In Other Words
Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries, and the Fate of the Great Mexican-American Migration by Alfredo Corchado
Sister Guadalupe, a nun from Jalisco, Mexico, witnessed the massacre of the men of her town on Christmas Day 1917, in a conflict that anticipated La Cristiada, a war between Catholic rebels and the Mexican government in the 1920s. She hid inside a church but could see her family and neighbors being hanged and stabbed.
She eventually moved to Philadelphia, where the journalist Alfredo Corchado met her. “I would tell her, sadly, of the latest massacre,” Corchado writes in his new book Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries, and the Fate of the Great Mexican-American Migration. “Oh, so many more died in Los Altos, en La Cristiada, she would say — not to minimize the violence but to remind someone like me what Mexico had lived through before.”
Homelands is full of reminders of what Mexico has lived through before, particularly as its story relates to its neighbor to the north. What got us to where we are today — a landscape of xenophobia up north and violence down south, separated by a border whose symbolism is heavier than whatever its wall might be built of? It is so easy to get lost in the weeds of the latest stories about deportations, walls, and tariffs. We need what Sister Guadalupe gives us: context, history.
has both. Corchado is the ideal guide to lead us through the story of the past half-century of U.S.-Mexico relations. He came to America from San Luis del Cordero in Durango as a child in the ’60s, deeply homesick and quickly skeptical of his new land: “I wanted nothing to do with this American dream, not if we had to go to sleep fearful that rats would jump on us. Not if that meant I would lose my parents to ‘work.’ ” His parents worked in the fruit fields of San Joaquin Valley, California; his father first headed north as part of the Bracero Program (1942-1964), which gave Mexican workers temporary contracts to fill labor shortages. The family moved to El Paso, where his parents opened a restaurant a short walk from the international bridge, and where Corchado went to college and then started a career in journalism.
That career, spanning Philadelphia, Mexico City, and various cities in between, has given him a macroscopic view of the gradual evolution, or devolution, of the relationship between the two countries. He pays particular attention to a few turning points in that history. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated quotas based on nations of origin and established a preference system focused on skills and relationships with U.S. residents and citizens. More than 3 million undocumented immigrants received amnesty following the enactment of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The North American Free Trade Agreement opened the border in 1994. (Corchado was dubbed “Free Trade Freddy” during NAFTA talks because of his column in the El Paso
Herald-Post, although his enthusiasm has been tempered by time.) Corchado was present at the supposed-to-be-historic meeting of presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox, which might have opened the border even further had it not occurred on Sept. 5, 2001. Fast-forwarding 15 years takes us to an election in which Mexicans were dubbed by the future victor as “rapists,” drug runners, and generally “bad hombres.”