Over the weekend, I decided to take a break from The Guineveres so I could make a dent in the Young Adult books that are starting to pile up around the house. The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales was at the top of my list.
I have to admit that I placed it there intentionally because I had a feeling that it would resonate deeply with me considering the state of current affairs, and I wasn’t wrong. This book should be a standard part of curricula in middle schools across the country.
As with anything else, there is no better way to understand other people than by experiencing some of the culture they hold dear. Canales’s book is the perfect blend of coming-of-age story, Mexican-American culture, and humor, with just a touch of the magical realism that makes Latin American literature churn.
At one point in the story, when the main character/narrator, Sofia, has started school at St. Luke’s in Austin (where she has received a full scholarship), a fellow student attempts to degrade her culture, telling her to go back to Mexico. Fortunately, everyone knows this girl is an attention-seeking child born from wealth; her mailbox is flooded with hateful letters, reprimanding her for what she has said and done. But in the immediate aftermath, Sofia says that “the border” crossed her family; she explains that they had been in the country for 300 years before the United States took the land from Mexico that now comprises large parts of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
We would all benefit from a little reminder that the people we wish to deport/ban/block have roots in this country just as much as anyone else. Land was stolen, cultures appropriated, and labor exploited–all around the world. At the hands of this country.
And it’s only convenient that so many people have forgotten they came from somewhere else before they came here.
This book is by no means political; it is far more about the personal–I would say a final love letter from the author to her father. But–not to sound trite–that simple goodbye is the thing that makes the book essential and universal.
It is, quite simply, a story everyone should know.