In 1969, Evelyn Serrano was living with her mom and stepfather in New York’s Puerto Rican neighborhood (El Barrio). She doesn’t really like her neighborhood or her real name (Rosa—Evelyn is one of her middle names and what she’s chosen to go by). Then her grandmother moves in and an activist group called the Young Lords begin protesting. Evelyn is fascinated by both—Abuela has these amazing stories and the Young Lords really do just want to make things better in the neighborhood. And over the course of the novel, Evelyn learns about her heritage and culture.
At BEA’s Bloggercon, I ended up having breakfast at Sonia Manzano’s table and this book ended up in my “swag bag.” That’s incredibly fortunate, because without those two things, this book wouldn’t even have been on my radar. (And honestly, at breakfast I was just like, “I am drinking horrible coffee with Maria from Sesame Street. Maria! From SESAME STREET! I am at her table!”)
And this is an amazing, amazing book. While it’s incredibly specific to a culture, time and place, it’s also very universal. I’m very fortunate in that my racial background is very well represented. I know all about my history. But if you’re a minority, it becomes a lot harder (especially, I would imagine, if you were Puerto Rican in the late 1960s).
While I couldn’t relate to the initial desire to assimilate (it’s not a coincidence that Evelyn goes by that and not Rosa), I do understand the eventual fascination with your culture and desire to learn more. As a lesbian, it’s fascinating to know what those before me had to deal with. Evelyn had the privilege of being a trailblazer (in a small but important way); I have the privilege of getting to reap the benefits.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope to read more from Sonia Manzano. I especially want a sequel. The world needs more Evelyn. :)