Signs Preceding the End of the World

by

Yuri Herrera

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Signs Preceding the End of the World: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
“They”—Mexicans who live in the North—are “homegrown and they are anglo and both things with rabid intensity.” Balancing silence and grievances, “ancient memory and the wonderment of a new people,” Spanish and English, they remind Makina of her own “intermediary,” “malleable, erasable, permeable” self. Like her, they are “something that serves as a link.” Their language constantly has “a shrewd metamorphosis, a self-defensive shift” between their two tongues, until they merge them, “using in one tongue the word for a thing in the other.” Theirs is “not another way of saying things,” but instead “these are new things.” Through them, “the world is happening anew.”
The poetic introduction to this chapter shows how Mexican Americans’ identities are not merely a duality of two different traditions, or even a hybrid between the two. Rather, the experience of immigration provides an absolutely new lens, language, and culture. These are all predicated on Makina’s ability to flexibly exist and communicate between fixed worlds, rather than only embodying one or the other. Herrera’s references to how migrants’ language recreates the world points to the way he continually puts deliberate distance between the reader and familiar objects (like countries he refuses to name) in order to make readers challenge and reframe their worldviews.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The address the old man gave Makina names another city, but there is no gap between that one and the one Makina is in. Everything looks the same, for “the cities had no center,” and people keep directing her from “some bleak tundra […] to another bleak tundra.” Wandering from one city to another, from a suburb to a different one with the same name, and finally to a statue and to a nearby street, Makina gets to the address just before sunset.
Translated into English, passage is an example of how Herrera manages to rewrite the familiar to make it foreign and thus call the status quo into question. Makina’s strange experience of the city allows those used to living in the United States to view their country’s urban landscape from an outsider’s perspective. The city seems built to prioritize private space over public, to be navigated by car and not by foot, and its uniform suburbs are undistinguishable from one another. New and shiny but empty of people and life, it feels like a “bleak tundra” to Makina, who is used to the tight-knit community of her Village.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Makina’s brother had sent “two or three messages” back home. In the first he reported that “everything’s so stiff” up north, that people celebrate strangely and hold a “turkey feast” where “all you do is eat and eat.” He was lonely but had “lots of stuff” and promised to bring some home. But in his second message, he simply said: “I’m fine, I have a job now.” If there was a third message, it could have said: “I said I was fine so stop asking.”
Makina’s brother’s messages grew increasingly stoic and cold, representing a transformation in the U.S. It shows that her brother became more like the United States Makina sees now: uniform and regimented, with every place and every person just like the ones a few towns over. His personality was seemingly replaced with massive quantities of food and “stuff.” It also shows how, even if he was uncomfortable with this foreign place at first, he gradually learned to prefer it over his homeland, and thus began giving up on his pledge to take care of his family.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
Makina’s journey is taxing: she has to figure out how to pronounce the address, “to cleave her way through the cold,” and surpass “barricades that held people back for the benefit of cars.” She must also try to communicate with people who share none of her tongues and confront “the monuments of another history,” not to mention people’s “disdain” and “suspicious looks.”
In the bleak, homogeneous landscape of the American city, Makina feels that she is the only thing to stand out: the world is indifferent to itself but actively hostile to her, and she has no doubt that she will be treated differently because of what she looks like and the language she speaks.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
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Makina arrives to find “sheer emptiness”: machines are digging a hole under whatever used to be at the address, which seems to have been “pulled out by the roots, expelled from the world.” But an “irritated anglo” tells her that “there was nothing here to begin with.”
After trudging through a city characterized by “sheer emptiness,” Makina finds the same emptiness where she is supposed to find her brother. The huge hole in the ground at the address signals to Makina that she should drop her expectations, that everything and everyone has changed on this side of the border. Suddenly, it is no longer clear that she can trust the Misters from the Little Town, whose services have failed her for the first time.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon