Decades later, Delfino Juarez, the poorest kid in his town, hitched his star to Mexico City construction work, and came home with a Mohawk haircut and nothing else. Then he went through the desert to the United States. He returned home with enough to replace his humiliating shack with a two-story house. For a while, he was his village’s largest employer.
Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream is a book of true stories about Mexican immigrants. The United States has more Mexicans than any other country has immigrants. Mexicans are unique in American history, for they have moved to every part of the U.S.—from Anchorage to Atlanta. These are stories of what they seek and what they’re escaping. (Read reviews by the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review; the Los Angeles Times Book Review; and most recently by the National Writers Project.)
Andres Bermudez got rich growing tomatoes in California. Then he returned to run for mayor of his hometown of Jerez, Zacatecas. Dubbed the Tomato King, he vowed to show folks back home how to do it right. They say what happened later went to his head.
At a Gold Rush-style pancake house in Chicago, poor rancheros from Atolinga, Zacatecas learned the restaurant business and what they were capable of. They opened dozens of taco restaurants across Chicago, while transforming Atolinga into a tourist resort for themselves, knowing they could never keep their promise to return to live there for good.
A group of Tijuana opera fans struggled like underground war resisters to forge a soft soul for a city of cheap commerce. This fight possessed one of them to build a Viennese opera café in its roughest barrio. All that required such passion that their stories came to resemble the very operas they adored.
A Georgia good-old-boy on the make became the Henry Ford of Velvet painting in El Paso/Juarez. His painters churned out acres of Dogs Playing Poker and JFKs and made Velvet the pop art medium of the 1970s. Supporting cast: Palestinians, Scientologists, Hondurans, Sandinistas, Eskimos, and thousands of poor Mexican kids who learned to be artists by painting Tweety Bird and the Pink Panther on velvet.
In South Gate, California, a sunny suburb of Los Angeles, a Latino Joe McCarthy used Mexican immigrants to bankrupt the town, solicit bribes and give away a house. That spawned a mutant strain of small-town democracy that oozed out of control like some lab creation in a bad horror movie. Then immigrants decided this kind of corruption was why they’d left Mexico. So the saga of South Gate was a story of what they did about it.
The season of a high-school soccer team in a southwest Kansas meatpacking town showed that the prairie — which had forged cowboys, pioneers, the family farm, and the Wizard of Oz — again offered a clear view of an America under construction.
Finally, the story of how I visited German-speaking Mennonite settlements in northern Mexico to understand why so many of these old-world peasants have become alcoholics, crackheads, and proficient drug smugglers.
In the end, though, it is the story of how asking the wrong Mennonites the wrong questions forced me, finally, to leave Mexico, too.