I am reading this gem of a middle reader book. I'm not sure exactly why I like reading from the MR and YA section, but I do. There are a ton of great books for kids to read these days. I'd like to think the quality of writing has improved since I was a MR and YA.
While the book is mostly about a girl named Merci (Mercedes) and her changing relationship with her family amidst her grandfather's dementia, as well as surviving 6th grade at a private school, there is a quieter subtext of growing up as working class immigrant Cuban-American family.
One phrase that pops up continuously in family conversations is being "serious people." Familia Suarez is always worried about being perceived as "serious people" by the rest of the community. Merci is constantly reminded by her parents to be a "serious person."
A serious person seems to be defined as someone who is ambitious, engaged with their studies or work, reliable, and always doing what they are supposed to be doing in the place where they are supposed to be. I never felt the push to be a "serious person." I might even have felt more pressure at times to be the opposite.
But the hearing the phrase echoed throughout the book made me suddenly understand some things about Ed and his family and some of their behaviors that confounded me for so many years.
~ When we go out to a restaurant and The Abuelos order way too much food, or the most expensive item on the menu, to show they belong there.
~ Ed has always dresses up for work: clean-shaved face, dress shirt ironed and starched, slacks, dress shoes shined, even when working in the newsroom slums where half the staff couldn't be bothered to find non-flip flop shoes to wear to work (I'm looking at you Oregonian). I never really got why he felt he needed to look so professional all of the time.
~ The Abuelos constantly sending the kids dress clothes (no two boys have ever owned so many polo shirts and ties) and Abuela's constant nagging that I iron all of their clothes (I do not), and their obsession with the kids' grades and college, even as they never made it through middle school.
~ Casa Guzman adorned with American flags. They even have a bumper sticker on their SUV they received from the LAPD stating they contributed to some police compensation fund.
The list goes on....but the bottom line is that they still struggle to feel comfortable in this country they've lived in for almost half a century. On many levels, they feel like visitors that need to impress in order to keep their invitation.