A standard-issue epic tale of two Mexican-American families pitched hither and von by the historical vicissitudes of the mid-20th century. Miguel Salazar is on the edge of adulthood when his dying grandfather commands his sons to take their families to America and not to come back to Mexico before they've squirreled away $5,000. After a harrowing truck accident on the way to the border, Miguel's family is separated from his uncle Francisco's family. Miguel's father, a noble Mexican who spends most of time dreaming about his eventual return, goes to work in an icehouse in El Paso, Texas, while his brother, Francisco, ends up working a farm in the Rio Grande Valley. Miguel, meanwhile, undertakes a series of jobs, one of which lands him in a department store, where he falls for a counter-girl, though his affections remain unrequited for the duration of the novel. The book divides into two parts, the first of which follows Miguel through the frustrations of life in the barrio before sending him off to Italy to fight in WW II. Back in the States, the local hero becomes an ethnic icon for a dissolute construction operation; when houses start falling down, Miguel splits town and finishes his part of the story at a gas station. Francisco's half is livelier: He tries to organize the Mexican farm-laborers into a union, with predictable results. Hands, heads, and hearts are bashed, but this plotline does lead to some suspense-filled moments at the end, including a violent near-rape and the hijacking of a convoy of illegal immigrants. A not particularly distinguished up-by-the-bootstraps, yearning-for-a-place debut novel--and never as powerful as it wants to be.