Into the Beautiful North is, first and foremost, a novel about women. The heroes of the story are women such as Tía Irma and Nayeli, not the male "heroes" they endeavor to bring back from the United States. Although the novel casts women in the roles of heroes, those heroic women struggle throughout the novel to define heroism as something that can be an inherently female quality. In this way, the novel poses the question of what truly makes a hero, and most importantly for the characters, insists that being male doesn't automatically make someone a hero.
It's important to acknowledge that though the women of Tres Camarones idealize men in films, the women don't think highly of men in the flesh. For example, Irma refers to men as dogs and regularly calls them useless. Tacho only escapes the brunt of this abuse because, as a gay man, he walks a fine line between being macho enough to escape persecution and effeminate enough to feel happily and appropriately "gay enough." This creates the initial sexist understanding among the population of Tres Camarones that men aren't particularly needed, apart from their usefulness as protectors and partners in the process of procreation.
Nayeli, Yolo, and Vampi embark on their journey to the United States with the goal of bringing back seven Mexican men to repopulate the village and protect Tres Camarones from "narcos and bandidos." What the girls want are heroes like they saw in the film The Magnificent Seven, which is what inspired the quest in the first place. However, the very nature of the quest flattens men into a monolithic group with only one purpose: protecting women. In addition, the quest also suggests that the women are incapable of protecting themselves—something that, as the women in the novel show time and again, they are more than capable of doing. As Nayeli and the notorious girlfriends travel through Mexico and San Diego, they come across men who defy these expectations. For example, even though Irma's love interest, Chava, is named the deputy mayor of Tres Camarones and returns to Mexico with her, he proves himself outright to be a poor hero. Irma sends Chava to Mazatlán for his own safety, implying that he's not heroic enough to stand up to the narcos and bandidos in Tres Camarones. Ultimately, the heroic men that the women hoped to find are little more than idealizations. The fact that the female characters perform the brunt of the work in the novel shows that they're more than capable of being their own heroes, regardless of their belief that only men can save Tres Camarones.
This unfortunate realization that men aren't the heroes the female characters desire is most evident in Nayeli's quest to find her father, Don Pepe. Though the narrator insists that Don Pepe was responsible for encouraging Nayeli to develop the skills she needs to be her own hero by enrolling her in soccer and karate. However, Don Pepe also openly wished for a son. This explains, in part, why Nayeli so desperately clings to the idea that Tres Camarones needs men to save it. To cope with the pain of Don Pepe's disappearance to the United States, Nayeli spent three years idealizing her father and everything he stood for, even adopting his belief in the superiority of male strength and heroism. When Nayeli learns that Don Pepe has a partner and a child in Kankakee, Illinois, Nayeli must finally let go of her conception of her father as a hero who will save her and her village. Though the novel ends before offering either closure for Nayeli or a tidy solution to the problems in Tres Camarones, it does show Nayeli returning to Tres Camarones with an army of men. With this, the novel ends by focusing on the fact that Nayeli did accomplish her quest. Whether or not the men will be able to save Tres Camarones is less important to the novel than the fact that Nayeli proved her own heroism through the course of her quest.
Male vs. Female Heroism ThemeTracker
Male vs. Female Heroism Quotes in Into the Beautiful North
Karate, Tía Irma insisted, was good for the legs. Power on the field. But Nayeli was not fooled. To La Osa, life and love were war, and she expected Nayeli to win as many battles as possible.
Aunt Irma wanted her to beat up men.
He never said he wished he'd had a son, though she could tell he thought it often.
"They took my house from me!"
She stood there in her tattered nightgown and curlers.
"Can I sleep here?" he asked.
Irma had only been in charge of the town for scant days, and already the troubles were starting.
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.
"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.