A thoughtful, politically charged narrative of travel in a little-known but much-discussed American subculture.
There are now, writes Pacific News Service editor and NPR correspondent Martínez, as many as seven million Mexican migrant laborers living in the US. A disproportionate number come from small, mostly Indian villages and towns in the state of Michoacán, such as the small city of Zamora. “No one,” he writes, “believes that there’s a future here, neither the big-time landowner nor the cholo. There’s a past: this is where your folks were born, where the streets smell like childhood and the traditional fiestas are still celebrated more or less the way they were before the Conquest. But a future? The more Zamora is aware of the world beyond the little green valley . . . the more Zamora wants to shed its skin.” It does so by sending its people, young and old, across the border, mostly illegally, where the hardships are many but the potential rewards—including citizenship for the lucky few and rates of pay that are princely by Mexican standards if unimaginably low to middle-class gringos—outweigh the risks. Martínez begins and ends his voyage in Michoacán, visiting with the mother of a large family most of whose members have crossed the line; three of her sons died after a cocaine-snorting smuggler crashed his truck while fleeing US Border Patrol agents. (By the end, she too will have left Zamora, for a new home in St. Louis.) Other points in his eventful narrative find Martínez at home in California, walking the Arizona desert, talking with farmhands in Texas shantytowns. He resists the temptation to moralize, instead writing plainly—but with obvious sympathy—for people moved by economic disaster to flee their homes for an uncertain new country that often seems to hate them but that needs them all the same.
First-rate reporting on an important, controversial subject.