Mexican Voices; American Dreams
By Marilyn P. Davis
Published by Henry Holt
Book Review by Mary Fuller
What makes the dreams of Mexicans different from the dreams of northern European settlers of North America over the past five hundred years. Not much.
Marilyn Davis’s book began as a fifteen-year study documenting the social structures, relationships, attitudes and values of a traditional people moving into the twentieth century. But as she continued her research in a tiny pueblo in the western part of Mexico, she discovered something that would greatly alter the nature of her project. She found that in every family in the town, at least one member was working in the United States. Over half the people in the village had been there. One in five of the husbands, fathers and sons were in el Norte.
To follow their trail, Ms. Davis joined the coyotes at one border town and experienced the terror of a night-time crossing. She talked and for a short while lived with people so desperate to improve their fortunes that they were willing to risk even their lives to do so.
But then Mexicans have been making this journey to the north for a long time. Sometimes invited and warmly received, often not. During World War II, the U.S. instituted the “Bracero Program” to help solve a severe manpower shortage. But when the crisis was over, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were unceremoniously deported. By then, however, thousands of Mexicans had laid down roots in the U.S. and were reluctant to leave. Congress has waffled on this issue ever since. Today the border seems little less fortified than the old Berlin Wall.
But even with all the newspaper reports, rarely does the human-interest part of the story get into print. More often the people are drowned in a sea of statistics. But Marilyn Davis has given a face to many of these facts, as well as the dreams behind the descriptions; further, she has done so in a poignant, yet non-maudlin way. Here are a few samples.
“Agustin’” from Los Angeles: “It is difficult here. There are many risks. And even though your neighbors live very close you don’t have confidence … but for the very poor people in my country, they hear only about the good money, though never do they hear of the battle and difficulty of crossing the border, like hiding in the trunk of a car. When I return, I am going to tell them the truth.”
“Martin” from San Francisco, “It took some years of living here to realize that people are not necessarily connected with the policies of the government. Here there is very little difference between the boss and the worker. The boss usually works harder and sometimes doesn’t make as much as his employee.”
“Ramiro” from Bryan, Texas: “I was born close by. What happened is that right before the Mexican Revolution, our family on my mother’s side was very wealthy. But then my grandmother ended up a broken person. My grandfather too. They had had plenty of cattle, land, money, and then like overnight nothing. They felt ashamed, and so they migrated to Texas.”
Ninety individuals were interviewed. No one refused to talk, and Ms. Davis, having financed the project herself, was under no pressure to alter the thrust of her endeavor. The book is a gem of candor and clarity, emotionally powerful and quite beautiful in its simplicity.
(Ed. Note: Ms. Davis, a member of the Ajijic Writers’ Group, is one of our area’s most distinguished writers. Her book Mexican Voices; American Dreams was published by Henry Holt & Son, and recently went into its sixth printing.)