Reading Together 2012 Blog
As one who hasn't watched many classic Westerns, I didn't have set expectations about Friday’s screening of the 1960 classic The Magnificent Seven at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s Stryker Theater. However, from the first strains of the iconic soundtrack’s main theme, I was 100 percent on board with the story and soon, understood how the movie inspired the characters of Into the Beautiful North.
The film’s simple storyline is captivating, but add to it Yul Brynner’s unflinching gaze, stage presence and solid stature buttoned into his close-cut black denim-and-leather western wear, I understood Aunt Irma’s infatuation with “Mexico’s greatest film star.” Steve McQueen held his own with his sapphire blue eyes, confident wily smile and social-justice motivations.
For me, viewing the film after reading Into the Beautiful North added to my enjoyment of both film and novel. I recommend this PG-rated film to anyone looking for an escapist classic Western adventure, but especially to those who have read Into the Beautiful North. Check your library’s catalog for the DVD of The Magnificent Seven and invite a friend over to watch it.
~ Jim Ratliff, Librarian, Arcadia Commons Campus Kalamazoo Valley Community College
When I came to Kalamazoo twelve years ago, I knew it was a special place. We are lucky to have so many arts organizations, cultural events, and an award-winning public library that sponsors Reading Together! We are even luckier that this year’s Reading Together author, Luis Urrea, visits Kalamazoo next week.
Urrea will speak on Tuesday, March 6, at 7 pm in the Kalamazoo Central High School Auditorium. This is a free event, and all are invited to hear Urrea speak about Into the Beautiful North, writing, and being “dual culture.” Come listen to the music of local Tex-Mex band Los Bandits de Michigan and even have a book signed by the author!
You will also have a chance to meet Urrea on Wednesday, March 7 at noon in Kalamazoo College’s Light Fine Arts Building Recital Hall. Urrea will be working with a Kalamazoo College class, talking about the craft of writing, and exploring issues of crossing borders. He will also address the recent “Librotraficante” movement and the banning of his books from the Tucson, Arizona Unified School District. This event is free, open to the public, and snacks will be provided after the class.
Urrea’s visit is timely. With the controversy over prohibiting ethnic studies in Arizona (HB 2281), Urrea can give us a “banned author’s” perspective on the issue. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to interact with the author, ask questions, and explore border crossings of your own.
~Dr. Stacy Nowicki, Library Director, Kalamazoo College Library
Luis Alberto Urrea
One of the things that amazes me about Into the Beautiful North, that I really only paid a lot of attention to on my third reading of the book, is the wonderful, philosophical one-liners that are sprinkled throughout the book. They’re so easy to miss, so I thought I would note a few of them here, just in case others missed them. The page number that follows is the page number in the paperback version of the book.
Here they come:
- Mostly they did what Mexicans in every small town in Mexico did: they circled their own history (15).
- (Of Yolo’s brother, Tlacloc) he changed the name to Lalo before he went north with his father to become nameless (20).
- (On immigration into Mexico) “Go back where you came from!” Irma bellowed, “Mexico is for Mexicans” (36).
- “The Americans are kind. Friendly people. Generous people. They have quaint customs—they aren’t really, shall we say, sophisticated like we are. You can’t drink the water—it will give you diarrhea” (62)
- (The tweakers) never made it all the way to the top, so they never saw the view (from the garbage heap (124).
- What made them different from her? She could not tell (155).
- Nayeli wanted what they (Americans) had, but she did not know what that was (169).
- (Nayeli) could not comprehend where she’d been, what she’d seen, who she’d met, or what she’d lost (259).
- “This is Kankakee, morra! They like Mexicans here (317).
- “Our town has seen some hard times. But it’s a wonderful place. We’re bringing it back.” (Of Kankakee, 321).
There are many more, but these particularly struck me because of the universality of them all. The last two, in particular, I hope people can say more readily about Kalamazoo following our Reading Together experience this year.
Another thing I found in the “joining unlike groups of people together” is the mention that Arnold Davis, border patrol, wants to escape, as does Matt, the former missionary. We are all so much more alike than different! If you talk with someone not like you who has read the book, you’ll probably discover the same thing—we’re all so much alike and our differences are very interesting.
