A debut novel follows a Mexican farm worker who struggles to support his family in the United States and turns to the power of organized labor.
As a young boy growing up in San Ciro de Acosta, Mexico, Sixto Torres was always a hard worker and proud of his industriousness. He spends a few years studying to become a priest at a seminary, but he realizes, partly because of his attraction to a young woman, that his calling isn’t a priestly one. After his father’s death, Sixto convinces his mother to move the family somewhere he can find work while his siblings attend school. He lands a job on a ranch owned by Don Ramón Yañez, a friend of one of his aunt’s, and falls in love with the man’s daughter, Elida. Sixto’s romantic prospects with Elida are grim given the socioeconomic divide that separates them, but he pursues her nonetheless, impregnates her, and, ultimately, marries her. But, as the family grows, he is plagued by the challenges of supporting it, and Elida is increasingly dispirited as well. Sixto, seeking to improve his circumstances and help his fellow workers, becomes infatuated with the idea of unionization. He discovers he has a talent for labor organization and the ambition to match, and he eventually becomes the president of the San Jerardo Farmworker Housing Cooperative. Moncrief deftly braids a complex history with a fictional dramatization—a synoptic account of the draw of Mexican workers to the U.S. is furnished within the story. Sometimes the reader might feel lost inside intramural union disputes recounted at considerable length, but what emerges, in the main, is a powerful paean to union solidarity. At one point, Sixto says: “Organizing is not foolishness, and the truth is, people in power understand only one idea—power. We need to continue to organize. It’s organizing that changes lives, the people acting together, learning how to make a difference.” The author artfully builds Sixto’s character into a living embodiment of the plight of Mexican workers in the U.S.: he makes hopeful progress, sometimes simultaneously paired with pulverizing disappointment. This is a meticulously researched book that manages to both entertain and edify in equal measure.
A worthy union tale for readers in search of poignant historical fiction.