In Other Words

Home­lands: Four Friends, Two Coun­tries, and the Fate of the Great Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can Mi­gra­tion by Al­fredo Cor­chado

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - by Al­fredo Cor­chado, Blooms­bury Pub­lish­ing, 293 pages Home­lands

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.”

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