Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 805
This novel is a powerful story of the immigrant experience. The quotes below reflect the thoughts and experiences of the three main characters, all members of the Rubio family: Juan, Consuelo, and Richard.
Juan Rubio is the father of the Rubio family who flees poverty, violence, and chaos in Mexico in search of a more peaceful life in California.
The ever-increasing army of people swarmed across while the border remained open, fleeing from squalor and oppression.
Juan emigrated first from Mexico and then brought his wife and children to America.
They were tired of their endless migration. Juan Rubio and his wife settled here to raise their children. And, remembering his country, Juan thought that his distant cousin, the great General Zapata, had been right when, in speaking of Juan, he once said to Villa, He will go far, that relative of mine."
Although he leaves a violent and tumultuous past behind in Mexico, Juan never fully assimilates to the American way of life. He constantly dreams of the day when he and his family can return to Mexico. The following quote powerfully illustrates his longings:
Now this man who had lived by the gun all his adult life would sit on his haunches under the prune trees, rubbing his sore knees, and think, Next year we will have enough money and we will return to our country. But deep within he knew he was one of the lost ones. And as the years passed him by and his children multiplied and grew, the chant increased in volume and rate until it became a staccato NEXT YEAR! NEXT YEAR!
And the chains were incrementally heavier on his heart.
The next quote is an excerpt from Consuelo, the mother of the family. She is speaking to Richard, her son, who is very bright and excels in school. He loves to read and write, and he dreams of attending college one day. Richard inquires about all manner of subjects, including the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Look, little son, many times I do not answer you when you ask me things, and other times I simply talk about something else. Sometimes this is because you ask things that you and I should not be talking about, but most of the time it is because I am ashamed that I do not know what you ask. You see, we are simple people, your father and I. We did not have the education because we came from the poorest class of people in Mexico.
Consuelo encourages Richard's thirst for knowledge but also seeks his help at home. She wants her son to excel and fulfill his dreams, as she sees the struggle of living in two worlds as a Mexican American in California. However, she is saddened that she cannot help him more in life or with his education.
We cannot teach you the things that you want us to teach you. And I am deeply ashamed that we are going to fail in a great responsibility—we cannot guide you, we cannot select your reading for you, we cannot even talk to you in your own language.
Already I can see that books are your life. We cannot help you, and soon we will not even be able to encourage you, because you will be obliged to work. We could not afford to spare you to go to school even if there was a way for you to do it, and there is a great sadness in our hearts.
The next quote includes Richard's reflections on learning in relation to school, church, and his family:
There are but three things that I can say I have learned for myself. First, I know that one should never discuss matters of sex with one's parents. Second, one should not, on penalty of going to Hell, discuss religion with the priests. And, last, one should not ask questions on history of the teachers, or one will be kept in after school. I do not find it in me to understand why it is this way.
The book also highlights Richard's quest to resolve the differences in the cultures he experiences as he grapples with his own identity. The following quote describes his involvement with other young Mexican Americans in his community.
They had a burning contempt for people of different ancestry, whom they called Americans, and a marked hauteur toward Mexico and toward their parents for their old-country ways. The former feeling came from a sense of inferiority that is a prominent characteristic in any Mexican reared in southern California; and the latter was an inexplicable compensation for that feeling. They needed to feel superior to something, which is a natural thing. The result was that they attempted to segregate themselves from both their cultures, and became truly a lost race.