One of the best books I've read about the U.S.-Mexico border is Luis Alberto Urrea's "The Devil's Highway," which tells the story of a group of 26 Mexican migrants who became lost in the Arizona desert in May 2001, after being abandoned by their guide. Fourteen of them died. The tragedy was a precursor to what was to come, as for years afterward, human smuggling deaths along the border would skyrocket. More than 500 migrant deaths were reported in 2005.
Urrea, a former tijuanense, appeared as a guest last week on Moyers & Company, veteran journalist Bill Moyers' latest show with American Public Television. A great interview, Urrea talked about both his reported narratives and his more recent acclaimed novels, which have included the bittersweet "Into the Beautiful North" and two novels based on the true story of his great-aunt, "The Hummingbird's Daughter" and "Queen of America."
Photo by Nathan Gibbs/Flickr (Creative Commons)
A family looks north into the United States from Playas de Tijuana, January 2009
Flying to Chicago for the Latinos in Social Media (#LATISM) conference this week involved, as usual, a good book – one I’ll be reading again tonight on my flight home. So allow me to share a bit of my airplane reading, the novel “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea.
Urrea, a Tijuanense by birth, is one of my favorite authors on all things related to the border and Mexico. In 2004, just as I was taking a job covering immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border, I was inspired by the remarkable narrative storytelling of his nonfiction “The Devil’s Highway.” The book pieced together the last, desperate days of a group of men who perished in the dessert near Yuma, Arizona. Urrea retraced their journey via court documents, survivors’ accounts and time spent with the Border Patrol, filling in the blanks with the imagined conversations of their final hours. The book also provided a glimpse of the difficult work done by agents who patrol the border desert.