Wednesday, September 17, 2008


by Pa Rock

I came across a small gem of a novel in the bookstore at the Alamo last month. The book is entitled Macho! and the author is Victor Villasenor. Macho! tells the fictional account of 17-year-old Roberto Garcia of the impoverished Mexican state of Michoacan. The action begins in the late 1960's or early 1970's when Roberto falls in with a group of Nortenos, Mexicans who go to the U.S. each spring and summer for the harvest. He travels north with them and eventually slips into the United States illegally where he makes a fortune by Michoacan standards and learns many life lessons along the way.

Macho! recounts Roberto's adventures and hard work in the United States against the backdrop of Cesar Chavez's United Farm Worker's strikes and boycotts. Roberto is there to make money and raise his family out of poverty, but, by being there, he and his companions are actually hurting the efforts of migrant union members who are trying to impact farm production and force the farm owners to pay them a decent wage. The book provides a strong sense of the balances that are in play in the delicate navigation of life.

It also provides a view of the dangers faced by those so desperate to improve their circumstances that they would walk across a wretched desert or allow themselves to be locked in the back of a hot and airless moving van in order to earn a few dollars and a modicum of self-respect. Macho! is a commentary on the immigration struggle from the time of Cesar Chavez up through the present. It is an old story, a continuing story, and could easily be tomorrow's news.

I finished this book with a much clearer picture of the cultural heritage of Mexican immigrants and the motivations that bring them north. Macho! tells a story of one very brave and ambitious young man, but he is representative of a people who desire to have a small portion of what their North American neighbors take for granted. It is a social education cloaked in a very good story.

My respect for this undocumented and vilified segment of our society has has grown as a result of reading Villasenor's fine prose. I recommend Macho! to anyone who wants to know more about the immigration issue and is not afraid to have their beliefs challenged.

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