my parents, but in Julia's story her desire was for something, some place she seemed to have no experience with. Where did the idea to live in NY and become a writer come from?

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