Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, this author writes often about her Afro-Latina heritage. She speaks, reads, and writes Spanish, but she is truly fluent in Spanglish, which she demonstrates ably in this novel for young adults.
This is a coming-of-age story about a rich Mexican teenager, Cammi – she is the daughter of a famous wealthy telenovela actress – who moves to LA with her family. At her new school, she is stunned by the stereotypes about Mexicans with which she is confronted, and decides to “reinvent” herself by playing along with them. Her motives are mixed: for one thing, she always felt stifled by the restrictions and expectations that being the daughter of a famous mother imposed on her life and how that affected her friendships. She also liked being someone new and different; it was like starring in her own telenovela. Third, she wanted to find out just how racist her new friends could be. Unfortunately, as time went on and she no longer wanted to lie, it had gone on for too long; she didn’t know how to climb out of the hole she had dug for herself without making everyone hate her for the deception.
Milly, a Latina at the school, knew who Cammi really was because she read the Spanish edition of “People Magazine.” She was furious at Cammi for living this lie that she felt did not help the dangerous situation of immigrants in the U.S. She told her:
“You’re an educated Mexican who came here with buckets of cash. You could change the minds of kids at this school who think we’re all one stereotype after another. Maybe those same kids would go home and talk to their parents. The parents at this school have influence. They get it done. But instead of being a force for good, you’re fake slumming it and perpetuating stereotypes.”
Milly challenged her to tell her friends, but Cammi was basically chicken, so one day Milly just “outed” her.
Her new friends were justifiably hurt and angry, and Cammi didn’t know if or how she could ever make it right again.
Discussion: There is much to like about this book. As the author stated in the forward, she wanted to shed light on “…the struggle for a sense of self and place for Latinas in this country . . . regardless of your class.” She made a good start on showing how that problem affects immigrants.
I appreciated the insertion of so many Spanish phrases, followed by their translations. (Humorously to me, I had more trouble with the California slang!) I also loved Cammi’s father, who taught her that their elite status was “a fabrication of a culture that makes the little people you see on your TV screens into BFDs….”
Lastly, I liked that the author brought up the idea of the social construction of race, although she didn’t go too deeply into the concept.
Cammi learns, for example:
“. . . since we’d moved to the U.S., I’d come to think that not having to think about skin color was a way of being white – regardless of your skin color. In America, and in Los Angeles specifically, if you were Mexican, you were ‘brown’ – no matter how white your skin was. Whiteness, I came to understand pretty quickly, was something you were given – like a passport or a green card. It wasn’t actually a visual reality.”
[As sociologists have established, the norms and definition of “whiteness” in the U.S. were developed and refined as part of a system of racial oppression, the necessity for which arose during the early years of slavery. Prior to that time, although Europeans recognized differences in the color of human skin, they did not categorize themselves as white. But in the U.S. such distinctions were deemed necessary beginning as early as 1662, after challenges of legal status by mulattos (people of mixed race). Virginia passed laws establishing that the legal status of the mother, not the father, as stipulated in Britain, determined the legal status of the child. Annette Gordon-Reed explains in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Hemingses of Monticello, that this change from British law ensured that white masters could retain the value of “increase” when these female slaves gave birth, because as long as the child’s mother was a slave, it wouldn’t matter who the father was. Masters could therefore continue to exploit the popular option of using female slaves for sex without having to worry that this would cause them to lose their “property.” Other states, particularly in the South, quickly followed suit. Further laws were passed to ensure that even “one drop” of “black blood” made the difference between slavery and freedom. You can read more about the history of the “one drop rule” (and its uniqueness to the U.S.) here.
Before long, “whiteness” came to signify the supremacy of one socially and legally defined population over others, while simultaneously inculcating notions that character, intelligence, and other traits were associated with whiteness or non-whiteness. Today, as the New York Times recently observed, “whiteness continue[s] to be defined, as before, primarily by what it isn’t. . . “]
One negative aspect of the story for me is that the two romances involving Cammi and her brother make “InstaLove” look like slow motion. NanosecondLove would be more like it.
Evaluation: I think young adults will enjoy this book. Although the ending was probably a bit too much “and everything worked out great” that might have been an ironic wink at the telenovela genre.
Published in the U.S. by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, 2017