I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Amá/Amparo Montenegro Reyes Character Analysis

Julia’s strict, overbearing mother has very firm ideas about who her daughter should be—ideas that Julia doesn’t understand, respect, or accept at all. For Amá, a housecleaner whose years of hard labor have taken a toll on her once-great physical beauty, a “perfect Mexican daughter” should aspire to marry well, work a job in an office, and spend time with her family—not run away to New York to become a writer. Amá constantly tries to press Julia into a certain mold—feminine, obliging, and family-oriented—but the rebellious, ambitious Julia resists her at every turn. Because of their constant struggles, Julia and Amá have an intense, distrustful, and antagonistic relationship. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Amá loves Julia fiercely—and is desperate to do anything she can to protect her from the unpredictable and often cruel world, especially in the tragic wake of Olga’s death. It is eventually revealed that Amá’s overprotective nature stems from a trauma she suffered while crossing the border—she was raped by the coyote taking her and Apá across the desert while Apá was forced to look on at gunpoint. Olga was not Apá’s child—she was the product of the rape in the desert—and for this reason Amá has long been determined to shield both her daughters from additional pain and trauma. Once Julia learns the truth about Amá, she’s able to extend greater empathy to her occasionally neurotic and old-fashioned mother—but remains determined to go out into the world and face whatever may come her way.

Amá/Amparo Montenegro Reyes Quotes in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

The I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter quotes below are all either spoken by Amá/Amparo Montenegro Reyes or refer to Amá/Amparo Montenegro Reyes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Secrets and Lies Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Knopf edition of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter published in 2017.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Olga’s friend Angie comes running in, looking like she was the one hit by a semi. She’s beautiful, but, damn, is she an ugly crier. Her skin is like a bright pink rag someone has wrung out. As soon as she sees Olga, she starts howling almost worse than Amá. I wish I knew the right thing to say, but I don’t. I never do.

Related Characters: Julia Reyes (speaker), Olga Reyes, Amá/Amparo Montenegro Reyes, Angie
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 13 Quotes

Amá just shakes her head. “You know, Julia, maybe if you knew how to behave yourself, to keep your mouth shut, your sister would still be alive. Have you ever thought about that?” She finally says it. She says what her big, sad eyes were telling me all along.

Related Characters: Julia Reyes (speaker), Amá/Amparo Montenegro Reyes (speaker), Olga Reyes
Related Symbols: Julia’s Quinceañera
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 18 Quotes

How could I have been so dumb not to notice anything? But then again, how would anyone have known? Olga kept this sealed up and buried like an ancient tomb. My whole life I’ve been considered the bad daughter, while my sister was secretly living another life, the kind of life that would shatter Amá into tiny pieces. I don’t want to be mad at Olga because she’s dead, but I am.

Related Characters: Julia Reyes (speaker), Olga Reyes, Amá/Amparo Montenegro Reyes
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 22 Quotes

My body feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. I picture my mother’s face streaked with tears and dirt, my father bowing his head in defeat. “And Olga? What about Olga? She was . . . She was ...” I can’t get the words out.

Tía Fermina clasps her hands to her chest and nods. “See, mija, that’s why I want you to know. So when you and your mother fight, you can see where she’s come from and understand what’s happened to her. She doesn’t mean to hurt you.”

Page Number: 274-275
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 23 Quotes

I can’t look at Amá without thinking about the border. I keep picturing her screaming on the ground, Apá with a gun to his head. I don’t think I can ever tell her that I know. But how do we live with these secrets locked within us? How do we tie our shoes, brush our hair, drink coffee, wash the dishes, and go to sleep, pretending everything is fine? How do we laugh and feel happiness despite the buried things growing inside? How can we do that day after day?

Page Number: 284-285
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 24 Quotes

“I understand that it hurts, believe me, but this isn’t about you. […] Why would you want to cause your family more pain?

