I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Erika L. Sánchez is completely over the idea that female characters shouldn’t be angry.
“I think that’s a bunch of crap. I don’t see why girls aren’t allowed to be mad. We have so much to be mad about,” Sánchez says. An early draft of her book I Am Not Your Perfect Daughter, our November MashReads pick, was rejected by agents who thought Sánchez’s main character was too angry.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter follows Julia Reyes, a 15-year-old Mexican American girl growing up in Chicago. After the sudden and tragic death of her sister Olga, Julia is suddenly put on the spotlight, being compared to her sister who was perfect in her parents eyes. But as Julia deals with the grief of Olga’s death, she soon learns that perhaps her sister wasn’t as perfect as she seemed.
“Julia is dealing with so much stuff. Her sister is dead. And [she’s dealing with] body image and sex and her parents. I think it’s not a valid criticism of a book to say a character is too angry. When are men criticized for that?”
Fortunately, Sánchez got the last laugh. She kept Julia’s anger in the book, resulting in a blunt, candid, funny, and relatable coming of age novel that’s now nominated for a National Book Award in Young People’s Literature.
Join us in the episode above as we chat with author Erika L. Sánchez about her novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.
What inspired this book?
“I’ve actually never lost anyone, thank goodness. I was a snarky 15-year-old girl. I struggled with depression. I was mean at times. So this is where Julia was formed. A lot of things were fictionalized, but I had to channel my inner teenager, and it wasn’t that hard actually.”
What is your take on the Mexican heritage in the book? What did it mean to you to bring this cultural identity to this book and this character?
“I feel like it’s a classic American story, and a story that’s not often told, that’s not part of the mainstream, it’s not part of the cannon. Which to me that’s ridiculous. It’s not for lack of talent, there’s so many talented Latina and Latino authors in the world. I wanted to create a story that documented the experiences of an immigrant family because that’s the family that I belonged to. And I think its really important to read different narratives about people so you can understand what it’s like to be them. And I think reading can be a very powerful tool for empathy.
And I hope that young children of immigrants see themselves in the book and feel validated. And I hope that everyone else can understand what it’s like to be the child of an immigrant or to be an immigrant.”
In an interview, while talking about writing characters who are women and people of color, you said “We’re rarely allowed to be flawed.”
“I think because we’re so rare at all, so that when we are part of a book, we’re expected to be perfect. The model minority. And that’s first of all very boring and unrealistic. We’re all human beings, we make mistakes, we’re flawed. Especially as a teenager. So I felt like [Julia] needed to fuck up because that’s just what it is to be a person.”
And as always, we close the show with recommendations.
Julia recommends Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith. (You can listen to MashReads’ podcast discussion of Don’t Call Us Dead here.)
Peter recommends the Comedy Central show Nathan 4 You, especially the show’s fourth season finale, where Nathan tries to take a 78-year-old Bill Gates impersonator on a trip to find the woman he loves. “It’s just exceptionally good. It reaches an emotional level that the show never has before while also being as goofy and as silly as the show always is. Just an incredible thing.”
Aliza recommends Avatar: The Last Airbender. “Everybody needs to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s the greatest show ever made.”
MJ recommends reading “Fiona the hippo’s best moments of 2017,” a look at the glow up year that Fiona the Hippo has had. “Turns out the the United States is living in a monarchy. We have a queen and her name is Fiona the Hippo. [This post] is what I need to feel light and goodness in the world. I promise, reading this post will make you feel happy.”