Starting Close Reading with Mexican White Boy

Matt de la Pena is scheduled to speak at TAIR in Denton, TX on September 30. If things work out, he’ll be coming to my school to speak on the 28. I am excited for my students to hear Mr. de la Pena’s story. It is so similar to their own.

Mexican White BoyMexican White Boy is the first de la Pena book I’ve read. Ball Don’t Lie, We Were Here, and I Will Save You are rising on my TBR pile. I imagine my students might get at them first.

A passage from Mexican White Boy made me take note. It’s a great read aloud, but it’s also a great piece for a text study. It’s packed with literary and rhetorical devices and would be ideal for close reading for concrete vs. abstract details. Or, tone. Or, syntax, Or, all of them.

It all hits him as he stares at a half-finished love letter. No matter how many words he defines or love letters he composes or pieces of junk mail he reads aloud to his grandma while she waters spider plants potted in old Folgers coffee cans he’ll still be a hundred miles away from who he’s supposed to be.

He’s Mexican, because his family’s Mexican, but he’s not really Mexican. His skin is dark like his grandma’s sweet coffee, but his insides are as pale as the cream she mixes in.

Danny holds the pencil above the paper, thinking:   I’m a white boy among Mexicans, and a Mexican among white boys.

He digs his fingernails into his arm. Looks up to see if anybody’s watching him. They aren’t.

Sometimes he’ll just watch his family interact in the living room. The half-Spanish jokes and the bottle of tequila being passed around with a shot glass and salt. The laughing and carrying on. Always eating the best food and playing the coolest games and telling the funniest stories. His uncles always sending the smallest kid at the party to get them a cold sixer out of the fridge and then sneaking him the first sip when Grandma isn’t looking. But even when she turns around suddenly, catches them red-handed and shots, “Ray! Mijo, what are you doing?” everybody just falls over laughing. Including Grandma.

And it makes him so happy just watching. Doesn’t even matter that he’s not really involved. Because what he’s doing is getting a sneak peek inside his dad’s life (89-90).

My students will start the year with a study of narrative writing. Thanks, Mr. de la Pena for this accessible piece to get us started.

Do you have any similar short texts that you use for close reading? Please share.

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