Wednesday, March 04, 2009

return to sender - novel by Julia Alvarez

I have just finished reading the latest book of this favourite writer of mine from Dominican Republic. This time she has chosen a new theme- about Mexican immigrants in US. She has given the title ¨Return to sender¨since the undocumented Mexicans in US are sent back to Mexico like the post office does.

The story is about the Mexican girl Maria whose family migrates illegally to US in search of work and the American boy Taylor, whose family employs Maria´s father to work in their farm in Vermont. Tyler´s family is unable to work the farm by themselves, especially after his father meets with an accident. They hire Cruz, the father of Maria, an undocumented alien and puts him up with his family in a trailer in their backyard. Maria and her two sisters go to the same school as that of Tyler. But the Mexican girls are teased and mocked as illegals by the American kids. They also provoke Tyler accusing his family of violating American law by employing illegal immigrants. Both Tyler and Maria are angry, confused and unable to comprehend the complexities of the immigration realities and government rules. Maria´s grief is compounded by the disappearance of her mother while crossing the border with Coyotes. This makes her as the little mother to her two younger sisters. This is in addition to her role as an interpreter for her father who does not speak English. She finds solace in the friendship of Tyler. But Tyler´s friendship is tested by his realisation and guilt that his family is violating the law by employing Maria´s father. The story comes to an end with the Immigration autorities catching the Cruz family and deporting them to Mexico.

The confusion and torment of Tyler and Maria brings out the new reality of US which needs and uses Meican immigrants but is in a state of untenable denial. The book highlights the American stereotyping and prejudice about Mexicans. At the same time it shows the way how the gap is bridged by understanding, empathy and appreciation between the families of Tyler and Maria. The parents and relatives of Tyler educate him about the need to understand and respect other cultures. The book should be made as a text book in American schools to educate the kids about the need for understanding and appreciating other cultures. Whether they like it or not, the white Americans have to live with the 50 million hispanics who are growing in numbers.

This book is meant for young readers. Oops... I enjoyed it.

The Mexican immigration should be seen in the historical perspective. Many parts of the southern and western USA were originally Mexican territories which were annexed by USA in 1848 through war and other means. If it was not for this annexation, California, Texas,Utah and Nevada states as well as parts of other states would have been part of Mexico and the Bush family would have been Mexicans.

This reminds me of the story of a Mexican stopped while crossing the border by the US Guard. The Mexican responds¨señor, I did not cross the border. It was the border which crossed me¨.

I love the way Julia Alvarez inserts spanish words into conversations and while describing situations. Maria, for example always says por favor after please and amigo after friend. The spanish words add more emotion and feeling than the sometimes wooden English words. The Latin American spanish is especially more expressive. Abrazo and beso are more than hug and kiss. These are said and done with a Latino touch. Or may be I am partial because of my passion for Latin America.

Julia Alvarez compares the Mexican immigrants into US as golondrinas... swallows, the migratory birds which travel across countries without visa. She recalls the song La Golondrina by the Mexican composer Narciso Serradel Sevilla. It is a popular song of farewell and a favorite of expatriate Mexicans. It is often requested at the funerals of Mexican-Americans

A donde irá veloz y fatigada
La golondrina que de aquí se va
O si en el viento se hallará extraviada
Buscando abrigo y no lo encontrará.

Where are you going , swift and weary
Swallow, why are you leaving here?
Oh, what if you lose your way in the wind
Looking for a home you will never find

here is the Youtube link to La Golondrina sung by Karina, the Spanish singer

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