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Not the Perfect Mexican Daughter

I recently read I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L. Sánchez. I picked it up at the library as it had been on my radar for a while. The title alone is great—and I learned it will be made into a movie soon, so it felt like the right time to dig in.

I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a young adult novel about a Mexican-American teenage girl, Julia, who is navigating the grief of her older sister's death while learning about herself and the ups and downs of life. Her parents are immigrants from Mexico and settle in Chicago before her older sister is born. It is set in present day and was published in 2017.

Picture of the cover of the book, I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika Sanchez.

I found it to be a page turner and incredibly well written. I felt seen in many aspects of the book and believe this is exactly what the world needs more of—diverse stories written by Latina authors. This book made me reflect a lot on my experiences growing up and I felt compelled to write a little about it. In this article, I'll discuss some items that I most related to in the novel, I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L. Sánchez.

Not the Perfect Mexican Daughter

The main character, Julia, feels different from her family members (and most people around her). She prefers spending her time reading and writing over more traditional "girl" duties, like cooking and cleaning. She can't wait to go to college so she can be independent and experience life in a new city. She dreams of travel and seeing the world. She can't wait to make a life for herself. She wants to be a writer and go to college in NYC.

Meanwhile, her parents don't understand why she can't just be a "good Mexican daughter" like her sister Olga. They see Julia as overly independent and wish she would just sit still and accept a more "normal" life, like staying at home and going to community college when she finishes high school.

While there's some aspects of Julia's experience I do not have firsthand experience with, I can definitely relate to the feeling of not feeling like the perfect Mexican daughter growing up. Like Julia, I was bookish as a kid. One of my favorite activities was reading and it felt like such a treat to get a new book at the store or go to the library. I was good at writing in grade school but to be honest I didn't make the connection of reading and writing early on, I'm not sure why. I thought it was just a random thing I was good at and didn't give it much weight. And I certainly didn't have a writer role model that looked liked me (that I knew of), so I didn't grow up thinking that could be in my trajectory. But I always saw the value in being well-read, even as a kid. I think it's such a gift to young Latinas now to have a bit more representation in literature than existed twenty or thirty years ago. How validating it is to read of a complex character that one can relate to.

I played sports growing up, so between that and schoolwork and reading for fun, I wasn't particularly interested in being in the kitchen and learning how to cook (don't worry, I eventually learned). Like Julia, I dreamed of going out into the world and experiencing new cities and travel. While I wasn't the first in my family to go to college, I was the first one in my immediate family to go away for college. My dad went to college and graduate school locally, and my mom went to some college. It was definitely helpful to have a model of the college bound track, though when it came to the nuances of moving out after high school to live in the dorms, that was new for my parents.

When I went to college at UC Santa Barbara, my world expanded. I learned that there's so much to learn and so many experiences to be had. And if my parents thought they were getting used to me being away at school, I really surprised them when I showed them the Education Abroad Program brochure for a six-month study abroad program in Santiago, Chile. "You want to do what?" Yes, I wanted to go to South America for six months at age 20. No, I've never left the country before, yes, I'm sure it's what I want to do. Definitely not the stay close to home and go to community college vibes that my mother probably wanted for me. But, they were supportive and I ended up going. From there, my world expanded even more.

Doing One's Best

In the book, the main character struggles a lot with relating to her parents and the expectations they have of her. I reflected on that from my own experiences and I think that my parents did the best they could given what they knew at the time (just like Julia's parents). And I think that's true of everyone—you do the best you can with the information you have at the time.

The beauty of being someone who is driven is the optionality to go for it. I think in these people, there's an intuition so strong that it almost has to come to fruition; it almost feels necessary to do. I think that even from an early age, I knew I wanted more than what was in front of me. In many ways I grew up with privilege, I'm not denying that, but even still I felt like I needed to make my own path and do things how I felt they needed to be done to stay true to myself. I wanted experiences, education, independence, to live where I wanted to live, and do what I wanted to do. And in the end, I'm proud of myself for following that intuition, even if my life has looked different than people around me. It definitely was not always a smooth path, but I'm happy with where I am now and optimistic of the future.

Lastly, I applaud the author for following her dreams of being an author and writing such a beautiful book. Based on a recent study noted by PEN America, 95 percent of American fiction books published between 1950 and 2018 were written by White people. That said, I would love to see and read more books by writers of color. The possibilities are endless.

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