We all live in one world, or do we? Most of us grow up believing that, but when one grows up with both sides of their family belonging to completely different ethnic backgrounds, it is a recipe for making an individual feel lost and unaccepted. At least when those two sides essentially hate each other. Alicia Barron, the main character of The Inheritors written by Judith Kirscht, battles this cultural confusion.
Before picking up this book, I had no idea how closely I would be able to relate to Alicia and the term referred to by not only herself, but those who bullied her-“mestiza”. Although the word refers to a woman of Latin culture who is mixed race, I too float in the world of mixed-race females who knows what it is like to be rejected from both sides and feel there is nowhere to belong. Alicia’s mother represents a strong woman we could all use in our lives:
“Why can’t you be proud of both, Alicia?” Her mother’s voice rang again in her ears as she sank into a chair.
“Because I’m neither,” she retorted to the remembered voice. I’m always embarrassing myself the way I just did at Charlie’s. I’m just—wrong!
Do we really have to choose one or the other, or can we embrace both sides to become a multicultural individual? The latter sounds desirable, but unfortunately sometimes it causes those who consider themselves “authentic” to become offended. My ability to relate on a personal level was an aspect that made this book most enjoyable-not only due to the ethnicities clashing factor, but with Chicago as the setting it almost felt as if some of the references were inside jokes:
“You’ll be happy enough to have a car, tonight,” he teased, forever amazed at her habit of walking everywhere. “It feels more like March than April.”
Showers of ice-laden needles shot from the blackness, striking the pane. “April Fool’s Day, Chicago style. And maybe only a Chicagoan would understand,” she agreed, smiling.
The racial and timely relevance of this book is one of its main strengths, as the story could fit into today easily with just a few details tweaked. Alicia is raised only knowing her mother and under the impression she is Latina, while her father who passed away at war was Chilean. Despite her mother having strong Anglo features, Alicia grows up believing “gringos” (a derogatory term referring to a white person from an English speaking country) are not the type of people she should want to associate with because they bring trouble and hatred.
She is unpleasantly surprised when she learns that she is in fact half Caucasian, and the story unravels with her journey of discovery of her past and the tragic history of her mother’s family. This story is not only about cultural collision, as it equally focuses on the importance of self-acceptance and forgiveness-forgiveness of ones’ self and of ones’ past. Alicia’s romantic partner also must learn if he can accept her Anglo background when it too reminds him of dark images he has never been able to erase. This part of the story makes a reader question what it means to love someone for who they are but also who they are not. We all deserve to know where we come from, but at what cost are we willing to dig up the past that is likely to be rejected by those we are closest with?
The story did not take hold of my attention until Alicia uncovers her family secret; the beginning took time to fully grasp as a lot of names are dropped within the first few pages, and it was difficult to sort out who-was-who. As the story unfolds, there are multiple jarring transitions of scenery and flashbacks, so I found myself re-reading a couple sections. Regardless of that confusion, the language stayed clear enough to paint colorful, detailed images of the busy life the city possesses and a heavy amount of dialogue, making the reader feel included and part of the conversation.
Overall, The Inheritors sends an impactful message of whether or not one can let go of their pre-conceived notions of a particular group and understand that not all people within that group are the same. This is an issue that could be attributed to any time period, but especially now when our country is continuing to grow at a rapid pace, and cultures of all kinds are becoming blended. We all could use a reality check in understanding that most of us come from mixed cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and it does not mean that one is better than the other. Instead, we all should be willing to give those a chance that we may have been programmed to think of one way. More often than not one ends up being pleasantly surprised that they had been wrong all along.