Latino baby boomers of the '60s and '70s still have to come to terms with their forced "assimilation"
Writer Manuel Padilla Jr. examines in Coconut, the racism and marginalization faced by a middle-class Latino family amid a civil rights struggle.
"There are 42 million Latino baby boomers, many like me, who were not taught Spanish or encouraged to embrace their Hispanic roots," recounts writer Manuel Padilla Jr.
Padilla, a U.S.-born Mexican American, tells in Coconut (Xlibris, 2021), the story of the Rodriguezes, a second and third-generation Mexican-American family that must confront racism while exploring the complexities and inheritance in family life.
It's a story of history that ranges from the everyday to the universal, taking us by the hand through some of the events that marked the community, such as the Depression-era repatriation of Latinos, the "Operation Wetback" of the 1950s, and the Chicano Movement of the 1970s.
The book tried to answer the question of what it meant to be Latino during that era of change and what its imprint is today.
"Assimilation was the only acceptable path, and racism was common," argues Padilla Jr., who turns his protagonists into prominent witnesses while putting the focus not only on the adults, but on the experience of the Rodriguez family's son.
"In researching the book, I was surprised to learn how prevalent systemic racism against brown people was in the past, yet continues to this day," Padilla said.
In fact, "coconut" — brown on the outside, white on the inside — is a name used, Padilla recalls, to characterize assimilated Latinos.
For the author, one of the driving forces behind writing the novel was the dearth of books about what it was like to be a middle-class, U.S.-born Latino family at the time.
Coconut "will resonate with many U.S.-born Latinos, as I don't think we've ever really been given a voice," he continued.
It's not all heartache in this story, the Rodriguez's are also immersed in humorous adventures that will fill the reader with nostalgia, such as the graffiti boom, disco music, or roller skating.
Manuel "Manny" Padilla Jr. has been a reporter for more than three decades in various media and has also served as Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for the Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union.
Coconut is a moving exploration of what it means to be Latino and Mexican American in the United States and an exercise in history that settles accounts with the past while freeing us from stereotypes.
It's a necessary reading that joins the puzzle of the struggle to maintain an identity beyond the cultural hegemony of a few and is eminently current in the era of change and promise in which the country is immersed.