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Book Review: The Go-Between
I can relate to the cultural stereotyping
Atl Castro
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The Go-Between, by Veronica Chambers, is the story of a character named Camilla de Valle, also known as Cammi. Her mother is one of the most famous telenovela stars in Mexico City, and her father does voice-overs for big-time movies.

At first, we are introduced to the extravagant lifestyle of someone with celebrity parents. Cammi lives in a giant mansion and has her own personal chauffeur. She even has a bodyguard.

When her mom gets cast in an American TV show, the family moves to Los Angeles.

In Mexico City, everyone recognized Cammi and treated her like a princess. But on her first day of school in Los Angeles, no one knows who she is.

A few weeks later, during lunch, Cammi’s classmates Willow and Tiggy invite her to sit with them. As she begins to tell them about herself, Tiggy interrupts her: “I love the way you talk. It’s almost like watching a foreign movie…you sound like you’re fresh off the boat.” Since Cammi is new to the United States, she isn’t familiar with the term. Nonetheless, she is surprised by the comment and considers telling Tiggy that she actually traveled via private plane.

Cammi is quickly exposed to stereotypes about Hispanics that she didn’t know existed.

For instance, because of her Spanish accent, the girls assume she is poor. Willow wonders how Cammi got into such an exclusive and expensive school: “The waiting list is insane, and I can’t imagine there’s any financial aid left at this time of year,” she says.

Willow tells Cammi she can relate to her because she is biracial (her mother is black and her father is white). She calls herself, “heavily African-American identified.”

Assumptions and Misunderstandings

I am half Mexican, and others assume I’m white. “How can you be Mexican if your skin is so light?” classmates have said to me. Some people’s assumptions about Mexicans are so strong, they refuse to believe it.

These statements are based on stereotypes. They make it hard for me to embrace the Latino part of my identity.

Much of the book is about assumptions and misunderstandings. When Willow asks why Tiggy thought Cammi’s mother was “a domestic,” Tiggy says: “That’s what she said, right? That her mother was a maid and that she was on scholarship.” Although Cammi had told them that her mother was a maid, she hadn’t specified that she was playing the role of a maid on television.

image by Kelly Blair

Instead of defying the stereotypes, Cammi decides to play along, keeping her mother’s words in mind: “The first rule of improv is to agree.” She decides that her move to America is the perfect opportunity to change her identity.

Cammi has a lot of reasons for wanting to be someone else. Over the course of the book, it becomes clear that Cammi has trouble being the daughter of a famous mother who is also beautiful and glamorous. Cammi doesn’t see herself as beautiful or talented. Even Patrizia, her “ex-best friend” in Mexico, would say things like, “You do know that in this friendship, I’m the hot one.”

Her older brother is an overachieving student who studied abroad at Oxford and is fluent in four languages. Cammi worries she lacks his academic drive and intelligence.

Fake Slumming

As the story progresses, Cammi befriends a fellow Mexican at her school named Milly, who discovers her real identity after seeing her in a Spanish version of People magazine. Milly is offended because Cammi is pretending to live the life of actual people like herself. She angrily tells Cammi, “Instead of being a force for good, you’re fake slumming it and perpetuating stereotypes.”

Although Cammi doesn’t want to go back to being “the daughter of a television star,” eventually she realizes all the lying she’s doing to keep up the charade isn’t benefiting her friends or herself. But before she has a chance to come clean, something major happens that I won’t reveal. Nor will I tell you what happens at the end. All I can say is that although the ending isn’t a surprise, it is sure to bring happiness to readers done with Cammi’s ridiculous lying.

Meeting the Author

Recently, I had the chance to interview Chambers, who was actually a writer for YCteen in 1989! I wanted to know more about her life and how it influenced this book.

Chambers is both African-American and Latina. Like Cammi, she was born in a foreign country and came to the United States at a young age.

As I talked to her, I discovered Chambers put a lot of herself into that character. “Others didn’t think I was Latina and it became hard for me to incorporate that into my identity,” she said.

In college, “being Afro-Latina, people called me ‘pello malo’ ‘negrita’, and I was faced with colorism and struggled with that,” Chambers said. “I have a family that came up in Panama and helped build the Panama Canal, and I’m not going to deny it for other people. How could I not carry their story and culture with me because people are saying I’m not an authentic Latina?”

Now, Chambers embraces her Latina identity, dancing to Hispanic music and talking in Spanish. This reminds me of Cammi, who, at the end of the novel, realizes that it is more important to take pride in her identity, all aspects of it, than to pretend to be someone else.

People assume that because I don’t have a thick accent, or dark hair, or dark skin, or have the same passion for soccer as other Mexican guys, that I’m not Mexican. Veronica Chambers’s book has made me want to speak up when others make offensive comments or make false assumptions about my culture. As Veronica Chambers said in the interview, “Culture is the one thing you cannot change about yourself no matter what.”

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(NYC-2018-01-24)

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