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Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail Hardcover – October 3, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Not since Ted Conover's Coyotes has a book revealed the underground culture of illegal immigration from Mexico as well as Crossing Over by Rubén Martínez. This up-and-coming author writes of what he calls "a Mexican Manifest Destiny" that continually pierces the southern borderline of the United States--a "line [that] is still more an idea than a reality." Martínez begins with the awful story of the three Chávez brothers, all killed when a truck carrying them and some two dozen other illegal aliens tried to outrace border patrol agents and flipped. Martínez learns of their fate and travels to their peasant hometown in southern Mexico to distil the motives of migrants. Then he follows the rest of the family north as they fan into the United States. Crossing Over is written in the first person and is highly anecdotal, but Martínez constantly makes observations that break free from these narrow confines. "Mexicans have always had an uncanny instinct for finding the soft spots of the American labor economy," he notes at one point, explaining how it is that millions of poor people who barely speak English can thrive, in their way, north of the border. Crossing Over is an outstanding book, and required reading for anyone interested in Hispanics and the new America. --John Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Chronicling a family that lost three sons to a border crossing gone horribly wrong, Martinez travels repeatedly from San Diego to the city of Cheron, in the state of Michoacin, about 200 miles west of Mexico City. Though treated by some of the Mexicans he meets as more of a gringo than a norteno (a Mexican who has lived in the north), Martinez, an American of Mexican emigri parents, gets terrifically close to his subjects, following them from stultifying poverty in Mexico to mortally dangerous illegal crossings and harsh and also dangerous (and illegal) work in Arkansas, Connecticut, Missouri and California. Martinez draws a wealth of social, ethnic, linguistic and economic nuance in completely absorbing narratives. Each of the 13 chapters begins with a facing-page photo by Joseph Rodriguez (with whom Martinez collaborated on East Side Stories), showing us the cholos (gang members), coyotes (crossing guides) and pollos ("chickens" being led across), and also the everyday people whose lives are spread, one way or another, across the border. Martinez is now at Harvard on a Loeb fellowship, has won an Emmy for his work as a journalist, is associate editor of Pacific News Service and a correspondent for PBS's Religion and Ethics News Weekly. His book is heroic in its honesty and self-examination, and in its determination to tell its story completely and fully. (Oct. 3)Forecast: With the legal status of Mexican workers apparently on the White House front burner, this will be a huge book for policy wonks; look for terrific reviews, and for Martinez to do many a news chat. This will be a big seller on campus and with left-leaning readers (possibly for years), but the topicality and the quality of the writing make a major breakout likely.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1st edition (October 3, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805049088
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805049084
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,235,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Among this book's many strengths is Ruben Martinez's attention to both sides of the immigration story. He devotes nearly half the book to describing lives in Cheran, Michoacan, showing how immigration to the U.S. is transforming rural Mexico in a variety of surprising ways. Martinez argues that this transformation is the biggest change to hit the highlands since the Conquest. Martinez then travels "el otro lado", the other side--or the multiple other sides. He takes us into the cheranes' homes in small-town Wisconsin and Arkansas and in the working-class edge of Saint Louis, all before visiting the strawberry fields of California. Given the dispersal of recent Mexican migration throughout the U.S., beyond the expected centers of California and the Southwest, Martinez's book is timely indeed. I also commend Martinez for the way he explores culture change without judging or mourning the loss of old ways. As a reader, I effortlessly tagged along with Martinez, across the many roads traversed by mexicanos today. I enjoyed this book for its breezy, evocative, yet thoughtful writing. Martinez transports readers to places few of us will visit, but places with which we are all increasingly connected.
I highly recommend CROSSING OVER for use in college classes and for anyone who works with recent Mexican immigrants.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Andy Orrock VINE VOICE on March 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There's no better way to begin to understand the tangled and interwoven relationship between Mexico and the United States than by picking up Ruben Martinez' "Crossing Over." I chose it because of a very good review written by Geri Smith in the December 31, 2001 edition of Business Week (see p. 26 of US edition; the review is entitled "The Grapes of Wrath, Mexican-Style").
I thought the book had an interesting premise - three Mexican brothers attempting an illegal crossing die in a truck crash in Southern California in 1996 while being chased by the 'migra' (border patrol). It's an interesting start, but the book is much more than that. It's the personal reporting that sets the book apart. It becomes Martinez' travelogue - he befriends families in Cheran, Mexico, then meets up with them again in the United States in such far-flung places as Warren Arkansas, Norwalk Wisconsin, and Watsonville California. The initimacy of the reporting sticks with you long after you've completed the book. One standout passage of note: a tour of a meat-processing plant in Wisconsin. Paging Sinclair Lewis.
Don't wait for the paperback. For this book, only the hardcover will do because you'll want it on your bookshelves for many years to come.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Saul Gonzalez on October 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Ruben Martinez has written an important and ferociously passionate book that chronicles not only the epic tale of one immigrant family, but the birth pangs of a new America. He describes a country where cultural boundaries between North and Sout, the First World and Third World are collapsing, a nation where what it means to be "typically American" changes with each passing day and each arriving immigrant.
Equally important this book also honors the heroism and inner-life of immigrants. Too often in America immigrants are a population of the voiceless and invisible.They pick our crops in farm fields, sew our clothes in sweatshops, and care for our homes and children as domestic workers, but when it comes to hearing their stories, we remain deaf. "Crossing Over" helps to give immigrant America a voice and forces us to listen.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Clare Duffy on December 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
Guided by the fatal experience of Benjamin, Jaime and Salvador Chavez, Ruben Martinez navigates the complex and tragedy-ridden path of the Mexican migrant. Among his characters' displays of love for Cheran and loyalty to its Purepecha traditions, Martinez weaves the pushes and pulls that send families into the war zone of the border. In addition to detailing economic hardships born from la crisis in Mexico, he opens the reader's eyes to the luxuries of impoverished life in the United States. For example, although in an unconscious way I knew the bleak conditions of Mexican pueblos, I had not thought about the transition from this lifestyle to an American version of poverty. Martinez made me see how Cheranes delight to have such basic amenities as hot and cold running water, flushing toilets and stoves. Each chapter offers a broader understanding of why, despite family separation, agonizing physical strain and possible death, many Mexicans try their luck at the daunting border.
Once these migrant families have made it across the border, they encounter a new milieu of challenges. Martinez illustrates how the children of these families find themselves in a particularly difficult state of feeling neither Mexican nor American, but somewhere in between. In the midst of figuring out their new identity, they are thrown into American public schools to hit face first the blows of racism, language barriers and isolation. It is here that teachers play a vital role in the education, self-esteem and future success of these children. If teachers are familiar with the individual experiences of their migrant students and of migrant families in general, they can accommodate the students' needs in the classroom. Schools can either make a Mexican child feel welcome and valued or unwanted and out of place.
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