Erika L. Sánchez

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

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I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter Summary

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Recommended for ages fifteen to seventeen, I Am Not Your Perfect American Daughter (2017), a coming of age story by Erika L. Sanchez, tells the story of  Julia Reyes, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. The book has won several literary awards, including the Thomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award 2018, the Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year Selection 2018, the Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List Selection 2019, and the Virginia Capitol Choices Award List Selection 2018.

The story is set in Chicago, Illinois. Fifteen-year-old Julia Reyes is of Mexican descent. Her immigrant parents, her Ama who works as a housekeeper and her Apa who works in a candy factory, have always been overprotective of her; however, when Julia’s twenty-two-year-old sister, Olga is tragically hit by a bus and killed, they strip away what little freedom Julia had.

Everyone believes that Olga had been a perfect child: an obedient daughter who attended school and church, led an inactive social life, and never dishonored her family. After Julia finds racy lingerie, love notes, and a hotel key in Olga’s room, she wonders if Olga was so perfect after all and what secrets she was hiding.

Julia is rarely permitted to leave the house after her sister’s death. When she does, she often rebels by partying with her friend Lorena. Lorena befriends Juanga, an outgoing gay young man. They often engage in behaviors like drinking and taking drugs to a point where Julia feels uncomfortable. Julia experiences dramatic life changes. Though never close with her sister, she feels a deep sense of loss and profound grief. Acting out is an attempt to alleviate some of the pain she is feeling. She digs around to find out whether Olga’s friend Angie or any of Olga’s acquaintances knew anything about a secret romantic relationship. She also meets a wealthy white boy, Connor, at a local bookstore. When she is able to escape her house, she meets Connor to spend time alone with him.

Julia’s mother regrets that she never gave Olga a quinceanera. She vows that she will give one to Julia. The family spends a great amount of money that they cannot afford to throw Julia a celebration she does not want. Dreading her mother’s decision, Julia dreams of leaving her home to attend college in another state. She often dreams of leaving Chicago altogether. She loves to read and write. Her English teacher is helping her to apply to colleges, but Julia struggles with the messages she grew up with: that perfect Mexican girls do not go away to college nor do they leave their families after graduation.

As Julia loses more freedoms, she becomes increasingly depressed. She frequently complains to Connor, who is frustrated with not being able to help her. Julia interprets his frustration as his desire to end their relationship. Her anxiety and depression spiral, leading her to attempt suicide. After slitting her wrists, she wakes up in the hospital. She is prescribed medication and told she has to attend regular counseling sessions, including a week in outpatient therapy. Once her therapy is competed, her parents send her to Mexico to visit relatives. At first, she is unhappy about the plan but soon comes to realize that a change in scenery might be the best thing for her. Before leaving, she finds Olga’s Internet password and discovers messages between Olga and her boyfriend, a married doctor who has promised to leave his wife.

In Mexico, Julia is able to slow life’s pace and begin to heal. Her grandmother shares a disturbing secret: Ama was raped while crossing the border into the United States. Julia feels compassion towards her mother, perhaps for the first time in her life.

When Julia returns to Chicago, she tries to be more understanding of Ama. She also tries to connect with Apa, though this proves more difficult; in time, her relationship with her parents improves. She reconnects with Connor, slowly beginning to confide in him. She starts a friendship with Juanga. She receives a full scholarship to a New York college. Julia eventually learns that Olga was pregnant when she died. After tracking down Olga’s boyfriend, now divorced from his wife, he tells Julia that he truly loved her sister. He gives her a photo of Olga’s ultrasound.

Julia is from a strict and devoutly religious family. After Olga’s death, it becomes even harder for her to establish herself as her own person, separate from her family. In addition, she is a victim of perverse and lewd suggestions from various male relations. She endures trauma without support or the necessary coping skills. Julia comes to realize what it means to be a female in her culture and within her own family. She feels compassion towards other female victims, like her mother. Rigid expectations are required as a mechanism of survival in Julia’s world; with experience and time, she comes to understand this. When tragedy hits, several opposing forces in Julia’s life come to head and need to be reconciled.

A myriad of serious topics is explored in this female coming-of-age story, including feminism, oppression, honor, sacrifice, family expectations, suicide, eating disorders, abortion, trauma, and abuse. Largely representative of the Latino community, I am Not Your Perfect American Daughter crosses all cultures, relating to females everywhere.

Erika L. Sanchez is a writer, poet, and feminist. She previously worked as the love and sex advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinos. Her writing has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Paris Review, and Salon magazines. She currently resides in Chicago.