The Rocky Odyssey of a Not-So-Average Teenager

Review of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Written by Kalkidan Gebregziabiher during an Arts Criticism workshop at Evergreen High School

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The struggles of a not-so-average teenager are crafted phenomenally in the I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter play. IANYPMD tells the story of 15-year-old Julia, who is a high school student in Chicago. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico, making her a first-generation Mexican-American. She recently lost her older sister Olga, who was considered the “golden child.” Her parents adored her for how easy of a daughter she was to raise, unlike Julia. The play follows Julia’s school life, home life, and mental health struggles as she grows not only in age, but in maturity. Throughout this rocky odyssey, the play was able to effectively depict not only Julia, but how other teens with immigrant parents manage cultural differences within western society.

Julia’s relationship with her mom is noteworthy because it shows how the conflicts in their relationship stem from the different cultural environments they grew up in. Her mom did not support Julia having any interaction with boys, nor did she like the idea of her going far away for college. Instead, she wanted her to be just like her older sister, Olga, taking classes at their local community college and working a humble office job. Julia’s mom was raised in Mexico and suffered many traumas when crossing the border. Nevertheless, she worked as a housekeeper, cleaning rich people’s houses, to raise Julia and her sister. Julia, however, is set on creating a future for herself that is more than just being a slave to capitalism. She wants to travel the world and pursue a career as a writer. The play shows Julia’s inner thoughts through frequent asides, helping the audience to better comprehend the feelings Julia had about her mom’s aspirations and how they contrasted with her own hopes and dreams. The anger and betrayal Julia felt when her mom went through her things and disapproved of her journals were vividly characterized through her expressions.

The teenage years are often difficult to cope with, especially with the overwhelming emotions that come with them. Like most teenagers, Julia went through a lot of those devastating feelings. It is unimaginably burdensome to have lost a sibling that you didn’t think you needed and to have parents who constantly compare you to that deceased sibling and are unsupportive of your ambitions. The set’s usage of dark, red lights and various other colors for when Julia was going through some of her most depressive moments was very effective in setting a melancholic mood for the audience. Watching those scenes made me feel as if I were in Julia’s shoes.

Growing up is not an easy journey, and through Julia’s journey, she went through tremendous character development and stages of maturity. Although she had a hard time seeing eye-to-eye with her parents in the beginning, she was able to maturely start to understand that the reason her parents were sometimes harsh on her was not that they loathed her but simply because they were raised differently from her. Moreover, they didn’t have the same opportunities and freedoms as she has living in America. Nevertheless, they still want the very best for her considering that she is their only child now.

Overall, the play was a well-written and visually appealing piece of work that captured the struggles of growing up in an immigrant household in western society. For parents who were raised in different cultural environments than their children and who often clash with their teens because of it, this play can be a great way for you to better understand your child’s perspective on things. As for teens with immigrant parents, it is an eye-opening experience in which you can better understand why the way your parents were raised may create a boundary that you need to break for you to have a better relationship with them.

Lead photo credit: Karen Rodriguez in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter at Seattle Rep. Photo by Nate Watters.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Criticism workshop at Evergreen High School in Emily Acquino's Language Arts classes, taught by Press Corps teaching artists Beth Pollack and Marquicia Dominguez.

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