Review: Carlos B. Gil, Educator and Author of “We Became Mexican American: How Our Immigrant Family Survived to Pursue the American Dream.”
“The main reason I like this book is that the author drives the plot to a critical point, one that all of us Latinos can appreciate, one way or another (or Americans of recent immigrant origin). We don’t have to be college bred to recognize it.
I’m referring to the conflicted inner voice the (characters) all hear with varying degrees of intensity. This is the voice that whispers to us Latinos regarding our identity about how we see ourselves and how we think others see us. How American do we look if we’re dark skinned and confronting a white American for the first time? We all face this moment.
The intensity of this voice varies according to the generation and the class we belong to, among other factors, in a family that still remembers its immigrant pioneers….”
Review: Grant Leishman, Readers’ Favorite
“Coconut”: Brown on the Outside, White on the Inside by Manuel Padilla Jr. is the story of the Rodrigo family, a middle-class Mexican/American family living in the San Fernando Valley and having to deal with the prejudice and racism inherent in the color of their skin, despite their having lived in America and been citizens since the early 1900s. The question so many American citizens of Mexican extraction ask is: “Why do we not get the same rights and opportunities as our fellow white citizens?” The bulk of the novel focuses on young Aurelio or “Oree,” as he preferred to be known. Oree is a precocious young man whose first memories are of being taunted by other children because of the color of his skin – Beaner, Wetback – he’s been called them all and a few more besides. Oree is a gifted child whose intelligence and aptitude for learning are apparent early on. Unfortunately, his family neither understands what a “gifted child” is nor can they afford to send Oree to any special school for gifted kids. Oree succeeds academically the hard way and by the time he readies for high school graduation, he is prepared to not only become the first person in his family to attend and graduate college, but he has his sights set high on the Ivy League school, Columbia University, all the way across the other side of the country. Will the pull of the culture of the family hold him back from fulfilling his dream and his promise?
Coconut is fascinating because it highlights a civil rights struggle that few of us have probably read about before, that of the Latino community and the prejudice they face, which is similar but also starkly different in many ways to that experienced by African Americans. Author Manuel Padilla Jr. did an excellent job of characterizing the unique family and religious experience of many Latinos that poses both problems but also support structures for young Latinos as they try to improve their lot in society. I particularly liked Oree’s argument about changing the dynamic and objective as each successive generation grew up and went into the world. The author does an excellent job of delving into the family dynamics of the Rodrigos and exposing the cultural and generational differences that occur, plus the anomalies of trying to balance and hold onto the culture left behind in Mexico with the realities of living in a predominantly white Anglo-Saxon world. One could feel, for example, the latent anger in Oree at his parents not teaching him Spanish as a child because they didn’t view that as compatible with being American. This is an easy to read and interesting look at a generational culture shift in Latinos and one I can definitely recommend.