The Devil's Highway

by Luis Alberto Urrea

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Student Question

How does Urrea depict Veracruz and the Sonoran Desert in The Devil's Highway?

Quick answer:

'The mythological past of this location, with reference to the desert gods and the spirity of the evil witch, named Ho'ok and the coyote-spirit of the location, called Ban. The spirits are opposed to any "uninvited visitors" and do what they can to trick and kill those who stray on their territory. So strong are they that "Hail Mary's won't work" in this part of the world.'

Expert Answers

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What is so interesting about the Sonoran Desert is the way that Urrea indicates how it was a location rooted in history and associated with the death of those humans who tried to cross it. Urrea presents the rich mythological past of this location, with reference to the "desert gods" and the spirity of the evil witch, named Ho'ok and the the coyote-spirit of the location, called Ban. The spirits are opposed to any "uninvited visitors" and do what they can to trick and kill those who stray on their territory. So strong are they that "Hail Mary's won't work" in this part of the world. Even though the first recorded white man to die in this desert only died in 1541, there are plenty of others who will have died before that:

Most assuredly, others had died before. As long as there have been people, there have been deaths in the western desert. When the Devil's Highway was a faint scratch of desert bighorn hoof marks, and the first hunters ran along it, someone died. But the brown and red men who ran the paths left no record outside of faded songs and rock paintings we still don't understand.

By rooting his description of the Sonoran Desert in the past and relating it to indigenous mythology, Urrea helps explore the importance of this location, both in the present and in the past, and reinforces just what a brutal and hostile location it is, and has always been because of the severity of the conditions in this part of the world. Urrea also links this place to more recent American history such as the conquest of Mexico and then the endless drive of migration where Mexicans were encouraged to come up North for cheap labour.

This is coupled with the description of Veracruz as a place without real hope or a future and where youths and families are seduced by "Norte mania," or Northern madness, and the idea of being able to earn a quick buck easily in the USA. Even though the Sonoran Desert is so brutal a location, Urrea reflects on the ways in which the pull of materialism and capitalism is so great that people will gladly risk their lives in order to try and get the chance to walk the Devil's Highway for the hope of a better life.  

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