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Book Review: Into The Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

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Sometimes as U.S. citizens, we get wrapped up into our own little worlds and assume that everybody thinks and feels the same ways we do. This book provides a reality check. We see through the eyes of Nayeli, a nineteen year old girl from Tres Camarones, Mexico. who notices the scarce number of men left because of many that left to the U.S. and recognizes a need to save their village from being targeted by banderios.

The Magnificent Seven, a Mexican cast movie about bringing seven Hispanic Americans back to save a village, inspires her to start a mission, dragging along her friends Tacho, Yolo, and Vampi, to cross the U.S. border and find seven soldiers and cops to bring back to protect and repopulate their village. They lose their bags in Tijuana, meet a garbage warrior, get caught by the border, and meet an old friend. They learn that not all Americans laugh or have white skin, to not drink their water, and that toilet paper can be flushed down the toilet. They never came to understand why a green river would be called red (Colorado) or why Mexican owners won’t allow them to speak Spanish in an authentic Mexican restaurant. In the end, they learn to appreciate the things and people they have.

The great things about this book are the details of Tijuana’s nightlife, homeless citizens’ homes, and the defenses taken when no one is trusted. The author also has a strength for answering needed questions but not giving away what happens next. Lastly, the descriptions how every U.S. region had different reactions towards “Illegals” or “Mexicans,” instead of the typical stereotypes of U.S. Citizens, were brilliant.

What was disappointing in this book was how little was given of the banderios and what threats they would bring to town. One short chapter covers what jobs they held and the benefits that would come from invading Tres Camarones. However, we never see the banderios invade. The wrong acts we do see them commit don’t show us the urgency of saving the village. In the end, I wasn’t convinced that the banderios was their worst threat. Even Nayeli’s friends, Yolo, Vampi, and Tacho don’t show much fear when faced with major problems, such as when they are caught by Border Patrol, and almost always are more eager to return home than to continue their journey. I felt more threatened by Jumbo and Sully, two white men from Southern California who follow Nayeli and the others, when they state that the Illegals aren’t welcomed.

Despite the disappointment, the book provides great characters, with in-depth physical descriptions, that at the end were still worthy to be cared about. I caught myself laughing out loud at the assumptions they’d made about the U.S. and how many of them were proven wrong. It also kept a balance between realistic outcomes and happy endings. Into The Beautiful North is great for both the optimist and the skeptic. Two thumbs up!

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