Yuri Herrera’s unmistakable account of crossing the border between Mexico and the United States of America, although language carefully avoids making specific geographical references, does not appear to be a story about finding a home, but about a journey. However, Makina, the main character, does not even appear to know what this journey is about. She attempts to find her brother, she says so, and convincingly enough for most of this short book, yet her journey unveils a more profound purpose, and Herrera takes us along for one of the darkest of passages. The layers of the narrative peel away in front of our very eyes as Makina herself debates between her ingenuousness and her accomplished resourcefulness to survive in a jagged street environment.
She remains hopeful enough to find her brother, yet the journey speaks of a woman with enough determination to not succumb to the crudeness of the changes that are happening in her inner self. Makina is not your typical heroine, though, for she does not remain unsurprised by the ups and downs of her expedition, and in her own way, she reevaluates her own notions of simple concepts like family, and the sense of belonging. She embarks herself on an adventure where she is promised the help she needs to find her brother from a local criminal gang, which of course, does not come without something in exchange from her. What she ends up giving in return proofs to be of a deeper and more sinister nature. She maneuvers herself in a battleground between explosive characters among the border, battling between those who attempt to take her down and those who aid her, and, in between, the humanness of this otherwise raw and unwelcoming terrain. Makina appears as a transparent and tough individual at first, only to unveil the profoundness of her own thoughts and desires in an environment of unspeakable scarcity. She undeniably self-evaluates her character while driving herself through this land, unknown to her, and the reader. For Latin Americans, there are so many tiers in this story.
The subject of American patriotism and seeming defense of their resources in a constant battle for the protection of their sense of identity is a very lengthy one which remains contemporary.
The relationship between Latin Americans who live in the United States and those who live in Latin America is a complex one on its own, where feelings of contempt, animosity, and to some extent envy, reflect the toll years of American intervention and, in some cases, occupation, in Latin America, have taken on the Latin American psyche.
They are one and the same and they are not at the same time. Herrera takes this into account as Makina’s own journey unveils a newly found self-awareness as she arrives in the foreign land. She had remained somewhat unaware of why would people want to stay in this unusual land where they are not wanted. Yet, she discovers the complexity of how decisions are made across the borders, covered by the wide blanket of human nature. Yet, Herrera’s evaluation does not end there. She examines the relationships between African Americans and Latin Americans, and how their lives appear to have become somehow separated and intertwined as apparent outcasts in this newly found land. Herrera goes as far as even making important parallels between the sought stability by immigrants and those sought by gays and lesbians, and about how this pursued permanence shapes family relationships in and out of the United States. In the meantime, an even deeper level of evaluation happens somewhere else, in the mind of the reader. Makina’s story appears to be somehow unresolved, as a reflection of how our complex contemporary human society remains unresolved, and as we all continue to discuss these issues in the more abstract battleground that is the world we live in.
Foreign Fiction Blogger Vivianne C. Almario.
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