As Nayeli, Yolo, Vampi, and Tacho travel north through Tijuana, San Diego, and finally, through the continental United States, they enter into the final throes of their coming of age as they're forced to abandon their youthful understanding of the world and their role in it. Planning to find seven men to bring back to Tres Camarones to repopulate and protect the village, the friends begin their journey with an idealized vision of how the quest will go down and how others will engage with it. However, the journey is riddled with challenges, which leaves the group with a more realistic understanding of Mexico, the United States, and humanity as a whole. Overall, the novel suggests that this process of letting go of their idealization is an essential component of the friends' final maturation, and that their ensuing disillusionment is what allows them to triumph and save Tres Camarones.
Though the female residents of Tres Camarones idealize the United States, it's important to note that they also idealize life in Tres Camarones. Both of these idealizations come about through engagement with fiction: much of what the residents of Tres Camarones know about the US comes from American-made films and stories of Tía Irma's bowling tour. Similarly, the quest to bring men back to Tres Camarones is predicated on a belief that the village would be ideal if only it had men to protect it. In terms of conceptions about the US, the films that García-García shows at his cinema are overwhelmingly emotional and idealized portrayals of the American West, while Tía Irma's bowling tour was a similarly magical experience that she’s idealized over the years. Most importantly, Irma is the only person from Tres Camarones who went to the United States and returned to Tres Camarones after, meaning that her positive interpretation of the US is the one that became the prevailing interpretation in Tres Camarones. This combination of American films and Irma's understanding of the US enables the women of Tres Camarones to understand why the men went to the US to begin with. However, Nayeli and her friends' idealization of the US also means that they're ill prepared for the difficult realities involved in getting to the US to begin with, let alone completing the rest of their quest.
As the story moves into the United States, Nayeli, Irma, and the girlfriends come to realize that though their own disillusionment is extremely painful, other people’s disillusionment can be an asset. Though Irma instructs Nayeli and the girls to bring back seven strong, able-bodied Mexican men like in the film The Magnificent Seven, more than seventy Mexican men show up to Irma's interview session in San Diego, all of whom admit that they're extremely disappointed with life in the United States. Though the novel never offers in-depth backstories of the seventy men who interview for the position, it does explain why Chava, Irma's teenage love, didn't return to Tres Camarones after leaving Mexico in the 1960s: he agreed to marry the American woman he impregnated, but the woman left him before the baby was born. Chava was too embarrassed to tell his family the truth, and he remained in the US simply to avoid having to ever tell anyone in Tres Camarones that life in America wasn't what it was "supposed" to be. However, once given a relatively safe space and a guaranteed way back to Mexico, Chava and the other seventy men jump at the opportunity to admit their own disillusionment and return home. Even so, the novel is careful to make it clear that the men spent much of their time in America idealizing Mexico in much the same way that they had once idealized America, thereby suggesting that they might not find true happiness in Tres Camarones, either.
Despite this success, Nayeli is extremely upset when Irma comes to San Diego to find men herself, as Nayeli understands that she's being demoted. To escape the crushing disappointment of her demotion, Nayeli and Tacho embark on a cross-country road trip to find Nayeli's father, Don Pepe, whom Nayeli believes will be, like the other seventy men, eager to return home—especially once he sees his grownup daughter. Nayeli's belief that her father will return to Tres Camarones is based on Nayeli's deep admiration of her father and her naïve belief that her father similarly idealizes his daughter and wife. Therefore, Nayeli believes that any reminder that she exists will be enough to make him want to return. Nayeli is understandably shocked and hurt when she finally does find her father and discovers that he has a new wife or girlfriend and a toddler, and that he has evidently made a satisfying life for himself in the US. When Nayeli chooses to leave Kankakee without even approaching her father and returns, dejected, to San Diego, she learns the same lesson that the seventy Mexican men did: leaning so heavily on an idealized view of a person or place keeps a person from understanding or accepting the reality of a situation, and that accepting a possibly painful reality is the only way to move on and make a happier life.
Though the novel ends before offering an actual confrontation between the narcos and the twenty-seven men that Irma allows to come to Tres Camarones, Nayeli and Tacho do indeed return to Tres Camarones having accomplished the original goal. This is evidence that the combination of their own disillusionment and the men's disillusionment with America is what primarily enables this triumphant return. Given the goals of the quest (reinvigorate the town and save it from the bandidos), this suggests that the disillusionment the characters experienced in the US will indeed allow them to create a more ideal life in Tres Camarones, suggesting that though disillusionment is painful, it's not an entirely bad thing. Rather, disillusionment allows a person to create a life that is more satisfying and more realistic.
Disillusionment and Idealization ThemeTracker
Disillusionment and Idealization 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.
A man like Tacho had to learn to survive in Mexico, and he had learned to re-create himself in bright colors, in large attitudes, thus becoming a cherished character. If you wanted to achieve immortality, or at least acceptance, in Tres Camarones, the best thing to do was become an amazing fixture. It was very macho to be a ne'er-do-well, even if you were gay.
"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?"
"You will see," Irma said. "The Americanos are kind. Friendly people. Generous people. They have quaint customs—they aren't really, shall we say, sophisticated like we are. You can't drink the water—it will give you diarrhea. But it's very clean there. Good food. You'll see."
She was so disturbed that it gave her the strangest comfort, as though something she had suspected about life all along was being confirmed, and the sorrow she felt in her bed at night was reflected by this soil.
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.
"You are there to collect Mexicans," Irma reminded her. "Don't fall in love with that missionary!"
"And don't screw him, either. If you give him the milk for free, why would he buy the cow?"
"Don't bring me any damned American surfers. And don't bring me any American babies. Bring me Mexicans."
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."
"Please? The sign say six thousand pounds of dog. Of the pradera!"
The woman said, "Oh. The big giant prairie dog." She leaned forward. "It's a lie. It's made of cement."
[…] Tacho went out to the minivan and massaged his forehead.
Nayeli jumped in and said, "Just in time."
She was baffled when he announced, "It is all a cruel illusion."