Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Guardians

America’s border with Mexico has always been a dangerous place for those who live along it and for those who seek to move north across it. And since the events of September 11, 2001 it has grown even more dangerous as border control agents step up their efforts to keep terrorist bombers and their weapons from entering the United States from that direction. Mexicans seeking to illegally cross the border for jobs in the United States not only have to contend with these border agents but find themselves in grave danger from Mexican drug runners and the coyotes they must pay to “escort” them into this country.

In The Guardians, Ana Castillo offers a look into the lives of four people who, though they live in New Mexico, have their feet planted firmly in both countries. Regina, widowed even before the consummation of her marriage, has settled nicely into her life as a teacher’s aide and guardian of her young nephew, Gabo, who is in New Mexico illegally. But despite Regina’s efforts to convince her brother to stay in the United States permanently, Rafa, Gabo’s father, prefers to stay only long enough to accumulate more cash that he can use to build a home in Mexico for his family.

She has grown used to him coming and going with the seasons but when he disappears on one of his return trips to New Mexico the life to which Regina and Gabo have become accustomed disappears along with him. Gabo, by now a sixteen-year old who dreams of an eventual life in the clergy, and his aunt are determined that if they cannot find their missing father and brother that they will at least find out what happened to him. In their search, the two receive friendship and help from Miguel, a divorced school teacher who works with Regina, and from el Abuelo Milton, Miguel’s nearly blind grandfather. Castillo tells her story by alternating the first-person narratives of each of her four main characters, narratives that move the story along through each character’s distinctive voice and point-of-view.

She has dedicated her book to “all working for a world without borders and all who dare to cross them” and, as that dedication would imply, she believes that Mexican citizens should be allowed to cross over into the United States at will. She believes it is their right to do so, and she succeeds in creating a sympathetic set of characters through whom she makes her point. But the irony of their story is that the greatest danger that any of them faces comes not from any government official north of the border. Instead, the real threat comes from coyotes and drug dealers living in the United States illegally themselves and from the gang bangers who threaten anyone who dares to oppose them.

The author is saying, of course, that if the borders were officially open to immigration most of those dangers would not exist. But I live in a city that suffers from an ever increasing number of serious crimes committed by illegal aliens who run back to Mexico or Central America as soon as they are identified, only to return later with a new identity. So before I began to read The Guardians I did not believe that open borders between the U.S. and Mexico are a good idea. Having now read the book, I find that Castillo has failed to convince me otherwise.

Rated at: 3.0

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