Graphic Novel Review: “¡Ay, Mija!” — An Entertaining Mexican Adventure
By Sarah Osman
Christine Suggs’s graphic novel is comforting, but it also offers serious proof of why representation, and its embrace of diversity, is so important.
I connected in a number of ways with Christine Suggs’s debut graphic novel ¡Ay Mija!: My Bilingual Summer in Mexico (Little, Brown Ink). Like Suggs, I too come from a mixed background (Suggs is Mexican and white; I’m Egyptian and Cajun). I don’t speak my father’s home country’s native language and I am not quite sure how I am related to a number of my relatives. I did not meet my Egyptian family until I was well into my twenties, and unlike Suggs, who does know Spanish, I still don’t speak a word of Arabic. However, ¡Ay Mija!‘s storyline and charming illustrations will appeal to anyone who has struggled to figure out where they truly belong.
¡Ay Mija! centers on a teenage version of Suggs, whose mother is Mexican and whose father is white. She’s preparing to visit her family in Mexico City, but for the first two weeks she’s there she won’t have her mother – and designated translator – with her. Suggs’s friends ask if it’s safe to be in Mexico and jokingly warn her not “to drink the water!” Ah, those ignorant comments are oh-so-fun – I am still asked whether my family speaks The Mummy language and detect not-so-subtle suspicions from some that my father is a terrorist. Having to deal with these demeaning attitudes – small as they are – is an experience that is shared by anyone who is from – or has family from – a supposedly “dangerous” country.
Upon arriving in Mexico, Suggs is embraced wholeheartedly by her family, language barrier be damned. One of the most endearing parts of the book is when the author tries to translate Spanish in her head without her relatives noticing the effort. It’s even more satisfying to see Suggs understand more and more Spanish, needing to figure out less and less. It’s a reflection of her linguistic growth and a very rewarding one. I understand some Spanish, so I understood most of the dialogue, but Suggs provides helpful context, clues, and translations for those who don’t.
Several conflicts run throughout ¡Ay Mija! During her time in Mexico, Suggs questions her queerness, and how her family would react to this. She also struggles with her body, something many of us can relate to – especially in our teen years. While visiting Mexico, Suggs also learns about the struggles her mother faced when she first came to the US. Learning about the past is an illuminating reveal for many children of immigrants (at least it was for me). Suggs comes to appreciate her mother more once she knows all she’s gone through. All of these instructive motifs are seamlessly interwoven, yet Suggs’s narration and book’s visuals don’t come off as preachy: this is the story of how she came to accept herself.
The color palette of ¡Ay Mija! consists of browns, light blues, golds, and oranges, vibrant colors that reflect traditional Mexican art. In addition to the cleverly crafted color scheme, Suggs also incorporates a miniature avatar of her adult self, who comments on the action. Reading her thoughts as an adult on her evolving beliefs as a teen adds a compelling layer of complexity to the story.
Sweet as pan dulce, Ay Mija! will be an enjoyable read for both adults and teenagers. Still, while Suggs’s memoir is comforting, it also offers serious proof of why representation, and its embrace of diversity, is so important.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman