Mexikid Review

By | Tuesday, September 05, 2023 Leave a Comment
One thing I've repeated on this blog more than a few times is that, since I'm an able-bodied cis het white guy from a middle class family, it's absurdly easy to find media that is intended to speak pretty directly to my experience, and so one of the things I've been doing in recent years is to consciously and deliberately look for works that do not reflect my background. I want to understand others' experiences better, and so I try to look out for works that can help to inform that. And that's where Pedro Martín's Mexikid comes in. As should be pretty self-evident from the title, Martín has Mexican heritage and this "graphic memoir" comes from that background.

The primary story revolves around Martín's family driving from their home in Watsonville, CA down to Pegueros, Mexico some two thousand miles away in order to help Pedro's grandfather. The exact nature of the help is unclear at the outset, as we see things play out through Pedro's eyes. He just knows the whole family (Mom, Dad, and nine kids) are going down to help his abuelito and then bring him back to live with them. And true to the nature of being a kid in 1977, most of Pedro's recollections are viewed through a lens of superheroes, comic books, and Star Wars. Most of the book revolves around the trip itself. A combination of kids trying not to be bored, minor road trip misadventures, and stories (bordering on legends) about abuelito. By the time they get down to Pegeueros, Pedro is thinking of him as an ersatz Mexican Jedi Batman.

It turns out the family has gone down to try to save their dead abuelita. Though she had died a couple decades earlier, her grave was near an underground river which has changed course and now threatens to turn the entire cemetary into mud. They're ultimately only able to salvage a few of her remains, but take what they can back to the States to try to give her a "proper" -- and safe -- resting place. It's then a matter of helping abuelito tie up some loose ends of his life in Mexico, so he can move in with his son's family.

While the kids still try to stave off boredom and listen to more stories about their abuelito, the trip back is somewhat more somber with the notable exception of seeing another car hit a deer, and the family stopping to bring it into their RV. They're later surprised to find the deer was not, in fact, killed and is now wounded and panicking in the RV's shower. While Pedro is eager to save the animal (whose foot had been almost entirely severed in the initial accident) his father was instead eager to get home, thinking they could use the fresh meat for food.

But the family does get home safely, and reflect on how the various experiences on the trip did force all the kids to grow up and mature more than their respective ages would suggest. And ultimately, they have a great many stories to share with the family for years to come.

Now, all of that makes for an entertaining and engaging story in and of itself. But what is also going on throughout the book is that Martín offers a decent amount of commentary on both the specific idiosyncrasies of his family as well as those that are perhaps rather typical among Mexican families living in the US. In some cases, I can't tell which is which, but most are made quite clear. And what's interesting is what he chooses to relay. There is a fair amount of Spanish in the book, for example; some of it is written in Spanish with English translations in the gutters, some is written in brackets in English, and some is written in Spanish but remains untranslated. This is largely done, I believe, to further emphasize what is holding young Pedro's attention and how intently. He doesn't pay attention to the adult conversations when Happy Days is on, for example, but he does focus pretty intently on his grandfather when he asks about his time during the Mexican Revoltion. So, as a reader, we see how Martín viewed his own life as a Mexican-American as a child in an isolated instance with his family, and not subject to the broader social mores of the day.

It winds up being an interesting view of the Mexican-American experience. A child, removed from the stigmas of the adult world by being stuck in an RV for most of a summer, doesn't have to deal with the challenge of managing two cultures and code-switching, and just is who he is. Which, as a child of the '70s myself, looks incredibly familiar. While our immediate family was considerably smaller, at that time, I was also thinking a lot about Star Wars and playing with Mego action figures and complaining when Dad wouldn't stop at some tourist spot that sounded incredibly cool to my childhood brain. I also enjoyed going through the toy ailse at K-Mart and trying to record TV shows on a tape recorder so I had something decent to listen to in the car. And I had relatives who seemed cooler and more impressive than anything I'd find in a comic book, but really were just doing the best the could because they had to.

And in the end, that's why these types of stories are so great. As a reader, you can see that, even though there are often differences in family structure or food preferences or even language itself, there's really a lot of commonality between us. I've never had to dig up and re-bury my grandmother, but while she was alive, she nodded along politely as I bounced around telling her how cool Star Wars was; she didn't understand a damn bit of it, but was happy to see her grandson enjoying himself so much. Just like Pedro's abuelito.

Mexikid was first released last month from Penguin Random House, and should be available at most bookstores. It retails for $14.99 US for the paperback version, and $24.99 US for the hardcover.
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