Matt de la Peña’s Mexican Whiteboy is filled with characters attempting to shape their identity. The protagonist Danny, spends a summer visiting his estranged father’s family in National City in an effort to reconnect to his Mexican heritage. This emotional story is amplified in intensity with Danny’s many attempts to connect with a father who feels equally out of reach. As the summer trip comes to an end, Danny feels he must decide between the many sides of who he is. With the help of other characters, especially Sofia (his cousin) and Uno, Danny finds acceptance in his inability to be categorized in just one way.
This book has a captivating form that made me keep reading until the book light batteries ran out. The alternating perspectives of this book give immediate insight to the reader. In one part of the story, Danny begins pulling away from his family after a fight. Though it doesn’t seem to be affecting them (in his mind anyway), we see how affected his cousin Sofia is through a private scene with Uno. There were many times in my youth where I felt the need to withhold internal struggles from the people I cared about because of the fear that it was “too much”, and this isn’t uncommon. We care so much about the people we love that that we worry our thoughts might be too burdensome for them. This same protective instinct connected me to Danny.
Mexican Whiteboy is filled with characters who remind me of home, and I know I’m not the first to say this. This is one of the first books that I felt captured the deep sense of family loyalty I was accustomed to growing up. Even though Danny wants desperately to be like his father’s side of the family, this need causes him to act against his own nature. The more he attempts to be like his father’s family, the further he finds himself from them. These type of contemplations pop up in many of the other characters’ lives as well. The private scenes between Uno and his family are equally as compelling. While Danny has been attempting to define himself away from his father and mother, Uno is a bit of a contrast. Uno’s struggles occur because of a push pull he feels from both his mother and father. These relationships are mirrored in Uno’s cultural identity as well. Uno, like Danny, has felt torn because of his dual heritage, but for Uno it’s an attempt to find balance between being Black and Mexican.
Part of what makes me connect to this book is the real variety of character backgrounds, personalities, and identities. The struggle to form an identity is universal, but when paired with a mixed cultural upbringing, the desire to belong becomes can create many subconscious changes. It was common for Danny to turn away from his Mexican heritage because it wasn’t entwined in the life he had with his American mother. This book perfectly captured the struggle I remember feeling as I sought to understand my own identity. Like Danny, I felt the need to pick a side. I felt the need to diminish one culture in favor of another because I wasn’t born “there” but I also might not have ever been “here” were it not for my family’s wandering hearts. It wasn’t only Danny who I connected to, but Uno as well for similar reasons.
This book deals with many aspects of identity and the effects of trying to face these emotional questions alone. There are a few scenes where Danny uses self-harm in an attempt to cope with his life around him. This coping behavior is one not often discussed, and easily overlooked or minimized in seriousness. It was an important element I felt necessary to mention because many people struggle to understand this behavior, but Mexican Whiteboy shares it in an honest way that gives insight into why people might self-harm. It’s also important to note that self-harm can come in many ways, and Danny reiterates that. This book is an outstanding read that, in a way, made my teen-self feel heard, seen, and acknowledged.
Yes, everything you went through was very real and difficult, but like Danny, you made it through and will continue to discover who you are.