The Devil's Highway

by Luis Alberto Urrea

Start Free Trial

What are important quotes from Luis Alberto Urrea's The Devil's Highway?

Quick answer:

This is an example of what literary critics call Urrea's "social realism." He refuses to sugar coat reality. His characters are not noble or heroic, but rather, they are human beings with all the flaws and failings that entails. In this case, we have Officer Friendly who would like us to think that he is an upstanding law enforcement officer, but who actually turns out to be a bit of a dick. Q: What is the importance of character in Luis Alberto Urrea's The Devil's Highway? A: Urrea uses his extensive knowledge of Mexican culture and history to flesh out his characters. They are not mere flat stereotypes.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Immigration, the drive northward, is a white phenomenon.

This quotation from chapter 1, "The Rules of the Game," attempts to place the phenomenon of immigration in its historical context. When European settlers first arrived in Mexico, they pushed upwards and northwards. They were the original immigrants who moved northwards in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

Urrea uses this little nugget of historical information to challenge the prevailing narrative that immigration is somehow a Third World phenomenon.

Nobody wanted them when they were alive, and now look—everybody wants to own them.

From the same chapter, we have this reference to the Wellton 26, Mexican immigrants who were abandoned in by a coyote in the heat of the Arizona desert. Tragically, 14 died. While they were alive, no one cared about them—not the Mexican government, the US border authorities, or the coyotes who arranged for them to cross the border.

But now that they're dead, everyone wants a piece of them. Mexicans regard them as folk heroes; human rights activists as martyrs of a brutal, racist immigration system; and journalists see them as forming the basis of a great human interest story. For good measure, Wellton's Officer Friendly gets all proprietorial towards them. He wants everyone to know that it was his men who found the immigrants, not his counterparts over in Yuma.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The book The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea tells the harrowing story of 26 Mexican men who attempted to cross the border between Mexico and Arizona, emerging onto a part of the Arizona desert known as the Devil’s Highway. Only 12 of these men successfully completed the journey. The 14 who perished are known as the Yuma 14. Some of the most important quotes from this book help to capture the perils of this endeavor and the issues connected to immigration, poverty, and the human desire for a better life.

“If only Mexico paid their workers a decent wage” (206).

This quote succinctly summarizes how illegal immigration, which is often terrifying and life-threatening for those who attempt it, would be less common if Mexico could offer more to its people.

"...poet Ofelia Zepeda has pointed out that rosaries and Hail Marys don't work out here. 'You need a new kind of prayers,' she says, 'to negotiate with this land'" (6).

This demonstrates the sheer terror of this area known as the Devil’s Highway; so dangerous and lawless is the area that one cannot survive on faith or luck. It successfully conveys that this area is so dangerous, it’s practically otherworldly.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Devil's Highway, a desolate place along the Mexican-Arizona border, witnessed the tragic death of fourteen Mexican immigrants, part of a party of twenty-four souls, in 2001. Aside from being a tragic and compelling event in its own right, this incident is used by Urrea to highlight the horrific, dehumanizing conditions faced by immigrants in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

One quote which encapsulates the overall message of this book is the following, found at the end of Chapter One:

In the strange military poetics of the Border Patrol, the big kill itself is known not only as the Case of the Yuma 14. It is officially called "Operation Broken Promise." Of all the catch phrases of the event, this is perhaps the most accurate (35).

This phrase is significant because the fourteen men who died (and indeed the twelve who survived) were betrayed in almost every way imaginable. Their homeland, rife with corruption, provided them with so few opportunities that they were willing to risk life and limb to find better circumstances. They are exploited by the Cercas crime family, which profits from their desperation. They feel betrayed by God, who allows many of them to die such a horrific death in the desert. Finally, the promise of a better life in the United States is also, for many migrants, a lie, and as we see early in the book, it is in fact the economic relations between the United States and Mexico that contributed to the migrant disaster in the first place. So the story of the Yuma 14 is, as this quote illustrates, a tale of broken promises.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Luis Alberto Urrea's book The Devil's Highway is a biographical account of 26 Mexicans crossing the US border Quitobaquito in Arizona and traversing "The Devil's Highway." The book is actually told as a flashback, with chapter 1, "The Rules of the Game," ending their journey. Five men approached a border patrol car and told the agents more men were behind them, both alive and dead. Signcutters, which are professional trackers, tracked the men's footprints and found 12 more men alive and 14 dead.

One purpose of the first chapter is to set the scene by informing the reader of what a harsh environment the region is. One way in which Urrea accomplishes this is by relaying all of the death that has occurred in the region over the centuries and by giving accounts of all of the stories of hauntings and demonic activity. Hence, any important passages in this chapter will help the author set the stage. One might consider the account of the haunting of the white woman, written down in 1699, as important:

In the lands of O'Odham, a white woman bearing a cross came drifting dow the Devil's Highway itself. The warriors who saw her immediately did the only practical thing they could: they filled her with arrows. They said she refused to die. Kept on flying. (p. 11)

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial