Reading Together 2012 Blog

The Truth Behind the Fiction

 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

Kankakee to Kalamazoo

Have you noticed the great lineup of Reading Together programs for this year? I’m looking forward to “Kankakee to Kalamazoo.” Since moving to Kalamazoo, I’ve been intrigued by other places with unique names beginning with “Ka.” I always thought it would be fun to plan a road trip, from one “Ka” place to the next. We could start not too far away in Kalkaska, MI, pass by Kalamazoo, visit Kankakee and end up in Kalispell, MT, right near Glacier National Park.

Imagine my surprise, then, to learn that Kankakee is a primary destination for main character Nayeli, as she road trips Into the Beautiful North. She learns a lot on her long journey, even if some things she might rather not have discovered. Often when we travel, we learn so much from the people and places we encounter along the way. One could say the same about reading a well-written novel!

This April we have the chance to discover more about Kankakee directly from its residents, without ever leaving our dear town.


Into the Beautiful North

Reading [and participating] Together

“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.


Reading Together