“Because we shouldn’t be living lies,” I say. […] “I’m tired of pretending and letting things blister inside me. Keeping things to myself almost killed me. I don’t want to live like that anymore.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Forget it.” Part of me wonders if Angie is right—who am I to do this to my family?—but I hate this feeling, like the weight of this will make my chest collapse.

Angie wipes the tears from her eyes with her palms. “Some things should never be said out loud, Julia. Can’t you see that?”

Related Characters: Julia Reyes (speaker), Angie (speaker), Olga Reyes, Amá/Amparo Montenegro Reyes, Apá/Rafael Reyes
Page Number: 295-296
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 26 Quotes

“What do I do with this?” I say to myself aloud. “How do I bury this, too?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, how am I going to keep this secret? Why do I have to be the one living with this shit?”

“Please, don’t tell your parents. Olga never wanted to hurt them.”

“Why wouldn’t I? And why should I listen to you?”

“Sometimes it’s best not to tell the truth.”

Page Number: 312
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 29 Quotes

How can I leave them like this? How can I just live my life and leave them behind? What kind of person does that? Will I ever forgive myself?

“We love you, Julia. We love you so much,” Amá says, and presses some money into my hand. “Para si se te antoja algo,” she says, in case I crave something when I get to New York. “Remember you can come back whenever you want.”

Related Characters: Julia Reyes (speaker), Amá/Amparo Montenegro Reyes (speaker), Apá/Rafael Reyes
Related Symbols: Food and Hunger
Page Number: 338
Explanation and Analysis:
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I pull out Olga’s ultrasound picture from my journal before we land. At times, it looks like an egg. Occasionally, it looks like an eye. The other day I was convinced I could see it pulsing. How can I ever give this to my parents, something else to love, something dead? These last two years I combed and delved through my sister’s life to better understand her, which meant I learned to find pieces of myself—both beautiful and ugly—and how amazing is it that I hold a piece of her right here in my hands?

Page Number: 340
Explanation and Analysis:
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Amá/Amparo Montenegro Reyes Character Timeline in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

