Last Updated September 5, 2023.
"Into the Beautiful North" by Luis Alberto Urrea is about a Mexican girl named Nayeli who wants to defend her hometown against the bandidos. Set first in Mexico and then the United States, it is a novel of epic journey about the power of community.
Chapter Three has a great quote talking about female strength:
"Karate, Tia Irma insisted, was good for the legs. Power on the field. But Nayeli was not fooled. To La Osa, life and love were war, and she expected Nayeli to win as many battles as possible. Aunt Irma wanted her to beat up men".
It is with Aunt Irma's blessing and financial support that Nayeli and her friends set off on their quest to find the seven men who will revitalize their town and save it from encroaching gangsters. This quote shows how the women in this novel, namely Nayeli, are not willing to lie down under patriarchal danger. Instead, they choose to fight back and strengthen themselves. Women know how to fight back against men, since they do it in love; in life it is no different.
This next quote from "Into the Beautiful North" reminds me of a theme that runs through the novel "Caramelo", and is important to consider especially in terms of current political tension with the US/ Mexico border. In Chapter Eight, Tia Irma is talking about the Americans, saying that they
"are kind. Friendly people. Generous people. They have quaint customs- they aren't really, shall we say, sophisticated like we are. You can't drink the water- it will give you diarrhea. But it's very clean there. Good food. You'll see".
This takes the stereotype many Americans have of Mexicans and turns it on its head. The phrasing that Americans are not sophisticated is repeated in "Caramelo", a novel about a Mexican- American family largely narrated by the first- generation American daughter. Especially since Nayeli is not going to America for want of a better life, it is important to consider that Mexican culture in many ways can see American culture as inferior and brash.