I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a beloved bestselling novel and now fans can see the story come to life on stage in the world premiere adaptation at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. Adapted by local Latinx playwright Isaac Gómez, the play follows 15-year-old Julia, born and raised in Chicago by immigrant parents, in the wake of her older sister’s death. Olga is presumably the “perfect” Mexican daughter who supported her family, lived at home, and went to college but Julia’s dreams are bigger and she’s poised to stand in stark contrast to her sister. Olga is also present in an open casket on the stage reinforcing her continued presence in Julia’s life. The play touches on the difficult relationship she has with her immigrant parents, her struggles with mental health, and the duality of being first-generation.
“I felt like I wanted to write the book I needed as a kid, [the one] young girls of color also need,” Sánchez told Teen Vogue. Representation in literature, she says, “makes [young people] feel less alone, that someone understands them and what they’re going through.”
The play is a testament to the continued success of the book, which was released in 2017 and remains in the top 10 on the New York Times’ young-adult best sellers list. The 90-minute play is part of the theater’s young adult 2019-2020 season and the gritty reality it features includes self-harm, sexual trauma, domestic violence, and depression. As the story unfolds we see Julia (played by Karen Rodriguez) go to Mexico, develop a crush on a wealthy white boy, and seek the truth that could reveal her sister was less than perfect.
Dubbed a “love story to young Chicanas,”Sánchez hopes people leave the play with an appreciation for the resilience of humankind. “I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty. I want people to be able to see it every day, in others, in their community, in themselves. That’s what I hope people gain from this, an acknowledgement of beauty and the resilience of human beings,” she told The Chicago Tribune.
Gómez added, “I want people to walk away feeling like this play was so Mexican in the most beautiful ways because that’s what the book is and that’s who the artists are who are making this come to life.”
The book’s success and the creation of a play centered around the Latinx experience demonstrate slow but persistent progress toward carving spaces in predominately white industries. The play practically sold out as soon as tickets became available which reinforces the need for stories like these. The show runs through April 5 and on Friday, March 13 there will be a special Spanish captioned performance, tickets are $20.