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.
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