A professor combines his academic research with his decadeslong U.S.–Mexico border activism to brightly illuminate immigration realities by focusing on the struggles of one young woman.
In this powerful saga, Bobrow-Strain (Politics/Whitman Coll.; White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf, 2012, etc.), a founding member of the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition in Washington state, focuses primarily on Agua Prieta, Mexico, just across the border from Douglas, Arizona. Until around 1990, the border between the two towns seemed mostly invisible. Douglas residents often shopped, dined, and worked in Agua Prieta, and vice versa. Aida Hernandez—not her actual name, an anonymity the author explains in detail—was born in Agua Prieta in 1987. Until age 9, she resided in Mexico, impoverished but generally content. When Aida’s mother left Mexico with her and her siblings to escape a violent marriage, vast complications began. The new man in the family’s life turned out to be worse than the biological father, but they were dependent on him for lodging and food and cowed by his threats to have them deported back to Mexico. Although Aida dedicated herself to performing well in school and learning fluent English, her undocumented status meant constant uncertainty. It also meant that she was vulnerable to violent male figures, ranging from her mother’s paramour to Aida’s boyfriends to abusive Border Patrol agents. When Aida had a son at age 16, her lack of adequate income and her overall vulnerability became far more complex since every decision she made would affect her child. Bobrow-Strain met Aida through a social worker whose own complicated border saga mingles with many others portrayed by the author in vivid and often agonizing detail. The settings eventually transcend Agua Prieta and Douglas to encompass immigration detention centers, overwhelmed immigration courts, and, eventually, New York City, where Aida and her son battle for a better life.
This potent, important work, which “occupies a space between journalism and ethnography, with a dash of oral history and biography,” adds much to the continuing immigration debate.