Into the Beautiful North


Luis Alberto Urrea

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Into the Beautiful North Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Luis Alberto Urrea's Into the Beautiful North. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Urrea was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and was listed as an American born abroad. Both of his parents worked in San Diego, and when Urrea was three, the family relocated to San Diego with the hope that it would help the young Urrea recover from tuberculosis. His mother, an American born in Staten Island, encouraged him to write and attend college. He earned his bachelor's degree in writing from University of California at San Diego in 1977 and completed a graduate degree several years later at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He worked briefly as a relief worker in the dump at Tijuana, a location that appears in Into the Beautiful North. Urrea has also said that his then-teenage daughter and her friends inspired some of the voices of Nayeli, Vampi, and Yolo, while his historical novels are based on his great aunt. He currently teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago and has published a number of novels, short story collections, and poetry collections, many of which have earned awards and praise. He is a member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame and was a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction.
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Historical Context of Into the Beautiful North

Though Mexican and South American people have been legally and illegally crossing the border into the United States since the early 1800s, immigration to the United States increased dramatically throughout the latter half of the twentieth century due primarily to economic crises in Mexico. These economic issues are likely what caused the men of Tres Camarones to head north in Into the Beautiful North. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the Patriot Act, the US secured new measures that allowed Border Patrol to detain and convict anyone they thought might be associated with terrorist groups (like what happens to Tacho in the novel) and updated other policies regarding immigration. Further, though he doesn't name programs specifically, Arnie seems to allude to the National Border Patrol Strategic Plan of 1994, which sought to increase staffing at the border and overwhelmingly stopped allowing detained persons to return to Mexico voluntarily. Instead, detainees are either denied visas if caught entering illegally a second time or are criminally charged and deported. The original act coincided with a fourfold increase in the annual number of deportations, a number that continued to rise even into the 2010s. However, Arnie is also correct that the total number of illegal border crossings decreased during that time. Following the plans of 1994, many immigrants began attempting to cross in more dangerous locations, and the Mexican government even produced pamphlets and videos advising people on how to cross more safely.

Other Books Related to Into the Beautiful North

Many of Luis Urrea's books, both fiction and nonfiction, deal with the issues of identity, loss, family, and the Mexican-American border. Prior to Into the Beautiful North, his novel The Hummingbird's Daughter was a great success, and his nonfiction book Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border details both his time as a relief worker in Tijuana as well as the hardships that Mexican people living near the border face, which ultimately influence their decision to immigrate to the United States. Richard Rodriguez's memoir, Brown: The Last Discovery of America, also digs into the issues of race, immigration, and belonging in America. In addition, Francisco Cantú’s memoir, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, is about a Mexican-American Border Patrol agent haunted by the things he sees in the course of his work on the border. Several reviewers have compared Into the Beautiful North to Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath, in that it presents an "Eden" of sorts in California for migrant workers.
Key Facts about Into the Beautiful North
  • Full Title: Into the Beautiful North
  • When Written: 2005-2009
  • Where Written: Illinois, USA
  • When Published: 2009
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Contemporary Novel
  • Setting: Mexico and the United States
  • Climax: When Nayeli finds her father and realizes that he has another family in the United States
  • Antagonist: The narcos and bandidos; racism and prejudice
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for Into the Beautiful North

Music and Theatre. In 2016, Into the Beautiful North was adapted into a stage play and performed in Portland, Oregon. It also inspired a musical performance performed jointly by the chamber jazz trio 9 Horses and an orchestra.

The Mexican-American Border. The border between Mexico and the United States is the most frequently crossed international border in the world. More than 350 million people cross the border legally every year, while it's estimated that half a million people cross illegally.