The timeline below shows where the character Amá/Amparo Montenegro Reyes appears in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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...from this ideal. Julia is snapped from her mean thoughts about her sister by her Amá pushing past her and wailing, screaming “my daughter” over and over in Spanish as she... (full context)
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...“build until [she] explode[s] like a piñata.” As aunts and uncles rush forward to comfort Amá, Julia can’t help but feel skeptical and bored—“Once you’re dead,” she thinks, “you’re dead.” (full context)
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...her for proof. Julia’s frequent trips to the principal’s office always result in scoldings—and groundings—from Amá, who doesn’t understand why her once-obedient daughter has become a troublemaker who enjoys living “la... (full context)
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Because Julia got in trouble at school and had to be picked up by Amá on the day of Olga’s death, Olga had to take the bus home from school... (full context)
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...aunts whispering about her, and is relieved when her best friend, Lorena, shows up. Though Amá thinks Lorena is wild and slutty—which Julia admits she is—Lorena has been Julia’s best friend... (full context)
Chapter 2
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After Olga’s funeral, Amá doesn’t leave her bed for nearly two weeks. She only gets up to go to... (full context)
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...into her mother’s room and asks if she’s planning on eating or taking a shower. Amá yells at Julia for being “suddenly concerned with cleanliness,” remarking that Olga was always “the... (full context)
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...mother is sitting in the kitchen sipping some tea, freshly showered. Julia is shocked when Amá—who always demands to know her whereabouts—doesn’t ask Julia where she’s been. Julia is even more... (full context)
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...she gets out of her own bed and goes to crawl into Olga’s, even though Amá has forbidden her from entering her sister’s room. Julia is comforted by Olga’s familiar scent,... (full context)
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...she hears her mother come up behind her. Full of dread, Julia turns to face Amá, who has her hands on her hips and looks deeply angry. (full context)
Chapter 3
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Julia has been grounded for going into Olga’s room—Amá took away her phone and has forbidden her from closing her bedroom door. Julia has... (full context)
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Lately, Julia never knows whether Amá will, on any given day, be in a good mood or a bad one. One... (full context)
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...real world that she doesn’t even care that she’ll probably be in big trouble with Amá when she gets back home. (full context)
Chapter 4
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On Saturday afternoon, Julia tells Amá that she’s going to the library to study—but secretly heads for Angie’s house instead. She’s... (full context)
Chapter 5
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After school one day, Julia calls Amá and lies to her, telling her she needs to stay late to work on a... (full context)
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...the corner of Lorena’s living room—her mother worships Santa Muerte, a skeleton saint (another reason Amá is so skeptical of Julia hanging out with her best friend.) Lorena’s mom is glamorous... (full context)
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The next night, when Amá goes out to her prayer group at church, Julia asks Apá if she can go... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Amá, Apá, and Julia are getting ready to go to Julia’s cousin Victor’s seventh birthday party—a... (full context)
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...is overwhelmed by the number of children running wildly in and out of the house. Amá forces Julia to greet and kiss every one of her relatives hello—even Tío Cayetano, who... (full context)
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...inside, where she sits on the sofa and begins reading The Catcher in the Rye. Amá often yells at her for reading at parties, but Julia is able to read for... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Julia brings the fake permission slip home to Amá, who tells Julia she can’t go on the trip without even looking at the form.... (full context)
Chapter 8
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One Saturday, Amá, a housecleaner, forces Julia to come work with her cleaning fancy homes in Chicago’s wealthy... (full context)
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While cleaning the bedroom, Julia and Amá have a stilted and uneasy conversation, and Amá asks Julia about how she’s doing in... (full context)
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...the women in practiced Spanish—on their way out, Julia notices that he’s staring appraisingly at Amá’s body. As the women step outside into the snow, Julia is grateful—for once—to be out... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...run into the sister of the host—a girl who went to high school with Olga. Amá surprisingly agrees to let Julia goes to the dance, but insists on helping her pick... (full context)
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...head to the afterparty—even though Julia knows doing so will get her in trouble with Amá for staying out late. At the crammed, steamy afterparty at a house nearby, Julia begins... (full context)
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...she knows she’s not the ideal daughter, she’s hurt by the fact that her parents—especially Amá—treat her like a “degenerate.” When under severe punishment, and banned from even going to the... (full context)
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...with air conditioning. Julia sits beside him on the couch and does her homework. When Amá comes home, she tells Julia she’s looking poorly, and asks if she’s been eating junk... (full context)
Chapter 12
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One Sunday morning, while Julia is helping Amá put together party favors, the doorbell rings. Julia opens the door and finds Lorena standing... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...the party, and walks away. As she does, she sees Milagros talking to a concerned-looking Amá and Apá. Julia sits down at her table and gorges herself on a piece of... (full context)
