Into the Beautiful North follows nineteen-year-old Nayeli, a Mexican girl from the small village of Tres Camarones, who embarks on a quest to save the town from "narcos and bandidos," the violent men involved in the drug trade. All the men in Tres Camarones, including Nayeli’s father, have since left the village to take jobs in America. Nayeli attempts to save the town by hatching a fantastical plan to illegally cross the Mexican-American border and bring home seven Mexican men who will then be able to take on the narcos and repopulate the town. Because much of the conflict Nayeli experiences has to do with the difficulties of crossing the border, the novel pays close attention to borders of all kinds. As the novel explores what borders mean, how they're enforced, and how to cross them, it also shows how borders are used to delineate and reinforce conceptions of ownership.
Into the Beautiful North shows that the very concept of borders is predicated on ideas of ownership and exclusion. Though the Mexican-American border is the most obvious physical border that appears in the novel, the novel is very careful to show that successfully crossing the geographical border into the US doesn’t guarantee a sense of belonging. Though the Mexicans who manage to cross the border illegally are technically in America, they overwhelmingly exist on the fringes of American society and are seldom allowed to integrate, participate, or feel welcome in the country at all. For example, Chava introduces Nayeli and Tacho to Angel and other migrant farm workers from Mexico who live in a makeshift camp near the freeway. These particular illegal immigrants barely make enough money to sustain themselves, let alone find more conventional housing that would offer them a physical address and a sense of ownership over the place they live. During their road trip to Kankakee to find Nayeli’s father, Nayeli and Tacho meet a Mexican couple who, upon learning that Nayeli and Tacho are illegal immigrants, swiftly kick them out of their restaurant. The couple insists that people like Nayeli and Tacho threaten the legitimacy of all the immigrants who entered the country legally. Through this, Nayeli learns that it's not enough to physically cross the border. Rather, there are many complicated legal and conceptual borders one must cross to be able to truly achieve a sense of belonging in a new place.
Everyone in Into the Beautiful North is focused on creating and protecting borders: the United States has a well-patrolled border wall, people who live in the Tijuana dump fence in their "yards" to define personal space, and Nayeli remains hyper aware of the boundaries created by the motel rooms where she sleeps. Notably, however, these physical borders aren't impermeable in the least. Nayeli's experience running over the physical border between the US and Mexico looks almost absurdly easy when she compares it to the official border she then fails to cross after being arrested by Border Patrol. This makes the border feel extremely real for Nayeli, even as she struggles to understand how a line in the dirt can mean so much. However, the novel also mentions that hundreds of women cross the border every day to work in San Diego, and for them, the idea of the border is extremely abstract. Essentially, while these borders are very real for those who cannot cross them—or who struggle to cross them—the borders mean comparatively little to those who can move through freely. This suggests that the most effective borders are the official ones. However, it's also worth noting that the combination of official borders and physical borders create a conglomerate border that is far more emotional for those trying to cross, and that emotion specifically makes it even more difficult to cross. This is reinforced both in Tijuana, when the narrator notes that migrants' desperation leads them to attempt riskier (and less successful) ways of crossing the border. A similar situation arises when Nayeli discovers her father has a new partner and a toddler in Illinois. Though only a front door physically separates her from her father, Nayeli cannot bring herself to cross it due to the emotional trauma she experiences when she makes this discovery about him.
Taken together, the novel's exploration of borders and ownership forces the reader to reexamine how borders function, what purpose they serve, and whether those purposes are even appropriate or not. For a majority of the Mexican characters in the novel, every border they encounter is policed and protected nearly to absurdity and leads to the Mexican characters being dehumanized in some way. Ultimately, the novel suggests that borders are reasonable and acceptable, but the lengths that people will go to police them and dehumanize others in the name of ownership are exceptionally cruel.
Borders and Ownership ThemeTracker
Borders and Ownership Quotes in Into the Beautiful North
Traditionalists voted to revoke electricity, but it was far too late for that. No woman in town would give up her refrigerator, her electric fan, or her electric iron. So the men started to go el norte.
"We are Mexicans," Irma informed the fruit seller—needlessly, he felt. "Mexicans eat corn and beans. Did you notice? The Aztec culture gave corn to the world, you little man. We invented it! Mexicans grow beans. How is it, then, that Mexicans cannot afford to buy and eat the corn and beans they grow?"
"These illegals come to Mexico expecting a free ride! Don't tell me you don't have Salvadorans and Hondurans in your school, getting the best education in the world! They take our jobs too [...] What we need is a wall on our southern border."
Nayeli looked at the migra agents through the iron mesh. Big men. Happy, bright-faced men. Shiny and crisp. Green uniforms. Short hair. Mustaches.
What made them different from her?
She could not tell.
Nobody but Nayeli's gang was on a quest to protect and repopulate their villages. They were there for food, to send money home. These invaders, so infamous on American talk radio, were hopeless and frantic with starving compulsion.
The border was an abstraction to them at best. Many citizens of Tijuana crossed it every day […] Hundreds of women walked through the Immigration turnstiles and boarded the red trolleys that fed them into the hills and valleys of San Diego, where they vacuumed and dusted and wiped out toilets and cooked grilled-cheese sandwiches in the homes of other women who could afford to hire people to do their household chores for them.
Only when she was back in Tres Camarones did Irma hear from Chava's mother that he had impregnated an American woman […] Chava was marrying her.
That was the end of Irma, that day.
La Osa, her alter ego, appeared in all her relentless glory to inspire chagrin and penance in the homeland.
Suddenly, Nayeli said, "I still want to find my father."
Idly, Tacho said, "Why would he want to go back?"
"Me," she replied.
"Ay, m'ija," he sighed. "All they need is a few hot-air balloons to make it perfect here." Ahead of them, a hot-air balloon rose." "Oh," he said. "America wins every time."
On the radio, they heard many angry Americans with loud voices saying Mexicans were unwanted, and immigrants carried disease and harbored terrorists. English only, the AM shouters boomed; English was the official language of America.
"Where are you from, por favor?" Nayeli asked.
"Colorado," she replied.
"But...qué es la palabra...original?"
"You get out of here. Illegals. What about the rest of us? What about us, cabrones? I came here LEGALLY! You hear that, LEGAL. You criminals come in here, make me look bad? I'm sorry, but you have to leave. Get out!"