"A White Boy Among Mexicans, and a Mexican Among White Boys" (de la Peña 90)

Matt de la Peña. Mexican Whiteboy. United States: Delacorte Press, 2008.

Matt de la Peña’s Mexican Whiteboy is not a great choice for the classroom. The text has scenes that deal with many taboo factors, such as: teen drinking , excessive bad language (both in Spanish and English), extreme violence , self mutilation , drug use (specifically marijuana), racism, questionable religion, and sexual references. The novel can also be difficult to read, littered with sentence fragments, beyond that of the language used by characters. Though the book is widely celebrating in young adult literature circles, it would best fit an independent reading assignment because of the touchy topics addressed.

Mexican Whiteboy tells the story of 16 year old Danny Lopez, “the semi-mute Mexican kid” (de la Peña 42), although he is mute by choice because he feels that his family is “split at the seams” (84), and he can’t help but feel that anybody "even saw him as a real person" (17).

Danny’s father left three years earlier, although Danny believes he simply went away to Ensenada , Mexico, later finding out that he was actually sent to prison for beating a man. Danny frequently writes to his father, although the letters are full of wishful thinking of how he wants life to be.

Danny, his mother, and his sister live in Leucadia, a district of Encinitas in San Diego , California; however, Danny’s mother decides to move in with her boyfriend in San Francisco at the beginning of the summer. Danny decides to stay with his father’s family in National City , a densely Hispanic region of San Diego.

Danny finds himself among his father’s family and his cousin, Sofia’s, crazy friends and feels out of place almost immediately. Danny describes himself as “a white boy among Mexicans, and a Mexican among white boys” (90). Danny simply doesn’t know where he fits in among a family who he thinks is “always eating the best food and playing the coolest games and telling the funniest stories” (90). Danny wants to identify with the Mexican-American side of his family more than anything, although he hates that he can’t even speak Spanish .

Through baseball and his connection to Uno, a boy who is like him, except being of half African American and half Mexican descents, Danny is able to come into himself and realize that you are who you want to be due to “real life getting so real for him” (227) over the course of the summer. Because of his relationships, immense talent and love for baseball, and learning about his family, Danny is able to develop the confidence to use his voice and embrace his multiculturalism.

Recommendations for Teachers

This text is appealing for young men in high school. It is told from a young mans perspective and focuses around a popular sport like baseball. Inside the classroom, this book should be used solely as an independent reading choice for students. Mexican Whiteboy is not recommended to be used as an in class text because of the negative language, violence and illegal substances portrayed in the book.

Teachers need to be aware of the following if Mexican White Boy is being read by a student in your classroom:
The Language
Mexican Whiteboy is written with a voice of young men, what they say and what they hear. Throughout the book dialogue with others or dialogue with inside the character who is narrating uses English and Spanish. The language used in English is filled with swear words. The language in Spanish should be rated ‘R’. There are many swear words that are used when characters are using Spanish and English. The difference between the two languages in the switch to Spanish uses more vulgar words and phrases that are not suitable for any classroom atmosphere. If one did not know Spanish, the vulgarity of these words and phrases would easily be surpassed. If this book was used as a read a loud in a classroom, the interactive model for reading, as Jeff Wilhelm describes in his book You Gotta Be The Book, would be difficult to practice without talking about the use and exchange of language between the characters in Mexican Whiteboy. "Transactional reading" will bring up many of the negative things this book portrays and it is not recommended for the classroom.

Scenes of violence are scattered throughout this book. The opening scene involves the main character getting beat up so bad he has to go to the hospital. References to physical abuse between divorced parents are prevalent. Fights are common for young men in high school. Yet the many fist fights throughout this book shows readers that these acts of violence occur on a daily basis for these characters. One scene in particular a man is beaten and it is described quite graphically. Readers do not know if the man is dead, but we are left knowing that the characters who were fighting were “trying to kill the guy.” Uncle Ray, the initiator of the fight, “turned the wheel slightly and pulled forward, ran over both the guy’s legs. Danny could actually hear and feel the bones crush and shap under the tires” (206). Although this is a harsh depiction of the reality that many experience throughout our country, this example of violence does not belong in an anchor text for a classroom. It leads again, to the recommendation for this book to be used as an independent selection for students so students and parents have a chance to tackle this text using their own judgment.

Illegal Substances
Drinking is a widely discussed topic throughout this book. Underage drinking, drinking within families, even parents allowing children to try alcohol are mentioned. Teen drinking is discussed as a normalcy. Uno, one of the characters in the book even “wonders how much alcohol must be flowing through National City’s (their town) gutters after an average Friday night. Probably enough to give them guppies swimming around down there a nice little buzz” (30). This text seemed to portray drinking as an ordinary part of life for the young men and women in this text. Smoking and drugs are talked about openly as well, but not as often as alcohol.

If this book is used in a classroom as an anchor text, it is recommended that the above information is shared with parents and proper notification of the school officials is given. Although this story has a good message in the heart of it, a boy searching for self discovery, the underlying issue is the negative facades that are discussed throughout the book.

If you as a teacher, are looking for other options for books told from the view of a strong male lead check out Guy Lit Wire for other options for in class or literature circle texts.

About Matt de la Pena

Matt de la Peña is an up and coming young adult writer with a history that's different from most novelists. Growing up, writing was on the back-burner to his favorite sport, basketball. He was even good enough to win himself a scholarship to the University of Pacific in California. It was growing up as a half Mexican, half white kid in a "have-not" background that partially inspired de la Peña to become a writer. He wanted the world to finally notice the kids that nobody seemed to care about. It wasn't even in de la Peña's plans to attend grad school but his professors saw potential in him and secretly applied him to grad school. De la Peña went on to receive his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State . He began writing short stories that eventually turned into novels. Since he began his writing career, de la Peña has written four novels and is about to release his first picture book. His first novel, The Ball Don't Lie , was named an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, an ALA-YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and was even turned into a feature film. His second novel, Mexican Whiteboy, was also named an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults. De la Peña currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where he teaches creative writing at NYU.

Sources: http://www.writingclasses.com/FacultyBios/facultyProfileByInstructor.php/TeacherID/112334


Here is an interview featuring young adult author, Matt de la Peña.

Play the video below to view a trailer of The Ball Don't Lie, a feature film based on Matt de la Peña's first novel. His novel, The Ball Don't Lie, features many similar issues as his novel Mexican Whiteboy. Viewing this video will give you a closer look into the style of de la Peña's writing.

Additional Resources:

Classroom Resources
  • Teaching Books. - Teaching Books.net - a resource for teachers on a multitude of books, this link has resources and information on Mexican Whiteboy.
  • Readers Guide to Mexican Whiteboy - From TeachingBooks.net - A short synopsis, author's biography, questions, websites, and similar books.
  • Book Review - Blogger "Abby (the) Librarian" Reviews Mexican Whiteboy, other young adult books and provides numerous other resources.
The Topic of Race
  • Project Race - From the Readers Guide, a collection of articles all dealing with the issue of race in America, tailored to young readers.
  • Multiracial Children - From the Readers Guide, an essay and discussion thread about growing up multiracial that is easy to read and poses questions for students.
Baseball - Danny's World
  • Diversity in Baseball - An article through the Major League of Baseball official website, with additional links to working with urban youth.
  • Rise of Latinos in Baseball - ESPN - A rich scattering of players and articles highlighting the increase of Latin American/Mexican players.
More on Southern California

--Reviewed by: Yvonne Gorajec, Kelsey Curlett, Carolynn White and Mellissa Zoerhof
-- Also reviewed by this group
Becoming Naomi Leon.