~ Sherry Ransford-Ramsdell, Reading Together Steering Committee
Into the Beautiful North
The first several chapters of Into the Beautiful North hint at the violent realities of modern day Mexico. In the first chapter we witness the menace of the bandidos and the result of their work is what ultimately sends Nayeli and her friends on their journey north. A desire to learn more about the effect that drug cartel violence is having on daily life in Mexico led me to a number of accounts that depicted such shocking violence and brutality they seemed fictional. Yet further reading revealed nothing but more complexity, corruption, fear and unbelievably horrific human behavior. Two stories related to the border town of Juarez, Mexico have resonated with me ever since. Sarah Hill’s 2010 story The War For Drugs from the Boston Review is an unflinching account of life in Juarez, showing how the traffickers, U.S. and Mexican politics, and mainly U.S. demand for illegal drugs have brought that city to its knees. Finding this story led to the wonderful discovery that Sarah Hill is in fact a faculty member with the Department of Anthropology at WMU and will present a program titled Modern Mexican Reality on Tuesday, March 13 at 6:30 at the Oshtemo Branch Library as a part of this year’s Reading Together programming. Please plan to attend, it is sure to be interesting. The other story Angels Send Message of Peace to Juarez Mexico is an amazing story about the powerful and artistic reaction of a group of teens in Juarez to the drug violence they witness daily in their city. When I first heard this incredible story I was immediately reminded of Nayeli and the group of teens that Luis Alberto Urrea invented to tell the story in Into the Beautiful North; and I was happy to find a glimmer of youthful hope in the otherwise grim picture of life in Mexico today.
Into the Beautiful North
Once you've journeyed Into the Beautiful North with Nayeli and her friends, you may want to return to the warmth and culture of Mexico with another story featuring a strong female hero. You will find all you search for in The Hummingbird's Daughter, Luis Alberto Urrea's 2005 novelization of his great-aunt Teresita's coming of age. Teresita, who was renowned for her healing powers, was considered a saint by many.
The novel has elements of fairy tale, travelogue, western, magical realism, folklore, and explores issues of gender, class, faith, race, nationality, marriage, education, patriotism, and power This book will make you laugh and cry, and savor Urrea's lyrical, imaginative prose. When finished with this book, continue the adventure with Urrea's latest novel, a sequel titled Queen of America.
At the writing of this blog post, we only have one copy of The Hummingbird's Daughter in our catalog, but more are on the way! Place a hold to be on the list for when these additional copies arrive.
The Hummingbird's Daughter
“Suddenly there was no work. All the shrimp were shipped north, tortillas became too expensive to eat, and people started to go hungry. We told you change was bad, the old-timers croaked.
Nobody had heard of the term immigration. Migration, to them, was when the tuna and the whales cruised up the coast, or when Guacamaya parrots flew up from the south. Traditionalists voted to revoke electricity, but it was far too late for that. No woman in town would give up her refrigerator, her electric fan, or her electric iron. So the men started to go to el norte. Nobody knew what to say. Nobody knew what to do. The modern era had somehow passed Tres Camarones by, but this new storm had found a way to siphon its men away. out of their beds and into the next century, into a land far away.” —Into the Beautiful North
This passage from the opening pages of Luis Urrea's Into the Beautiful North paints a picture of a Mexican village not unlike one we might read about in today's news. And for the fictitious Tres Camarones, there is the added presence of drug bandits who are threatening to take over the village with corruption, violence and greed; also sadly true to life. This is the setting from which Nayeli, a 19-year old girl, born and raised in Tres Camarones, sets out in search of her father and other men who will come back home to repopulate and defend their village.
And for the next three months, this will become our story as well.
A dedicated group of volunteers has helped Kalamazoo Public Library plan an exciting and meaningful lineup of Reading Together events that center on three far-reaching themes: The Book as Literature, The Culture of Mexico, and Immigration. After reading the book, we believe participating in these programs will provide several ways to process and reflect.
Today we bring you the enhanced Reading Together website, complete with a full calendar of events, additional resources, and more information about those who have contributed to this planning process. We welcome your reactions and your feedback, and we invite you to come back often.