Seven short stories explore the hard lives of Latinos and the fraught relations between their native and adopted countries.
Ruiz (Going Hungry, 2008) writes about characters who grapple with injustice, usually as they pursue the American dream. In “It’s My Wall Now,” a Hispanic woman living in south Texas, on land granted to her ancestors by a Spanish king, wakes up one morning to find that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has built a fence across her property—right over a shrine for her son, an American soldier who was killed while fighting in Iraq. “I didn’t cross the border,” she laments. “The border crossed me.” In “Pierce the Sky,” an immigrant to Los Angeles, fleeing “paramilitary sociopaths” in Ecuador, gets stuck in an elevator with a right-wing norteamericano and finds that he’s caught between two worlds—the poverty and violence of his native land and the smog and paranoia of LA. Two stories depict a dystopian future in which rising floodwaters have overwhelmed the eastern United States. In “Liberty Lost,” a Dominican woman living just above sea level—on the 30th floor of her Manhattan apartment building—tries to help prevent a Chinese ship from seizing the Statue of Liberty “to repay some of our country’s old debts.” In “Inverted,” the U.S. has fallen into anarchy, forcing an American family to sneak into Mexico, an oasis of peace and plenty, only to be deported after they’re caught working as migrant laborers. Occasionally, Ruiz tells too much, as when a character sententiously explains that it’s ironic that immigrants are “fighting for Liberty when it was American xenophobia that ignited this whole apocalypse.” At other times, the stories use shopworn language, such as “I felt empowered.” But many stories show real sparks of creativity as they give voices to the voiceless. Although a few are predictable Horatio Alger–style tales of immigrants, most paint nuanced pictures of people seeking an impossible American dream.
Well-executed stories that offer fresh perspectives on long-standing societal problems.