Under the Mesquite Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Mami said life would change
after I turned fifteen
when I became a señorita.
But señorita means different things
to different people.
For my friends Mireya and Sarita,
who turned fifteen last summer,
señorita means wearing lipstick,
which when I put it on
is sticky and messy,
like strawberry jam on my lips.
For Mami señorita means
making me try on high-heeled shoes
two inches high
and meant to break my neck.
For Mami's sisters, my tías
Maritza and Belén, who live in Mexico,
señorita means measuring me,
turning me this way and that
as they fit me for the floral dresses
they cheerfully stitch together
on their sewing machines.
For the aunts, señorita also means
insisting I wear pantyhose,
the cruel invention that makes
my thick, trunklike thighs
into bulging sausages.
When my tías are done dressing me up
like a big Mexican Barbie doll,
I look at myself in the mirror.
Mami stands behind me
as I pull at the starched
flowered fabric and argue
with Mami's reflection.
"Why do I have to wear this stuff/
This is your style, not mine!
I like jeans and tennis shoes.
Why can't I just dress
like a normal teenager?
En los Estados Unidos girls
don't dress up like muñecas."
Señoritas don't talk back
to their mothers," Mami warns.
When my aunts aren't looking,
she gives me a tiny pinch,
like a bee sting on the inside
of my upper arm. "Señoritas know
when to be quiet and let their
elders make the decisions."
For my father, señorita means
he has to be a guard dog
when boys are around.
According to my parents,
I won't be allowed to date
until I graduate from high school.
That's fine with me.
I have better things to do
than think about boys--
like prepare for my future.
I want to be the first one in our family
to earn a college degree.
For my sisters, señorita means
having someone to worship:
it is the wonder of
seeing their oldest sister
looking like Cinderella
on her way to the ball.
But for me, señorita means
melancolía: settling into sadness.
It is the end of wild laughter.
The end of chewing bubble gum
and giggling over nothing
with my friends at the movies, our feet up
on the backs of the theater seats.
Señorita is very boring
when we go to a fancy restaurant
decorated with Christmas lights
for the upcoming Posadas.
We sit properly, Papi, Mami,
and I, quietly celebrating
my fifteenth birthday
with due etiquette because
I'm trying my best
to be a good daughter and accept
the clipping of my wings,
the taming of my heart.
Being a señorita
is not as much fun
as I'd expected it to be.
It means composure and dignity.
Señorita is a nina,
the girl I used to be,
who has lost her voice.
HEY AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS! Did you know that you're allowed to have a book about a high school girl with NO romantic plot or subplot? Did you know you can have a book about a Mexican-American teen where immigration isn't an issue, that she can travel freely between countries (and often does?) Did you know you can have a book about a Mexican-American teen where race and racism and fitting in aren't plot points? Did you know you can do all those things and still have A REALLY GOOD BOOK?
So, if this book isn't about boys or race, what is it about?
Freshman year, Lupita's mother gets uterine cancer. Despite the fact that she's the oldest of eight, Lupita and her mother have a close relationship and it grieves her to see her vibrant and wonderful mother struggle with the disease. Following Lupita through high school and beyond, we see her and her family deal with her mother's illness. It's beautifully written and such a change of pace.
I loved the exploration of how Lupita tries to hold it together-- both herself and her family. Her relationship with her parents and her siblings and how these change, both because of age and because of the what the family is dealing with. I loved the family-- they're close while still being realistic. Siblings and parents fight, but they make up. Relationships change, but the underlying love doesn't.
The verse format allows for some wonderful imagery and metaphor, as well alluding to the fact that Lupita is a writer and writing poetry (but not the poetry we're reading) is one of the ways she tries to sort out her thoughts and feelings.
It was a Morris finalist and the Bel Pre Author winner and it's not hard to see why.
Today's Poetry Friday round up is hosted by Anastasia over at Booktalking!
Book Provided by... my local library
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