We have all heard the horror stories of the border and the Border Patrol, of human beings desperate to escape their lives of suffering and cross into the land of the free. As Americans, we may hold negative opinions about such illegal immigrants, but the stories we hear from the media barely scratch the surface about the struggles these people must overcome to gain the opportunity of a better life.
Desperate to improve their own lives and their families’ lives, thousands of men unknowingly fall into the trap of corrupt Mexican lords, who promise to smuggle them out and provide them with a guide known as a “coyote” who would lead them to freedom. In May 2001, twenty-six men set out on a journey that would change their lives forever. Scrambling across the border with a few personal possessions, some food, and one jug of water each, the men reach an area in the Arizona desert known as the Devil’s Highway. Only twelve made it safely across.
The Devil’s Highway, written by Luis Alberto Urrea, details the path taken by these twenty-six men from their homes in Veracruz to what they call “the north.” Their enemies are countless: US Border Patrol, the Mexican government, rattlesnakes, the desert, hypothermia, fear, and most of all, the sun, a “110 degree nightmare” that dries out their bodies, sucks out all life, and literally fries their brains to the point of insanity.
I am personally not a fan of nonfiction, yet Urrea’s artful prose is captivating, drawing me in with the story of how only a dozen men survived and how fourteen others, labeled by the US media as the Yuma 14, did not. However, The Devil’s Highway is not just the telling of a fateful event; it is also Urrea’s way of shining a light on what he believes is a backward Mexican and US border policy, which does little to decrease the flow of immigrants. A strict border policy forces people to make the crossing in increasingly forbidden, dangerous areas, which contributes to the harsh conditions that kill those who dare to attempt it. While this book most likely will not influence immediate change in the border policy, it does bring attention to and educate the public about a serious political issue. I would highly recommend this book to those over the age of fourteen (as some descriptions can be graphic) who may be skeptical toward the nonfiction genre, as this book is highly informative and reads just like a story. Urrea certainly weaves first-person testimony, geographic descriptions and illustrations, cultural and economic analysis, and poetry into an award-winning masterpiece.
Kaylie W., 11th Grade
The Devil’s Highway is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.