Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Where We Come From - Oscar Cásares

Where We Come From offers a view of what is currently happening on America’s southern border through the eyes of those physically and emotionally closest to the situation.  Author Oscar Cásares grew up in Brownsville, Texas, just across the Mexican border and he himself is one of those people. The border is a dangerous place for those who live just north of it and for those who cross it every day to do jobs on its American side. But it is especially dangerous for those who cross it illegally with the hope of setting up a permanent home somewhere within the vastness of the United States for themselves and their families. 

Nina, the book’s main character, grew up in Brownsville and has never lived anywhere else.  Never married, and the only daughter in her family, Nina is now doing what is expected of her women like her by abandoning her own life in order to care for her mother for the rest of the old woman’s life.  That’s just what women like Nina do, and although she resents how readily her brothers assume that the job is hers alone, Nina has now been caring for their mother for eight years.   Although neither of them is much happy with the state of her life, Nina and her mother have more or less settled into a routine they can live with now.

Author Oscar Cásares
But all of that changes one day when Nina agrees to do a favor for someone from the Mexican side of the border, setting into play a chain of events that will forever change Nina’s life and how she sees her place in the world.  Now Nina is hiding something from everyone she knows, including her mother and the brother who very occasionally shows up to see if they need anything.  In the little pink house behind the house she and her mother live in, she is hiding a little Mexican boy named Daniel who is hoping to make it all the way to his father in Chicago.  It is hard enough to keep this secret from her mother and her brother, but when her Houston godson Orly comes to stay with her for a few days, it is only a matter of time before the boys become aware of each other’s presence. And when they do, Nina, her mother, and Daniel are in danger – Nina and her mother of being jailed or fined, and Daniel of being taken into custody until he can be deported.

Bottom Line: Oscar Cásares does a good job of humanizing the generic “illegal immigrants” so commonly seen on the daily news shows, and he reminds the reader that the fact that they are willing to risk their very lives to get here is the best indication of how desperate a life they live on their own side of the border.  They are willing to risk everything for a better life for themselves and their families.  Cásares uses some memorable characters to tell his story: Nina, who surprises herself by bonding with the little Mexican boy who depends on her to keep him safe; Orly, who was raised in a Houston white-collar neighborhood and barely speaks Spanish; Daniel, the little boy who escapes a police raid only to find himself all alone in a country he doesn’t understand; and Nina’s chauvinistic brother who will quickly turn Daniel over to the authorities if he ever figures out exactly what Nina is up to.

All of these are legitimate characters, but they tell only one side of the story.  Cásares barely addresses the drug smugglers, gang members, and serial criminals who come across the border with those seeking better lives.  And that is typical of the whole discussion about America’s border problem. Those on one side want to talk only about hardcore criminals and the fact that anyone having crossed the border without papers is here illegally; those on the other side want to ignore the cost of illegal immigration and the violent crimes being committed by serial criminals who come and go across the border almost as they please, and instead want to focus mostly on what happens in the hopelessly overcrowded government detention centers on the border. Until both sides are willing to have a serious discussion that includes all of the issues, people will continue to die, be abused by people-smugglers, and be forced to lived life in the shadows.  Where We Come From can be a conversation starter.

Book Number 3,417


  1. This is certainly a relevant book these days isn't it? But you make a good point about how people only seem to want to look at one side of this issue. And illegal immigration is SO much more complex than that.

    1. And really, only the more sympathetic view really lends itself to a novel. I'm not sure that anyone would dare write a very critical novel on the subject because they would immediately be labeled a racist. They probably wouldn't find a publisher at all, anyway. Political correctness, in my opinion, is a type of censorship when it's taken too far..and it usually is taken too far.

    2. I'm getting really tired of 'political correctness' too!