Gil traces his roots from impoverished laborers on a hacienda in rural Mexico to micro-business owners in a barrio of Southern California.
Gil plays the role of storyteller and mass organizer in this textbook-thick account of how his family crossed both land and social boundaries to improve their living conditions and be together. He starts with an image of two women—an excited teen followed by a hesitant elderly lady—as they walk north towards the border of Mexico and Nogales, Ariz. He then takes a step back to describe how they got to this point, starting with the birth of his grandmother, Carlota. Carlota was born into poverty on Hacienda Santa Rosa, a plantation outside the city of Mascota in 1880. Her parents were live-in peasants, regarded as property by the farm owners. They had no rights and no means of improving their status; leaving the farm, let alone the country, was unimaginable. In the hopes of escaping peasant life, Carlota associated herself with men she felt could free her from the farm, but instead she became a single mother of three. Her children—Miguel, Guadalupe (Gil’s mother) and Pascual—proved to be the real heroes of Carlota’s escape from life as a laborer. Pascual was able to leave, and Carlota eventually traveled north with her two remaining teens to reunite the family. Gil narrates through the first part of this book by connecting the personal stories of his mother and uncles with a broader account of the revolution in Mexico at the time. He continues to use a mix of family perspectives, historical contexts and personal analyses throughout the book to explain how his grandmother’s children eventually settled in San Fernando, Calif. At times, the writing is overly detailed and dry, despite the remarkableness of the story, but quotes from Gil’s siblings help to reignite reader interest. While not always an exciting read, it’s an interesting, well-written account of an adaptable, immigrant family.
Provides a unique perspective into the complex cultural struggles immigrant families face and the circumstances that bring them here.