#ReadForChange: Get Really Real with Lilliam Rivera’s The Education of Margot Sanchez, a guest post by Marie Marquardt
Teen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Lilliam Rivera join us for a conversation about gentrification, taking action, writing a novel that is just one voice of the many unheard voices in the publishing industry, and her excellent book The Education of Margot Sanchez.
Take care not to listen to anyone who tells you what you can and can’t be in life.
– Meg Medina
Taking up space in the South Bronx
The Education of Margot Sanchez is a perfect summer read. It’s at times fun and funny, at other times heartrending and poignant. Much like Meg Medina’s fabulous Burn Baby Burn, this novel drops the reader deep inside summer at a very specific time on a very unique collection of New York City blocks. It’s crafted so well that we can feel the humidity in the air and the heat rising from the asphalt.
Most of Margot Sanchez’ summer “education” happens in and around the Sanchez & Sons supermarket – once a “welcoming oasis in a sea of concrete buildings” in the South Bronx, the supermarket, owned by Margot’s dad, has seen better days. As Margot explains: “the blue paint is peeling, the posters are the same from five years ago, and there’s some funky odor that I can’t place.”
While the supermarket stayed the same, Margot went through some big transformations. The most important: she got into the prestigious Somerset Prep, and she finally made friends with Serena and Camille, the coolest girls in school. Reading how Margot had to change to fit in with the cool girls will, for almost anyone who has been through middle school and early high school, evoke poignant reminders of painful times. Because Margot’s experience is so relatable, and because her decision to go to Somerset was shaped more by her parents’ aspirations than her own, we feel sympathy for Margot, even though she has done some incredibly stupid stuff.
Case in point: Margot used her parents’ credit card to charge six-hundred-dollars-worth of clothes, since hanging out with Serena and Camille transformed her style from thrift store bo-ho chic to designer Taylor-Swift-inspired. (Like I said: cringe-worthy). Margot’s adventures in shopping landed her at Sanchez & Sons for the summer, instead of in the Hamptons with all of her Somerset friends.
At first utterly disdainful of her work and most of the people she encounters there, Margot eventually discovers and embraces her unique identity (even while wearing a hairnet and serving up sliced meats to the neighborhood church ladies!). Her transformation is aided by Moises, an anti-gentrification activist with a bad reputation, and Elizabeth, her former best friend who chose art school over Somerset.
While drawing us into this unique South Bronx neighborhood and the fabulous characters that inhabit it, The Education of Margot Sanchez also pulls readers into some complicated questions about family, ethnicity, social class, identity, and the impact of gentrification on particular communities. The story also playfully sifts through an enormous heap of gendered expectations. (Note, for example, that “Sanchez & Sons is owned by a man with only one son, who goes by the nickname ‘Junior’. The other child is Margot, whom everyone calls ‘Princesa’.)
Margot is a list-maker. Her final list of the summer is the “Get Really Real List.” This is the perfect way to end a novel that’s so real, so honest, and so deeply embedded in a particular place. I enthusiastically recommend The Education of Margot Sanchez to anyone who’s looking for a summer read that’s both super funny and incredibly thought-provoking.
“The Audacity to Believe that I Deserved Some Shelf Space”: A Chat with Lilliam Rivera
MARIE: Tell us about the moment when you knew that this story had to be written, and that you needed to be the one to write it.
LILLIAM: The moment I knew The Education of Margot Sanchez had to be written was back in 2013. I kept thinking of the many young adult novels I read as a teenager. The Judy Blumes. The S.E. Hintons. I devoured those books and so many more at my local library. Because of the abundance of those books, I had the audacity to believe that I deserved some shelf space. That perhaps a Latina coming-of-age story set in the South Bronx, New York can be just one voice of the many unheard voices in the publishing industry that takes up some space.
MARIE: What are some of the things you’re doing to create the world that you want to live in?
LILLIAM: This is an interesting question. I grew up in a household where we were taught to navigate spaces that were not meant for people with my last name. My family is very active politically and that has fed down to my own writing. I believe I can create works of art that speaks on my own struggles —colonization, racism, and class. Even when I am writing in a contemporary setting or near future, these are the things that I write towards. How does this work with creating the life I want to live? I try to bring this to the many students I speak to across the states and to my own kids. I love speaking to young people and letting them know that their voices are so desperately needed. To be heard and to be seen, it’s really what most people want.
MARIE: For readers who want to take action, themselves, what ideas can you share?
LILLIAM: The amazing part about being young right now is the many different social media accounts out there. Communicating with someone with the exact same interests as you is so much easier. Young people can control the narrative, away from propaganda. They don’t have to settle to hearing what is happening in the world through only a few outlets. It’s an amazing period to be active, to take action. You can find like-minded people online and that can spur you into having uncomfortable conversations and to be part of social movements.
Let’s Get Reading!: Gentrification, from A to Z
Lucky for us, Lilliam recently posted a great article on Teen Librarian Toolbox about one of the most significant themes in this novel: gentrification. She’s got several great recommendations there for people who want to learn more and read more. So, head on over to that article for all the details. You can find it here.
Meanwhile, inspired by Margot, I will give you the short list:
Lilliam’s Really Real Gentrification List
“Gentrification and the Criminlazation of Neighborhoods” – The Atlantic
“Health Effects of Gentrification” – Centers for Disease Control
How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the fight for the Neighborhood by Peter Moskowitz
The Color of Law: A forgotten History of How Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Let’s Get Loud!
“It’s an amazing period to be active, to take action!”
Ready to take action? Here are a few recommendations that Lilliam Rivera says are “doing the work”.
Black Youth Project
A national organization of 18-35 year-old Black organizers and activists, dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people. Using a Black queer feminist lens, BYP100 “envisions a world where all black people have economic, social, political, and educational freedom.”
Immigrant Youth Coalition
An organization led by undocumented youth that works to empower immigrant youth in California to stand up to injustice and criminalization of immigrants.
United We Dream
This fabulous immigrant youth-led organization is making a second appearance on our list, and for good reason: “At United We Dream, we transform fear into finding your voice. We empower people to develop their leadership, their organizing skills, and to develop our own campaigns to fight for justice and dignity for immigrants and all people.”
Million Hoodies Movement for Justice
A human rights organization with chapters around the country that is “building next generation human rights leaders to end anti-Black racism and systemic violence”
This summer, let’s get really real and #ReadForChange
If you’re hoping to start your summer with a free signed copy of The Education of Margot Sanchez, here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt June 1!
Meet Marie Marquardt
Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of Us, Dream Things True, and Flight Season (available 2/20/18). A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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