“Spirit run: A 6,000-mile marathon through North America’s stolen land” by Noé Álvarez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Catapult. To be published March 3, 2020. 213 p.

Spirit runMigrants, and the hard labor of low paying jobs in fruit factories, abound in the lush apple country of Selah Washington, near the author’s childhood home of Yakima. Noé is a smart student, and wants to make life different for his family. He has dreams of going to college and earning enough money to free his mother from her monotonous, back breaking job at the apple factory. He wants to make a difference.

When his dreams get tangled up in the stress of reality, Noé  likes to run. He dreams of the day he can escape Yakima yet, when he gets a full scholarship, dreams turn to nightmares. He believes his insecurities that say he’s not good enough and, soon, can’t keep up with the workload. When he finds out about a run from Alaska to Argentina for Indigenous Indians Noé decides to drop out of college to participate. In the process he discovers the good and bad of human nature. His journey of self discovery, as well as his foray into understanding his parents, is chronicled in this book.

The problems he encountered, as well as the agonies of running an ultra marathon, are interspersed with reflections of his place in the world. The open ending, the seeming lack of a concrete plan for his life, along with continued disappointment that he’s working class made the book a bit of a disappointment. There will always be those of us who will never get to live a life of leisure without having to work, and I hope Noé can come to peace with that reality.

Despite my misgivings I will recommend this book to Adult readers as there are lessons to be learned, and experiences to be hashed through, which would make for good discussions in book groups.

“A library for Juana: The world of Sor Juana Inés” by Pat Mora

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. Children’s Book Press. (Includes a Glossary and Author’s Note).

A library for JuanaUna biblioteca para JuanaThis biographical picture book tells the story of Juana Ramírez de Asbaje.

Juana was born near Mexico City in 1648. Her grandfather loved books and, from the age of 3, she loved pretending to read them. Though she and her older sister were allowed to attend school to learn to read and write, her mother knew only boys could go to the university because girls were supposed to stay home. Her mother’s words, and the constrictions of the time against women, didn’t keep Juana from her dreams of studying and writing poetry.

Juana was persistent in wanting to learn so, when she was 10 years old, her mother sent her to Mexico City to live with relatives. This proved to be a good thing because she grew even more in her knowledge, always seeking answers in books, and writing poetry. In time Juana became a lady in waiting for the Viceroy’s wife, enjoying learning from books in the palace library while spreading her knowledge among scholars of the time.

Eventually Juana left the palace to become a nun, and changed her name to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. She continued to expand her library and her learning until her death in 1695.

I had never heard of Juana Ramírez de Asbaje, and enjoyed reading about her persistence and dedication to learning. Vidal’s full page, colorful illustrations are rich with details of the time period such as headgear for men and women, food, clothing, musical instruments, and more.

Young readers will get an education from Juana’s life through Mora’s well-researched book, but will also learn about the time period from Vidal’s equally well-researched illustrations.

(There is also a Spanish translation of the book titled “Una biblioteca para Juana: El mundo de Sor Juana Inés.”)

Highly recommended for ages 7-11.

I received a copy of these books from Lee & Low in exchange for an honest review.

 

“Step up to the plate” Maria Singh

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Tu Books. (Lee & Low). 276 p.

StepUpToThePlateIt was 1945 and, with World War II going on, all nine-year-old Maria wanted to do was play baseball. Her aunt built planes and women were starting to play professional ball so, when her teacher started an all-girls team at her school, Maria was thrilled. Unfortunately her Mexican mother and Indian father had old-fashioned ideas about what girls could do, so she knew it would be hard to convince them to let her play.

As she learns about teamwork and baseball, Maria also starts to learn about prejudice and racism when her little brother is beat up for being different and a German classmate lashes out at her. When she finds out her father can’t become a U.S. citizen or own the land he’d worked for years, through the confidence earned from playing the game she loved, Maria learns to speak up and make a difference in her world.

This book is an important introduction to the inequalities and discrimination faced by specific immigrant groups, many of which still go on today. Readers are also given insight into the world of adha-adha “half and half,” (Mexican-Hindu families) which also serves to educate. It should be in every elementary and middle school library, and would make for excellent discussions as part of a book club.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The cholo tree” Daniel Chacón

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press. 248 pp.

TheCholoTreeFourteen-year-old Victor is an aspiring artist and cook in his low income, gang filled neighborhood and, like most kids his age, doesn’t like school. He was very close to his father who was killed when Victor was very young, and holds his mother at an emotional distance. Though not a cholo (gang member) she believes he is one, and doesn’t trust him.

Victor doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life and is reluctant to choose a path, despite direction from a teacher he trusts and a very smart girlfriend who gives him some inspiration. As he aimlessly wanders through the life he’s chosen for himself, Victor has to sort through layers of experiences to decide if he already is a cholo. Does he want to be a cholo, or does he want to break free of the mold he created for himself in order to live the way he was meant to live?

