Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 355
The Devil is both personified in several evil characters (notably the Anglo rancher Ben Lynch) and manifested physically in the landscape (such as in the sinuous, snake-like Rio Grande). The Devil is therefore omnipresent in the border zone between the southern United States and Mexico.
The narrative spans over a century, starting in 1853 and extending as far as 1970. The twin towns of Presidio, Texas and Ojinaga, Mexico are the central locales. Two families, the Lynches and the Urangas, symbolize the two sides; they are joined when Ben Lynch marries Rosario Uranga. This union brings no peace to the larger groups, however, as their enmity persists.
In the nineteenth century, Ben Lynch uses the law—as well as anti-Mexican racism in conjunction with American nationalism—to help him build a local empire. Lynch's beneficial alliance with the Texas Rangers is challenged, however, by a Mexican lawyer committed to justice: Francisco Uranga. When Francisco promotes resistance to Lynch and US control more generally, retribution for this defiance culminates with the murder of his son Jesus. It is his daughter who eventually marries Ben.
The problematic social conditions that are inherent in this section of the story include the child labor in mines as well as the formation of outlaw bands that attack ranchers—another one of Francisco's sons joins such a band.
The narrative then moves into the twentieth century, focusing on first- and second-generation Mexican immigrants. Some of them gain administrative positions, from which they must impose the bosses' harsh discipline on workers. Many find themselves on society's fringes as the Depression takes its toll, leaving people destitute. Many turn to alcohol.
Francisco's grandson, Jose, leaves to take his chances elsewhere, leaving his pregnant wife behind. His unborn son, who is also named Jose, speaks to the reader from his mother's womb. As he grows up, he leaves for school and then returns. He is among the Chicanos who organize and apply legal channels to demand reform as well as reclaim pride in their heritage. Overcoming his disillusion with the plight of his fellow townspeople, he decides to make his hometown his base for such activism.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 702
No plot, as such, exists in this short novel, but the activities of the two main families named in the work may be traced through some one hundred twenty years (1853-1970). The book begins with a prologue, told in the stream-of-consciousness technique, which sets the stage for the following narrative, told from multiple points of view. The next three parts, “Presidio 1883,” “Presidio 1942,” and “Presidio 1970,” illustrate the conflict between Anglos, represented by the Lynch lineage, and Mexicans (who eventually become Mexican Americans, or Chicanos), represented by the Uranga family. The action throughout the book takes place in the border towns of Presidio, Texas, and Ojinaga, Mexico, on each side of the Rio Grande. No main character, except perhaps the Devil, is introduced in the prologue, but the barrenness and desolation of far west Texas, which will be the locus for years of conflict between the neighboring communities, is emphasized. Since Aristeo Brito was reared in this same environment of antagonism and conflict and, as an adult, returned “home” to research the book, many similarities between the author’s life and the narrative appear.
“Presidio 1883” details the Anglo domination of the area, introducing Ben Lynch (Don Benito), whose wealth and influence enable him to threaten, cajole, or cheat the Mexicans. He is powerful and has the strong arm of the Texas Rangers on his side whenever there is a conflict between him and the Mexicans he employs. At one point, he discovers a ring of horse thieves and proceeds to host a party to which they are given a special invitation. Much to their surprise, the thieves are summarily slaughtered. The only person willing to stand up to Don Benito is Francisco Uranga, a lawyer and journalist who encourages the Mexican Americans to resist oppression; at one point, Francisco becomes a representative for the Mexican government. His efforts are in vain: One of his sons (Jesús) is ambushed and drowned in the Rio Grande one night; another becomes a part of a subversive band of roaming outlaws. His own sister Rosario marries Ben Lynch, the devil incarnate. Throughout this part of the book, incidents detail the misfortune and abuse experienced by the Chicanos. One such incident is the death of a twelve-year-old, who dies as a result of a lung disorder contracted while working long hours in the mines. Descriptions of several key locations, symbolic as well as real, are provided in “Presidio 1883”: a cave situated deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a train station, a fort where devils and spirits roam at night telling their sad life stories and where tourists are taken (for a fee). In addition to the human characters from the two main families, the Devil in many disguises appears in this section of the book.
In “Presidio 1942,” life continues much the same, although the Texas Rangers are replaced by the Border Patrol and some farm laborers, such as Teléforo and his son Chale, acquire a degree of professional status. Because these Hispanics have the responsibility of controlling the undocumented workers, their position in the social hierarchy is somewhat enhanced. Life in the little agrarian community continues to be boring and depraved. The young people who do not flee to a better existence somewhere else in Texas spend their time as shiftless bums in bars or brothels. Francisco Uranga’s grandson José, a sharecropper on the land his family originally owned, abandons his home and pregnant wife in order to dodge the draft by escaping across the border. His wife Marcela dies in childbirth, but the fetus speaks fervently from the womb about social injustices perpetrated on the generations of Urangas. The surreal presence of a powerful and malignant devil continues to stalk the land.
Years later, in “Presidio 1970,” José Uranga (the fetus in section two) returns to the deathbed of his father. In a fantastic dialogue with the dead man, José learns of his father’s reasons for fleeing and of his experiences in prison. The plight of the Chicano has never improved, despite the passage of time and changing generations. Although he is initially bitter and resentful, the younger José decides to remain in Presidio to combat the wrongs perpetuated on his genetic and cultural fellow-sufferers.
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