The Devil's Highway

by Luis Alberto Urrea

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What is Urrea's purpose in providing the region's history in "The Devil's Highway"?

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I find your wording interesting in this question in regards to “the history of the region.” Although I am not sure, my guess is you mean the history of “the devil’s highway” as opposed to the original towns that many immigrants began from or their destinations (which are also discussed at length). In short, the history of “the devil’s highway” region is discussed to cement the setting and to help the reader understand the tragedy ahead.

First, this area of land that has been nicknamed “the devil’s highway” is most definitely a setting of place. (The irony is that, here, setting of time is almost a non-issue because the hardships related to this exact tract of land will remain no matter what time period spoken about.) The exact place, much to many readers’ surprise, is not an area of Mexico on the way to “freedom” in the United States.   No. “The devil’s highway” is actually the historically most deadly area of Arizona. It is after the immigrants get across the border that they endure the hardships of this area, historically known for its death. What is the history? Very few border control agents patrol this area. Why? Death meets most anyone who enters and remains.

Thousands of travelers went into the desert, and piles of human bones revealed where many of them fell.

There are American citizens who, historically, have become vigilantes in order to control the borders here. The Mexcian “Federales” also pose a problem; however, it is nature that causes the most death: snakes, hypothermia at night, and heat stroke in the day from 110 degree heat. The result? Death by either murder, exposure, or insanity (due to harsh conditions that a body cannot take). This book is a true tragedy of immigration, the reader learns. Without the history of the region, the reader would have no foreshadowing of this tragedy. It creates a sad type of suspense for anyone with compassion for humanity.

In conclusion, one must admit that part of the real reason for the history given of this region is to augment the author’s righteous anger about the issue: the United States, by increasing its border control in certain areas, cause mass-death for illegal immigrants by forcing them to choose to enter the US through the most deadly of areas, namely, this area called “the devil’s highway.”

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