While the quotation “one cannot avoid one's past” does not appear in Helena Maria Viramontes's short story “The Cariboo Café,” it is certainly an appropriate description of and theme for the tale.
In the first part of the story, Sonya is trapped in the fear of her family's past. Her Popi has always told her to run from the police, for they will take children and send them to Tijuana. So when Sonya and her little brother, Macky, get lost, she does not trust the police officer enough to ask him for help. She takes Macky and runs instead.
The cook in the second part of the story is trapped in his own past. His son JoJo died in Vietnam, and his death seems to impact every aspect of the cook's life, along with the memories of his ex-wife, Nell. When Macky and Sonya enter the café with a woman in this part of the story, the cook immediately thinks that Macky is like JoJo, and he feels great affection for the little boy.
The character most caught up in the past, however, is the woman with Sonya and Macky. Long ago, back in her home country, she experienced a terrible tragedy. Her son, Geraldo, was taken by the Contras. She never found him. The police would not help her. Yet she has never completely given up hope, even after all these years, that one day she might find Geraldo. Even after she moves to live with her nephew, she continues to search. Then she sees Macky. Of course, by this time, Geraldo would have been grown up (had he lived), but the woman does not seem to realize this. When she looks at Macky, she sees Geraldo. She is absolutely certain that the boy is her son, and she takes him (and Sonya, who will not let go of her brother) with her. She is caught up in the past, terrified that someone will take “Geraldo” from her again. When the police come (called by the cook who has seen a report about two missing children), the woman puts up a fight. In her mind, she is not really fighting the police but the Contras who had taken her son from her so many years before. The story ends with her vow that she and her son will go home.