The River
Flows North

Graciela Limón
(Arte Público Press)
If you live in the Southwest and if you are fond of going to pick the flowers in the springtime in the Anza-Borrego Desert, don't read The River Flows North. Eight would-be migrants and their guide make the trek through the wasteland, encountering rattlesnakes, desiccation, sandstorms, greed, desperation, and a truck full of bodies of those who tried to cross over and failed. Even so, Young Nicanor and Borrego and Cerda and their compañeros end up getting lost, wasting away from thirst and heat, getting shot at, dying like flies.

There's a tough guy with a bag-full of dollars who talks like someone plunked into a bad detective novel ("Goddammit, Cerda! Drop the bleeding heart routine!") There's a bruja who once fell in love with a man, or a bird, or a birdman. There's an old man with his grandson and there is the coyote --- Cerda --- who apparently is not someone you'd want to be tramping through the desert with at all.

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We have no doubt that there is something looney about a nation as prosperous as the United State spending over a billion dollars to build a Berlin Wall on its southernmost frontier complete with guards in armored trucks. It is totally beyond us why we must work so hard to isolate another country that shared so much with us for so long.

As recently as a dozen years ago, people from Hermosillo or Vera Cruz or Tampico would cross over, work in the repair shops of California or the oil fields of Texas or the orchards of Oregon for a few months then go cross back over to their families. No more.

And this new high-tech Berlin Wall works two ways. The only way to pass it is to go to those isolated parts where it has yet to be finished: in the barren mountains to the west or the equally barren wastes to the east. Thus, thousands of poor Mexicans try to cross in a desert, a desert that will fry you in the summer and freeze your ass in the winter. Not knowing the reality of it, many literally end up dying for work.

Ms. Limón wants us to know how tough it is to grow up poor in Mexico, how vicious it is for families to have to go through the ups and downs of a Latino economy, how wretched it is that, in order to get a job, you have to cross the burning sands. She's right. It stinks.

But what happens here is that in her attempt to make let us know the misery of it all, the writer gives us a nonstop saga that does little to delight and less to enlighten. In fact, it gets so bad out there in the hot sun that one of the women starts crying and the lad Borrego "stuck out his parched tongue and started licking Menda's face like a thirst-crazed dog."

"Have you gone crazy?" she screams, but just thirsty, just like the rest of us. She's hardly in a state to fight with him though. Celia just died in her arms.

Me? I'm dying too. For a margarita.

--- Salvador Ramirez
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