Don Quixote-type fantasies intermingled with Victor’s hazy memories of his father, along with stories of his life, are pieced together to show four years of his struggles to discover who he is and what he wants to be. Though I wasn’t a big fan of the book, I did enjoy the author’s portrayal of Iliana as a strong, independent woman. She knew what she wanted, and went for it full speed ahead, the complete opposite of Victor. She didn’t let feelings get in the way of her future, and I admire her for having a goal and sticking to it.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Evangelina takes flight” Diana J. Noble

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Arte Público Press. 195 p.

EvangelinaTakesFlightEvangelina lived with her parents, brothers, sisters and grandfather on her father’s ranch in Mariposa Mexico, which had been in the family for generations. She was looking forward to turning 15 in a year and a half so she could also celebrate her quinceañera, like her big sister. Everything about her life seemed to be going well, until the politics of 1911 turned everything upside down.

Due to the fighting that had begun with the Revolution, Pancho Villa and his soldiers roamed the countryside, robbing and killing villagers, Evangelina’s parents decide it’s too risky to stay in Mexico, so Evangelina had to leave her home and everything she loved, including her grandfather. It took days to travel to a small border town in Texas to live with her aunt but once there, the family found out they weren’t welcomed because they were Mexican.

Through the trials and tribulations she endured at school and at the hands of prejudiced villagers, Evangelina gained the courage to spread her wings and fly free as a butterfly, despite those who wanted her to crawl at their feet like a caterpillar.

I enjoyed learning about the Mexican Revolution from the eyes of a family who was living it. It was sad to read how Mexicans were treated in Texas and other states, even though they had been part of Mexico before the Mexican-American War. When settlers from the United States moved into these new states and took over land previously owned by Mexico, it was the Mexicans (the original inhabitants) who lost the rights to their ancestral homelands – just as what had happened to the Native Americans.

Attitudes towards Mexicans and other foreigners are, unfortunately, still alive today. Despite having to flee their homes due to war, gangs and other types of violence, many are not met with acceptance when they arrive in the United States. I loved what Evangelina said on page 111 when she asked, “Why do people in town glare at us so hatefully if they’ve never even met us? What would they do if the war was in Texas and their sons and daughters and fathers and sisters were being kidnapped and killed?” 

I have to get on a soapbox to say that people need to put themselves into the shoes of others, and stop being judgmental. As I’ve said time and again no one is an original American except for Native Americans, so think about where YOU would be now if your ancestors were kept out of the country the way you’re trying so hard to keep others out.” Think about it really hard.

Highly recommended for ages 12-16.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

“Deep in the shadows: Undercover in the ruthless world of human smuggling” Hipólito Acosta

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press. 319 p. (Includes photographs and an Appendix).

DeepInTheShadowsHipólito Acosta grew up in a tiny Texas town and, in 1975, was hired by the U.S. Border Patrol. After working locally for a little while he was assigned to Chicago, becoming one of the first Hispanic agents to work undercover for the agency. There, either single handedly or with fellow agents, he infiltrated gangs and cartels to root out drug dealers, human smugglers, and sellers of false identity papers. Later in his career, assigned to work in higher leadership roles in the Philippines and Mexico, he continued to set the bar high in his single-minded pursuit of justice.

In simple, understated narrative Acosta details his innovative, yet very dangerous experiences working to uphold his oath to protect our country’s borders. His memoir is loaded with names, dates, and facts, which can be overwhelming at times. It would have been nice if an alphabetical glossary or timeline, with associated page numbers, was included to help readers better associate the details of his career.

Recommended for Adults.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The school the Aztec Eagles built: A tribute to Mexico’s World War II air fighters” Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson

Rated 5 stars ***** Lee & Low. 2016. 40 p. (Includes “Author’s Note,” “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” “Author’s Sources,” and “Quotation Sources.”)

theschooltheazteceaglesbuiltThough not directly involved in World War II, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor Mexico aided the United States with shipments of oil and war materials. As retaliation for these shipments, German U-boats torpedoed two of their ships. Mexico entered the war on May 28th, and volunteered its best air force pilots to assist the United States.

No military unit in Mexico’s history had ever left the country to fight, but Air Fighter Squadron 201 became the first to do so. Nicknamed the Aztec Eagles, the almost 300 pilots and support crew set off for the United States to be trained. When their training was completed, they went on to support General MacArthur in his Philippines campaign.

Through period photographs, interviews, and careful research Nicholson tells the story of the courageous men of the Aztec Eagles. Her inspiration for their story was the unusual request from one of the support crewmembers, Sergeant Angel Bocanegra a former teacher, who asked the President of Mexico to build a school in his small village of Tepoztlán. The school still stands in their honor, and this book also honors those brave men who fought on behalf of both the United States and Mexico.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.