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I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

January 1, 2019
Liz Zupan

In a diversity training one school year, I had a professional development trainer say that there are teachers who are “mirrors” and teachers who are “windows.” The mirror teachers are ones that reflect their student’s race, ethnicity, or culture. The window teachers are the ones that offer a look at a race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or culture different to their students’. As a white woman in urban school districts, I was a window teacher to the vast majority of my students—occasionally I was a mirror, but even then I was a mirror of race and ethnicity only. My experience growing up in an upper middle class suburb was not reflected in any of my students.

This training has stuck with me, and served as a quick gauge on my privilege as a white woman (while I know that “privilege” is such a hot button word—one that I think has become politicized and makes people feel guilty instead of developing awareness). I have started assessing the books, TV, and movies I consume to determine which category—window or mirror—they fit. From Julia’s experience as a first generation Mexican American to her struggles with depression, I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is, for me, a window. But what makes this book an important addition to your classroom library is that I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a mirror for so many students who aren’t often represented in literature.

Saint Olga, the perfect Mexican daughter. Sometimes I wanted to scream at her until something switched on in her brain. But the only time I ever asked her why she didn’t move out or go to a real college, she told me to leave her alon in a voice so weak and brittle, I never wanted to ask her again. Now I’ll never know what Olga would have become. Maybe she would have surprised us all.

Here I am thinking all of these horrible thoughts about my dead sister. It’s easier to be pissed, though. If I stop being angry, I’m afraid I’ll fall apart until I’m just a warm mound of flesh on the floor.

Julia, the narrator, is coming to grips with the death of her older sister, Olga. Olga was perfect in the eyes of their Amá and Apá. After graduating from high school, Olga lived at home and went to a local community college. Olga was the favorite child because she always said and did the right things. But now she is dead, and Julia is left feeling guilty and wondering about the Olga she didn’t know. Who was she texting when she walked into the street without looking? Why was it taking her so long to graduate from college? Why did Olga have a box of sexy underwear and a hotel key hidden in a box in her room?

While Julia’s quest to discover the real Olga is presented as the plot of Sánchez’s debut novel, the true story is about Julia’s mourning for her sister, her mental health, and her relationship with her parents. Julia is a refreshingly—albeit painful at times—honest narrator. She holds nothing back and is unapologetic as she observes and experiences the world without her sister.

Her hair is just as bad as the dress—tight, crunchy curls that remind me of a rich lady’s poodle. How cruel to let her look like that. The bruises and gashes on her cheeks are masked with thick coats of cheap foundation, making her face haggard, even though she is (was) only twenty-two. Don’t they pump your body full of strange chemicals to prevent your skin from stretching and puckering, to keep your face from resembling a rubber mask? Where did they find this mortician, the flea market?

Moments like this help make the book feel like a light read, however, Julia’s honesty reveals the deep and darker sides of depression and anxiety that she experiences.

I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is not a page turner in the classic sense—the mystery of who Olga really was is not going to keep you flipping the pages. It is Julia who keeps you reading. She is a character that you feel close to and care about. Her voice is what will keep I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter off your classroom library shelves and in the hands of your students. 


The following topics and themes are present in I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter that some students, parents, or school administrators may not deem appropriate:

Drugs

Underage drinking

LGTBQ+ characters

Suicide

Teenage sex

Undocumented immigration

Rape

There is frequent cursing in I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter—we are talking f-bombs here. It is not over-the-top, but enough that I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you.

Reading Conference Questions

While Reading:

  1. How is Julia handling her sister’s death? What is she doing to cope with her loss?
  2. How is Julia’s mother handling Olga’s death?
  3. How is Olga’s death impacting Julia’s relationship with her parents?
  4. What’s the deal with Julia’s father? He’s present throughout the book but hardly ever interacts with Julia or her mother. What do you think is going on?
  5. How does Amá treat Julia? Are her actions forgivable?
  6. Is Lorena a good friend to Julia? Explain.
  7. Explain Julia’s relationship with Connor. Do you think two people from different “worlds” can make a relationship work?

When Finished:

  1. What was Angie’s reasoning for not telling Julia the truth about Olga? Do you think it was the right decision?
  2. How did Julia’s suicide attempt change her? How did it change her relationship with her parents?
  3. Why do you think the author choose to have Apá break down the door and save Julia after she cut herself?
  4. What happened to Amá when she crossed the border? How does that information help to explain Julia’s relationship with her parents?
  5. How did Julia’s trip to Mexico change her?
  6. What do you think will happen to Julia once she is off at NYU?

Posted by Elizabeth Marshall Zupan | Teacher’s Discovery

I have a BA in secondary English education from Miami University of Ohio and an MA in curriculum and instruction from Eastern Michigan University. Prior to becoming a Product Developer for Teacher’s Discovery, I taught high school English in Detroit. In my last teaching years, I became passionate about student-choice novels and fostering a love for reading in students. Thankfully, I had a supportive administration and ELA department that allowed me to turn my 9th- and 10th-grade classes into reading workshops. I believe that all students are readers—there are just some that have not yet found the right book.

Get your copy of I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter here.

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3 comments

  1. The book seems more appropriate for high school than for middle school. I could not recommend it to my students but I’m interested for myself.

    1. Kayte, I agree; I would definitely recommend for a high school student. However, I have known some middle school students who would have been mature enough to handle to themes of I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. If you end up reading it, drop me a comment and let me know how you liked it! Happy Reading 🙂

  2. Very good written story. It will be helpful to anybody who utilizes it, including yours truly :). Keep up the good work – can’r wait to read more posts.

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