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


  1. Sounds interesting. I live in Arizona, and this is a big issue in our state. Was it a worthwhile read? I think I'll check it out...


  2. I don't get this notion that there is something wrong with restricting entry to your country. You certainly didn't see Mexico opening its borders to Guatemala during the civil war there!

    An alternative view to Castillo's might be that if no one could get into the U.S. illegally, they would put more effort into making Mexico a better place to live.

  3. Susan, I do think it's a worthwhile read. Like I said, I don't agree with the point-of-view but she does well in stating her case for those who already agree with her...less well for those who don't agree.

  4. I agree, Sylvia. Mexico has an obligation to its citizens and has failed miserably at meeting that obligation. Corrupt governments always do, and Mexico has one of the worst in the free world. The U.S. is nothing but the safety valve that keeps that corrupt government in power.

  5. The Guardians is in NO way about opening borders between the US and Mexico. If that's how you read the novel, then you have completely missed the point. Castillo is interested in the interconnected web of violent relations that not only allows but encourages gender violence,corruption, and torture. Her book is a critique of state sanctioned violence, global capitalism, patriarchy, and drug motives that function beyond a corrupt nation/state (US AND Mexico). How can people put effort into making a better Mexico when the very root of the problem is the structures that impose "justice" and "laws" in the first place? It is not possible to say "Let Mexico take care of her own problem" because that discards the deeply intertwined relations that function under the guise of globalism. I feel that Castillo could have gone into greater detail in how she portrayed these violent interconnected relations because her strongest literary technique, which is portraying life as a "telenovela", was definitely her demise in this novel. Although there is a lack of concrete border violence, sometimes trauma cannot be artistically expressed and to do so is doing a great injustice to those that have experienced it firsthand.

  6. I understand the points you choose to emphasize, anonymous, but I stand by the overall impression I got from the author's words. Perhaps we are both correct...or incorrect in our assumptions. I only can speak to how the novel affected me in as truthful a way as I know how. That is what I have done in my review. Thank you for your thoughts.

  7. Understood...thanks for posting this review. It helped my understanding of the novel.

  8. Anonymous, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your passion for the novel and its message and it is always a pleasure to meet someone that cares as deeply about a novel as you apparently care about this one.