Illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. is most often a political or economic discussion. This novel puts a human face on the families involved in the 1980s. This is the story of one family, their tragedies, and the impacts of their extreme poverty in Guerrero, Mexico. The father labors in the fields for pesos. He hears tales from others about big wages in America. He decides to illegally cross to “El Otro Lado”, The Other Side. There he thinks he can make enough money to save what is left of his family. His plan is to work there to make the money they need, and then return to Mexico, at last able to provide for his family.
The story is told from the point of view of the young daughter, Juana. She says a poignant good bye to her loving father. He tells her he’ll be on the other side of the mountains she sees in the distance. “When you feel that you need to talk to your Apa, just look toward the mountains and the wind will carry your words to me.” She finds out much later that El Otro Lado is not just over the mountain, but over a hundred mountains and more.
Tragedies continue to heap on the poor, little remaining family. They bear up alone for years with no word from the dedicated husband and father, and no return. Juana decides to go to find her father. On her own illegal journey across the border, it’s her destiny to meet Adelina Vasquez who has her own sad story. The meeting is fateful for the both of them, and they join forces to help each other in their personal quests to reunite with their families.
You’ll admire the dignity and grace the characters depict in their often desperate circumstances. You’ll wonder at the mystery of a man who disappears into the distance, seemingly without a trace. You’ll ponder the added dimensions that drive the illegal border crossing issues, and the complex impacts that ripple out into unintended consequences.
If you want to delve deeper, I also recommend as a companion book “The Distance Between Us” by Reyna Grande. The author is very credible on this topic, as this memoir about her own family reveals. Her parents illegally cross to Los Angeles to make money, leaving behind the author and her older sister and brother with their grandparents. There are many parallels between this memoir and the story, but also some pointed differences. The memoir also includes some photos that give vivid emphasis to the sadness of the children in these circumstances.
And thereby hangs a tale . . . .
– By Wendy Kendall
Wendy Kendall is a writer, project manager and volunteer at the Edmonds Library. She’s enjoyed living in Edmonds for over 20 years. Follow her via her blog here or on Twitter @wendywrites1.