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‘Mexican Whiteboy’ Author Examines Youthful Identity Crises in City Tech Talk
Matt de la Peña, author of four novels, read from his book, Mexican Whiteboy, and talked about his life as a writer in a November 2011 Atrium Amphitheater presentation at City Tech. The reading was coordinated by Assistant Professor of English Carole Harris.
Published by Delacorte Books in 2008, de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy is a young adult novel about 16-year-old Danny Lopez, a biracial youth who lives in a wealthy northern San Diego county. Danny’s mother is white and his father, who left him and his mother, is Mexican. This complicates Danny's sense of identity. Does he belong in white society or Mexican society?
One summer, Danny travels to Mexico in search of his father’s side of the family and to better understand his father and his Mexican ancestry. He is filled with questions which continue to grow. Danny hopes to find his Dad and ultimately to live with him.
Upon arriving in Mexico, Danny is frustrated because he does not speak Spanish and doesn’t feel like he fits in. When his cousins introduce him to people in their neighborhood, Danny gets punched by a boy named Uno. Their initial tension prompts a friendship and Danny and Uno eventually find that they have a lot in common. In one scene, Uno invites Danny to a place at the bottom of a bridge. A train approaches and Uno instructs Danny to hold onto a pillar really tightly. Uno assures Danny that he will be all right if he holds on tight. The train rambles above them and the pillars shake violently. This is an important event in their friendship that helps foster Danny's ability to trust close relationships.
One of the great joys and shared delights among the two boys is their love of baseball. Danny is an incredibly talented pitcher, so he has much to contribute in this regard. However, he struggles with this too. His uneven pitching is a metaphor for his internal discord. He has enough talent to be signed by a college recruiter, but he shuts down and loses concentration when he is on the mound. Over time, he “finds” his pitch and finds his focus.
Critics have praised de la Peña’s ability to focus on difficult subjects. Young readers of Mexican Whiteboy relate to the struggles with identity that are at the heart of the book, which was named a Top 10 Pick by the American Library Association.