Silver Meadows Summer on Amazon
Two roads diverged and I had to choose one of them (Robert Frost), yet there's never a real pathway because we can't see far ahead, so we create our own road as we walk (Antonio Machado). In this post-industrial, digitized world, most of us need to make "what next" choices more frequently than ideally we'd choose. Just as for Carolina's family in Silver Meadows Summer, needing to update plans or take a different path because of disruptions in the lives of family or close friends is common, almost a given.
Very briefly, in Emma Otheguy's new Silver Meadows Summer, family circumstances bring together cousins Carolina and Gabriela along with both girls' parents and Gabriela's friends. Even a casual reader gets to ponder fitting in, cultural differences, life transitions, and survival necessities as they track the narrative. Book cover colors and design evoke an elaborate embroidered tapestry and reflect summer's magic with its enviable weather, slower schedules, natural garden extravagance, spaces for dreaming and imagining.
Carolina's family relocates from Puerto Rico to New York State. You don't need to venture far from your own backyard or explore much of the near-borderless world of the internet to realize cultural anthropology – the word about the people and their overall culture – also speaks about geography and climate. Whether your nearest water feature is Lake Ontario, the Caribbean Ocean, the Mississippi River, or the Mediterranean, if your summers reach a humid 102 degrees most days or your winters snowy near-zeros, weather, water, elevation, and vegetation determine what grows around you, your recreational activities, your architectural and your sartorial styles. Flamboyan trees thrive in places like Cuba and Puerto Rico, not at all in central New York state. Ski resorts bring in the customers and the cash in areas like New York state, but can't happen in the Caribbean.
For some people, where I live in Southern California is home of the 200%—100% American plus 100% Latinx. That's possible because signage in these environs is at least bilingual, as are many people you pass on the street or the freeway. Alongside their burgers and chicken menu items, national fast food chains offer cilantro and agua fresca. Everyone (yes, every single person) knows tacos and burritos hit the (inter)national eatery scene decades ago, but culinary appreciation or even a bit of appropriation isn't the same as having live opportunities nearby for embracing other aspects of a lifestyle; a person can be a 200% only if or when surrounding artifacts support it.
Artist Carolina demonstrates If flamboyan trees don't grow locally, you still can create your own flamboyan(t) art, yet she learns (probably already knew before leaving Puerto Rico) you can't be even 100% Latinx if your classmates and neighbors don't speak español or celebrate quinciñeras, if the nearby Catholic church that's your religious tradition schedules worship only in English. In brief, though of course she'll retain aspects of the Caribbean that's long been part of her, the overall milieu won't support her being both 100% North American and 100% Latina; she'll need to pick and choose, though like the path we make by walking, some of the choices will happen by themselves. As days and weeks go by, a new blended style that's a combination of many will emerge and take root.
So... Silver Meadows Summer reminds us when you relocate to a different city, state, or country, you may need to do as the locals do if you want to fit it, if you want to make friends at school or get a job, if you want a real life. Being cordial to a current or potential boss is basic human smarts and essential kindness; dissing your boss or your teacher is plain stupid. If you're a younger person, even rocking similar clothing and obsessing on the same music as your classmates can be a good starting move. I sometimes consider how I have the code to get into a nearby office complex because they trust me that far and they know I need basic access, but I have neither code nor a physical key to get into any of the offices—someone needs to let me in. In social settings you need to learn and use the key that includes spoken language, clothing style, social conventions—music preferences? If you finesse everything well enough, maybe they'll let you in?
Global internet reach has led to increased cultural awareness, blending and blurring—even a degree of ethnic fluidity. Fusion music and fusion cuisines are here to stay. However, in this story set in today's twenty-first century, the ruckus teen music icon Chiquifancy causes between Gabriela and her non-latina friends makes it clear it's fine for music or sports icons to be ethnic minorities but even now, possibly not okay when an ethnic minority is extremely close to home—a classmate or a potential friend. On the other hand, local ethnic minorities may be just fine if they do everything possible to assimilate to local styles and habits.
Though this book review has focused on cultural aspects of Silver Meadows Summer, special summer activities and summer friendships also are prominent throughout Emma Otheguy's carefully crafted chronicle.
Antonio Machado reminds us, "Traveler, there is no path; you make your own way by walking" while Robert Frost challenges, "Two paths diverged in a yellow road..." Both poets lived and wrote a distance away from their birthplaces; in this physically and culturally mobile world, many people will move away from their places of origin, sometimes to a place with very different habits and customs. Technically this is a YA/middle school novel, yet this story of a summer in the lives of a few young persons is engrossing and close to a roadmap (a path, possibly?) for almost everyone's practice and response.