Pride and tragedy unfold in this tale of Mexican Americans navigating the artificial border that splits their ancestral homeland.
In the latest from Castillo (Watercolor Women, Opaque Men, 2005, etc.), a handful of Mexican Americans in a small town outside El Paso, Texas, tell of their search to find Rafa, an illegal immigrant who constantly returns to Mexico, despite the dangers he faces at each crossing. Regina, Rafa's sister, has U.S. residency and a stable job as a teacher's aide, thanks to her unconsummated marriage to a Vietnam conscript who never made it back. Gabo, Rafa's 15-year-old son who lives with Regina, writes letters to the saint Padre Pió about the pain of losing his mother, murdered during a border crossing; his fears for his father; and the challenges of daily life shoulder-to-shoulder with gang members and police. American-born Miguel Betancourt, a teacher in Regina's school, is politically astute and passionate about the injustices his people have endured for centuries. Together with Abuelo Milton (Miguel's blind but still dapper grandfather), Miguel, Regina and Gabo face down the “coyotes” who prey on border crossers and who may know of Rafa's whereabouts. Regina, a down-to-earth, hardworking woman in her 50s who struggles to come to grips with her past, is elevated to an object of adoration by these three men—Gabo appreciates her selflessness, Abuelo Milton her beauty and Miguel the fact that she is one of those women “who not only look good but probably rustles steer in their spare time.” When tragedy strikes, Regina proves that her heart is big enough to be worthy of their love. Castillo personalizes her characters by allowing them to speak in their own voice, from the heart, and the frequent sprinkling of Spanish words throughout the text underscores the cultural divide between Mexican and Anglo culture.
A nuanced, vibrant look at the American experience through Mexican-American eyes.