Last Updated on December 17, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1262
Culture, Race, and the Search for Self-Identity
Matt de la Pena’s 2009 young adult novel Mexican WhiteBoy is, essentially, a story about self-discovery. The protagonist, Danny Lopez, is a sixteen-year-old half-white and half-Mexican boy who has spent his entire life feeling not “enough Mexican” and not “enough white.” His main goal is to simply fit into a society that tolerates stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination and to find a sense of belonging and balance in his life.
Danny attends a private school, Leucadia Prep, in San Diego. He is a very good student and a talented baseball player, though he has problems controlling his pitch. His baseball problems are nothing compared to the isolation he feels and the apathy he receives from his peers, however:
Up in Leucadia it was easy. Nobody paid him any attention anyway because he was Mexican. He roamed the school halls with his head down like a ghost. Drifted in and out of classrooms without a peep. Nobody even saw him as a real person.
In the hopes of discovering more about Mexican culture and tradition and, ultimately, resolving his identity crisis, Danny decides to spend the summer with his father’s relatives in National City. Once he arrives there, however, he faces a similar problem: he feels “too white” as though he belongs neither with his family and friends nor with his classmates:
And Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. A shade darker than all the white kids at his private high school, Leucadia Prep. Up there, Mexican people do under-the-table yard work and hide out in the hills because they’re in San Diego illegally. Only other people on Leucadia’s campus who share his shade are the lunch-line ladies, the gardeners, the custodians. But whenever Danny comes down here, to National City—where his dad grew up, where all his aunts and uncles and cousins still live—he feels pale. A full shade lighter. Albino almost. Less than.
Fortunately, he befriends Uno—a half-Mexican, half-black boy who goes through a similar existential dilemma. Together, they manage to find a way to accept themselves and define their biracial identities on their own terms.
The Importance of Friendship, Family, Love, and Acceptance
De la Pena touches upon the importance of family and friendship in Mexican WhiteBoy, but most importantly, he explores ideas of personal growth and people's need for love and acceptance. Danny and Uno’s friendship is one of the purest and most interesting relationships in the novel, as it begins unexpectedly and gradually develops into a deep and meaningful friendship. Despite their problematic introduction and their disagreements in the beginning, the boys discover that they have experiences in common and offer support and comfort to one another: Uno helps Danny overcome his problems with his pitch as well as his fear of facing his father. The love both boys feel for their fathers and the struggles of growing up biracial bring Uno and Danny closer, leading them to become best friends.
De la Pena also addresses the confusion most teenagers feel about life in general as they slowly navigate their way toward adulthood, touching upon insecurities, self-doubt, and vulnerability and illustrating the idea that love, support, and communication are key to happiness and fulfillment:
And his and Uno’s lives will continue on in different directions. To different schools in different cities. But for now Danny’s happy right where he is. Sitting on the train tracks. With his best friend. Watching a sunrise.
The relationship between Danny and his father is another important element of the story. Danny is not aware that his father is in prison and thinks that he has left him and his mother on purpose. Danny constantly blames himself for this and desperately wishes to be reunited with him, but he is also...
(The entire section contains 1262 words.)
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