Ander & Santi Were Here by Jonny Garza Villa
Xolo Score 4.5/5
Ander is a brilliant nonbinary Mexican teen artist who lives with their family in San Antonio. During their gap year before attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), Ander is working part-time at their family’s taqueria and doing a residency with a local organization, Beautify Not Gentrify. At first, Ander seems a little lost and goes about the days of their gap year without clear direction. But everything changes when Ander meets the taqueria’s newest server. Falling head over heels for each other, Ander and Santi want to bask in the glow of their love preparing their hearts for Ander’s eventual move to Chicago. And although Ander has had the privilege of being spared the direct impacts of the U.S.’s fascist immigration system, that changes when Santi confides that he is undocumented.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Ander’s artistic journey in the book is filled with complexities and nuance. Taking a gap year to do a residency for a local non-profit seemed like a radical move in the eyes of their parents and school advisors. But Ander constantly points out that no one would scrutinize their choices if they were white. For instance, no one would question Ander’s gap year if they were a white teen backpacking Europe. Ander’s SAIC white and Queer advisor particularly enjoys racializing their art by continuously stereotyping Ander’s artistic expression as solely Mexican. The advisor is incapable of viewing Ander and their art outside of their Mexican heritage and impedes Ander from exploring other art styles or inspirations. But no matter how others perceive and judge Ander, they are proud to be the artist they are and constantly stand up for themself.
At the same time, Ander is discovering the type of artist they want to become; they are also exploring a very sex-positive relationship with Santi. Their love is adorable, passionate, and affirming. Ander and Santi support each other in ways that are self-aware and healthy. The strong foundation of love and support they build quickly is rocked when U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pick up Santi during a quick trip to the corner store. Ander is self-aware of their citizenship privilege and how it has kept them safe from the trauma of deportation or separation. But when the reality of Santi’s deportation sinks, Ander is devastated but determined to reunite with Santi. Both Ander Santi refuse to let a fascist and racist immigration system dictate their lives and love.
Ander & Santi Were Here is a slow-burn sex-positive YA Romance that artfully gives a giant middle finger to the racist and fascist U.S. immigration system.
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