bodies were found, but as many as 26 living men may have started as one
group that passed from the third world to Los Yunaites Estaites.
Highway: A True Story
Luis Alberto Urrea
Little, Brown and Company, 2004
George B. Sánchez
Josée de Jesús
Rodríguez. Enrique Landeros García. Reyno Bartolo Hernández.
Lorenzo Ortíz Hernández. Nahúm Landa Ortíz.
Reymundo Barreda Maruri. Reymundo Barreda Maruri Jr.
For no reason should these names be familiar. Mexicanos from intimate
villages in Veracruz and Hidalgo; according to Sr. Urrea, they came to
the United States to work in the shadows, as migrants usually do, to pick
oranges or whatever fruit was in season, and provide for their families.
They made it. At least some of them did. Sixteen bodies were found, but
as many as 26 living men may have started as one group that passed in
May of 2001 from the third world to Los Yunaites Estaites. Like many more
before them, they walked among the sand and saguaros in triple degree
heat through an unforgiving stretch of southern Arizona desert known as
Cabeza Prieta and the Devil’s Highway.
Urrea explains the Devil’s Highway as such: “Tohono O’Odham
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.””
The story begins in the tropical southern state of Veracruz as each individual
strikes a deal with the coyote’s recruiter, who arranges for them
to travel by bus to the dusty border of Sonoita. There, they meet their
pollero – Mexican slang for the human smuggler that leads men and
woman from Mexico into the United States – and on Saturday, May
19, 2001 they begin their trek. Led by 20-year-old Jesús López
Ramos, the group’s seemingly simple cut through the desert mutated
into something quite different. Four days later their bodies were discovered
by a Border Patrol agent.
Urrea pores over every fact with care and attention, recreating, as best
possible, the perilous trip, including the nine excruciating pages where
the author details the six stages that lead to heat death.
As a story, "The Devil’s Highway" is fascinating. As a
work of art, it is stark and startling. As reportage, it is impressive.
As an indictment of border policy, it is damning. Few authors would attempt
such a feat and even less could pull it off.
"The Devil’s Highway" is a story about immigration, but
this is their story. By no means is this story necessarily unique. On
the contrary, such acts of both desperation and bravery are repeated daily
by hundreds along the Mexican-United States border. However, "The
Devil’s Highway" is their account – the walkers, the
polleros, la migra, and the consulate – the ones you never hear
from. And Urrea weaves their stories into one with a striking “novel
as history” attitude that blends investigative reporting, oral history,
and poetry into a breathtaking narrative.
© 2005 El Andar Magazine