Study Guide

Between the Lines

Between the Lines Essay - Critical Essays

Between the Lines

Larry Siems has arranged his letters under six headings. The first group reveals the strangeness of everything to the new arrivals, especially as they experience new surroundings under the most difficult conditions. The second group includes letters from home— Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador—and are often moving revelations of the hope those still at home place in those who have made the move.

One boy in El Salvador writes to an uncle in Los Angeles,sending an outline of his foot and beseeching the uncle to send hima pair of shoes.

The third group features an exchange between “insubstitutablecomrades,” as they describe themselves, between a bright Angelitain Fresno and her girl friend Mariana back in Culiacan, Mexico. The letters portray two funny, obscene, gossipy, and high-spiritedyoung women who are obviously smart, sassy, and altogethergutsy.

A section of love letters reveals the pain often felt by themate left behind—lonely, cut off from accustomed support,and sometimes uncertain about the departed one’s allegiance in aforeign land to those left behind. But there are brighter themesat times in the love letters, as with the chatter about John Donneof the rather pretentious Lalo in Los Angeles to his (she hopes)Rosalba in Mexico. And there is the international playboy AdanLazo in Los Angeles, who does not speak in these pages but is therecipient of three warm letters: from Lourdes in Mexico (who giveshim the awful news that she can love him only as a brother), Marinain Guatemala (“I lament having met you just before I left”), andRoxana in El Salvador (“Answer me fast please”).

A fifth group offers letters from members of the MizataCooperative in El Salvador, providing a glimpse into theiragricultural preoccupations. (The vicissitudes of farm life withcrops and animals form a major motif in many of these letters.)

The sixth section reads like two brief epistolary novels, onetelling the problems of the Gutierrez Quinonez family in Guatemalawith their mother and oldest son in California, the other of AmparoRamirez in Los Angeles with her family in dangerous ElSalvador.

Whatever one’s feelings about the immigration laws, only a heartof stone could resist the humanity in these letters.