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When Amá, Apá, and Julia arrive home at their apartment that night, they flick on the lights... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...New York, Boston, and Chicago. Julia has been saving money all summer, cleaning houses with Amá in hopes of earning enough to cover a one-way flight to wherever she gets into... (full context)
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...few days later, Julia meets up with Connor in the city again after lying to Amá about a field trip to the Cultural Center downtown. As Julia approaches the restaurant where... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...she still catches herself looking at the front door, waiting for Olga to walk in. Amá still cries often, but always in private, and Julia is afraid to talk to her... (full context)
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...The two of them talk on the phone every single night, and though Julia knows Amá must be aware something’s up, her mother doesn’t speak English well enough to understand Julia’s... (full context)
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...the house all to themselves. Julia is stunned that Connor’s parents would leave him home alone—Amá and Apá would never let Julia or even Olga stay by themselves—but tells herself that... (full context)
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On Saturday, Julia lies to Amá about going downtown to an art gallery for a school project. Amá seems suspicious, and... (full context)
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...and hears something rattling in it—she pulls out a small bag which contains some of Amá’s jewelry, as well as the key to Olga’s room. (full context)
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Late that night, after Amá and Apá are asleep, Julia gets up and opens the door to Olga’s room. She... (full context)
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...are open on the living room floor. Though Julia insists that the items aren’t hers, Amá refuses to believe her. (full context)
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Julia is grounded big-time—Amá takes away her cell phone, and her only way of contacting Connor is by using... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Julia isn’t allowed to leave the apartment. After going through the rest of her things, Amá found Julia’s diary—though Amá doesn’t speak English very well, she knows a bad word when... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Julia wakes up in a hospital bed with Amá standing over her. She has a horrible headache, and begins crying as soon as she... (full context)
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...more about her parents. Julia discusses the painfully difficult and distrustful relationship she has with Amá, and the distant, ghostlike way Apá moves through their house. When Dr. Cooke asks Julia... (full context)
Chapter 18
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That night, at dinner, Amá and Apá tell Julia that they think she should go to Mexico for a little... (full context)
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...that everything just became too much—things had been bad enough after Olga’s death, but once Amá found Olga’s things and grounded Julia, Julia started to feel like a prisoner. Dr. Cooke... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...she’s the black sheep, but here, she’s beloved. She laughs as she realizes that perhaps Amá was right after all—perhaps a trip to Mexico is just what she needed all along.  (full context)
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...teaches Julia how to cook menudo, a rich dish made from tripe. Though Julia hates Amá’s cooking lessons at home, she finds herself enjoying the work of cleaning and preparing the... (full context)
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Julia asks Mamá Jacinta what she means, and Mamá Jacinta tells Julia about how Amá and Apá were robbed when they crossed the border. Julia says she already knows the... (full context)
Chapter 20
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...things. She doesn’t find anything exciting, though she does come upon a framed drawing of Amá when she was young. She brings the drawing to Mamá Jacinta and asks who drew... (full context)
Chapter 22
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...As the women arrive in town and walk through the streets, Fermina asks Julia how Amá is doing, and Julia admits that things at home have been extremely difficult since Olga’s... (full context)
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...quiet and starts to cry. Julia asks what’s wrong, and Fermina  reveals tearfully that during Amá and Apá’s border crossing, the coyote leading them through the desert raped Amá while his... (full context)
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...as she pulls away from Los Ojos, Julia cries quietly. She has Apá’s drawing of Amá with her, and has promised Mamá Jacinta that she will take care of Amá always.... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Back in Chicago, Amá picks Julia up from the airport and takes her to a restaurant in Chinatown. Julia... (full context)
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Amá tells Julia that Mr. Ingman called the house last week and said he was worried... (full context)
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Julia can barely look at Amá without thinking about what she was forced to endure during the border crossing. She doesn’t... (full context)
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When Julia and Amá get back to the apartment, Amá lets Julia have her phone back. When Julia turns... (full context)
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Julia goes out to the living room to ask Amá if she can go hang out downtown with Lorena tomorrow afternoon. She feels bad that... (full context)
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Because she sees that Amá is making an effort, Julia decides to make one too—and agrees to go along with... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...has been having weekly sessions with Dr. Cooke. Their “number-one topic” is Julia’s relationship with Amá. Julia is grateful that Dr. Cooke never seems to judge her, even when she admits... (full context)
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...Chicago, and one is from NYU. Julia has gotten into both places with full rides. Amá and Apá congratulate her, and though they’re disheartened that she wants to choose NYU over... (full context)
Chapter 28
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After dinner that evening, Amá tries to engage Julia in a talk “about boys.” Though Julia tries to resist the... (full context)
Chapter 29
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...line. She can’t believe she’s leaving them, and feels terrible for going away to school. Amá hands her some money, telling her it’s in case she starts to “crave something when... (full context)