Racism in “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea
The novel, Into the Beautiful North, by Luis Alberto Urrea, encompasses numerous themes. Said themes range from the idealization of the United States to the characters’ new experiences facing discrimination in the United States. The setting of the novel takes place right after the terrorist attack on 9/11, which in turn, instilled a fear and animosity in people in the states, especially Whites, towards any brown individual, but especially to those of Middle Eastern or Persian descent. Two of the characters, Nayeli and Tacho, are able to pass as Pakistani, which means that they are the ones to receive the most discrimination. The concepts of immigration and racism are prevalent during this time period in the United States and the 9/11 terrorist attack influenced a negative general idea of non-white immigrants within the country.
First and foremost, political parties in the United States have taken advantage of the generalized fear of non-white immigrants and decided to include the topic of border security in their slogans and campaigns. This political generalization of brown individuals led to hostility and violence towards them, and even the non-brown children followed in their parent’s footsteps. However, this type of treatment is not the image the U.S. portrays when immigrants learn about the U.S. Specifically, the characters Nayeli, Tacho, Vampi, and Yolo are fed the liberal notion of the opportunities the U.S. offers. This liberal and safe image of the U.S. was projected through the movies and novels the characters would watch and read about, believing the false tale of successful opportunities for everyone. Once the characters arrive in the United States, their perspective is changed through their new experience. They come to realize the lack of opportunity and the discrimination brown individuals encounter every day. Like many individuals, the notion of racism is viewed as dramatic and not harmful, and should just be something to laugh at. Unfortunately, when Nayeli experiences this first hand, she realizes that racism has a deep effect on the individual and their family.
As Nayeli, Tacho, Vampi, and Yolo were on their way, they were all met with this conflicting issue of their Aunt Irma’s campaign. In which Aunt Irma was showing the same hostility towards Central American immigrants as the U.S. was of Mexican immigrants. She even specified that the Central American immigrants are receiving a pass on free education in Mexico, and that is the view most Americans have on immigrants. The notion that immigrants take up that country’s resources of welfare, education or healthcare influences the way citizens view the immigrants. When the country has ceased to see people as human beings, the people of that country lack their ability to empathize with one.
In the instance of the U.S., it does not help that students are taught the manipulated version of the country and are not taught all the damage the U.S. military and/or government implemented in these countries. From the railroads to the banana production in Central America, which left the Central American workers with IOU’S instead of wages, barren plantations, and the lack of chance that a small farmer would be able to produce his or her livestock once again. When big corporations are competing with small land farmers, the farmers and the country are left to pick up the pieces, and some are not fixable. Many historians link poverty in these Latin American countries as a result of U.S. corporation infiltrations.
Furthermore, the way the media produces the image of the U.S gives false hope to immigrants, such as Nayeli, Tacho, Vampi, and Yolo. In the border patrol scene when Nayeli states why she is here in the U.S., the border patrolman did not believe her. Nayeli recognized this instantly and was hurt that someone would think she was trying to be manipulative. It was only until the border patrolman saw Tacho and Nayeli on the bus that would take them to Kankakee, Illinois that made him believe them. As a result of witnessing the bus scenario, the border patrolman had a change in attitude and decided that seeing brown immigrants or tourists as humans, would have a better outcome rather than policing them.
Through the racism Nayeli and Tacho encounter, their uncle’s story had a major impact on how they perceived life in the U.S. They find out that their uncle crossed the border in hopes of opportunity, since he grew up hearing that the U.S. was full of it. He spent his time idealizing the other side and telling his family that was going to have a better life there, but when he finally got there, he was not met with opportunity. He was met with hostility and was forced to look for the opportunities instead. And they never came. But fulfilling the macho role, no matter how horrible life in the U.S. was, he was never going to tell his family that it was not what it was supposed to be. Life in the states had grown unbearable to the point where he wound up idealizing life in Mexico.
While reading the novel, I noticed that the characters came to realize that even if one is successful in crossing over, it does not mean they will be successful financially or be able to make a home there. Not succeeding in these, disappoint Nayeli and frustrates her that she was fooled into believing the films, novels, and even the “success” stories from family members. She and Tacho eventually notice that even though one may be inhabiting a land, they are prohibited from having their voice heard. Because there is no representation in politics, they are at most times, left feeling unwelcomed and cannot integrate well into society.
One scenario that vividly represents this is when Chava introduces Angel, an undocumented migrant and farm worker from Mexico, to Tacho and Nayeli. They both witness the poverty lifestyle the undocumented migrant workers are left in and quickly come to the notion of “crossing the border is not enough to make you part of the community.” The wages the undocumented migrant receives is barely enough to maintain themselves and are left to live in makeshift camps along expressways. This forced nomadic behavior does not allow one to feel that they are part of the land or community.
The ostracizing of undocumented immigrants by their bosses does not stop there. The Mexican and/or Latino community that have legal documents treat them the same way.
And Nayeli and Tacho encounter this behavior when they were on their road trip to Illinois. They encountered a Mexican couple’s restaurant who was friendly in the beginning, but later on in their conversation, when the couple learned that Tacho and Nayeli are undocumented, they kicked them out. In this instance, the couple claimed that undocumented immigrants like them, give a bad name to the ones that go through the legal process. The legal process the couple is referring to, confirms the idea that one is not of value in the community unless a legal document says so.
All in all, this novel encompasses stories with reality, love, and disarray, and incorporates the topic of immigration from Mexico of Central Americans and the United States on Mexican immigrants. Borders, racism, fear of overpopulation, and of the unknown continue to fuel this heated debate of immigration and who is worth being let in. The value of a person is to be determined in a court that was made for the white man to succeed, and to keep the marginalized, marginalized. Even when a migrant receives a legal document, they are not guaranteed an opportunity to succeed, nor are they guaranteed safety.