Reviews /

Mexikid: A Graphic Memoir

Authored by Pedro Martín
Illustrated by Pedro Martín
Published by Guppy Books

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Mexikid is a vibrant, entertaining and moving coming-of-age story told in graphic novel form based on the author’s own experience growing up as a first-generation American-born kid of Mexican parents in the 1970s. Pedro Martín introduces us to his parents and eight siblings before we accompany the whole family on their Winnebago on a 2000-mile road trip back to Mexico to bring his Abuelito (grandfather) back to live with them in California. Pedro is initially resistant to adding another person to their already crowded home, but he soon learns more about Abuelito’s legendary past – born in 1892, he was a hero of the Mexican Revolutionary War – and becomes determined to impress him.

Pedro’s journey is full of comic mishaps, from ill-judged haircuts to ill-fated attempts to impress the opposite sex. Martín is never afraid to laugh at the naivety and boundless optimism of his younger self, and the graphic novel form provides the perfect medium for this, as the self-confidence of Pedro’s breezy voiceovers are often ironically subverted by the scenes playing out in the illustrations. But he also learns a lot in the process – about his Abuelito, his heritage and himself. At the same time, he is able to educate us about the contours of his life as a ‘Mexikid‘ – I was particularly interested in the gulf between Pedro’s older Mexican-born siblings (‘barn babies‘) who speak Spanish fluently and the younger American-born siblings (‘hospital babies‘) who have had to grow up with both English and Spanish.

Some readers’ first thoughts when they hear the title Mexikid might be of the undocumented child migrants at the US-Mexico border whose stories have dominated the news in recent years, but Martín’s story is a far cry from this: it is primarily a humorous and heartwarming story of a family living legally in the US. Although they encounter some hardships, these do not dominate the narrative, and if they do experience racism or prejudice then we are not told about it in this book. As such, it serves an important function in offering a positive representation of a happy and loving Mexican family and widening many readers’ appreciation of Mexican life and culture.

Some of the 1970s cultural references may be even less familiar to British children than their American counterparts, though Martín does a fairly good job of explaining the most important ones (and it only takes a few minutes on YouTube to imagine what it would be like to be stuck with ‘Shipoopi’ from The Music Man as one’s only soundtrack on a long car journey!) In addition to the English-language version, a Spanish edition is also being published later this year; the English version still includes a fair amount of Spanish dialogue, some of which is translated and some of which isn’t, perhaps partly mirroring Pedro’s partial understanding of what the adults around him are saying. While this can be an effective means of immersing the reader in a different linguistic environment, there are a few places where the lack of translation can make the plot harder to follow, so teachers or parents might want to be on hand to help children with this.

This is a visually enticing book which is one of the most beautifully produced graphic novels for children I have seen. It makes sophisticated use of its form in a way which is reminiscent of classic works of graphic memoir for adult readers such as Fun Home and Persepolis, combining action-packed narrative scenes with direct address to the reader. It could therefore serve as an excellent prompt for children to produce their own graphic memoirs about an aspect of their family or heritage. Some of the humour feels like it would appeal more to older primary readers but I think there is still potential for excellent work based on this book in secondary classrooms as it deals not only with the specific experiences of one community but with universal themes of family, growing up and belonging.