Throughout small-town Mexico there are many villages where none of the women are pregnant. All the males have flocked north for jobs, leaving the town easy prey for con men and drug-trafficking narcos. That’s the story of Tres Camarones, the fictional Mexican coastal town at the center of Into the Beautiful North, the most recent novel by Luís Alberto Urrea. Urrea gives a Sunday, June 27, reading from the book at the Inn and Spa at Loretto.
The book is a laugh-out-loud cinematic roadwarrior story with an unlikely set of protagonists. After watching The Magnificent Seven at the town’s rain-soaked open-air theater, Nayeli, a 17-year-old karate-kicking teenager, takes it upon herself to sneak into the U.S. and recruit Mexican men to come back to repopulate and defend her hometown. She recruits her two best friends, Yolo, a boy-crazy pretty girl, and Vampi, a blackfingernail-polish-wearing goth. Chaperoning this crew is Tacho, the gay proprietor of a taco shop called La Mano Caída (The Fallen Hand, his sardonic rendering of The Limp Wrist).
It’s an epic yet beachreading-friendly tale of post-9/11 border security. The four cuates, or pals, take a bus to Tijuana, where they are quickly gobbled up in the city’s garish inferno and forced to take shelter among friendly strangers at a municipal dump. There they meet Atómiko, a club-wielding garbage-dump warrior who is both a protector and a coyote who can shepherd them across the border. Things go wrong as soon they make it across the wire, where they are rounded up by border agents. Tacho is given a brutal beatdown when agents take him for an al-Qaida member after mishearing him pronounce the name of his taco shop.
It’s a novel deeply engaged with pop culture on both sides of the border. Narco thugs argue over the relative merits of P. Diddy and Kanye West; teenage girls seek romance in the model of the American action movies they grew up watching; and immigrant Mexican rockeros, metalheads, emos, and goths figure heavily into the plot. All these references aren’t just hooks to engage readers. Urrea feels that pop culture and Mexican immigration are deeply intertwined.
“I always make the point about people wanting to come over,” Urrea told Pasatiempo. “America is always marketing itself. We advertise 24/7. Naturally people want to come over. When I