“A huge redheaded anglo” harasses Makina on “the eighth hill.” She has been asking “anybody she hear[s] speaking latin tongue” if they have seen her brother, but has no luck. She spends the freezing night sleeping in an ATM booth and dreams of scaling various different hills. The redhead on the eighth hill is actually part of this dream, and startles her awake. It is the early morning, and Makina returns to wandering around in search of any possible information about her brother.
Makina’s dream is deeply significant because it shows that she has internalized a sense of inferiority: she now moves through the world expecting to suffer racial discrimination. For the first time, Makina is not only lost, but also directionless. The eight frozen hills are another important stage in the Mictlán journey.
Makina meets the boy whose finger she nearly broke on the bus. He brings her inside the restaurant where he works and introduces her to a woman who reminds Makina of Cora. The woman explains that she cared for Makina’s brother when he first arrived a year before. Makina’s brother left to work for “an anglo woman,” and the woman gives Makina the address. She says she recognized Makina because her brother said his sister was “smart and schooled.”
In a perfect coincidence, Makina has already won the guidance she needs: by previously showing the boy she wasn’t his inferior, she seems to have made him feel guilty enough that he takes her inside the restaurant as an apology. Even when her guides fail, it seems there are clearly other people looking out for Makina, who appear somehow fated to help her successfully finish her quest.
Leaving the boy from the bus behind, Makina runs to the address the woman gave her. She encounters a large pink house, and a black man “wrapped in a purple bathrobe” answers the door. She pauses to think about how she is now “see[ing] so many black people up close” and how they are “the key to her quest.” Sensing her hesitancy, the man apologizes for not being the white person she expected. But he and Makina soon end up laughing together, until he informs her that the house’s old occupants have “moved. To another continent.” Convinced “she wouldn’t be able to verse from this one last dead end,” Makina fantasizes about committing suicide and going to hell. But as she prepares to leave, the man informs her that “there’s one left”: the old family’s son is a soldier at the nearby army base.
Makina’s sense that black people are “key to her quest” points to the close link between the experiences of African American and Latinx people in the United States: both have been historically subjugated and are often still treated as inferior, so the two groups can learn from and contribute to the other’s quest for civil rights. Although she has only been north of the border for a few days, she clearly recognizes this connection and sees that she is by no means alone in feeling ostracized and rejected in the United States.
Makina contemplates the meaning of “Family,” something never as happy in real life as it is supposed to be. There are all sorts, but none are perfect or “only fun-loving.” The family is a “mysterious” institution, and it is impossible to predict what will happen to each family in the future. Makina remembers mediating between quarrelling lovers at the switchboard, relaying their messages back and forth and softening their harsh words, which eventually helped get them back together.
Although she spent the first half of the novel firmly committed to reuniting and supporting her family, now Makina calls into question the very meaning of family as an institution. She recognizes that it is an ideal, not a reality, and that perhaps a family’s division into individuals is not the worst thing in the world, since by branching out and finding love, one can remake a new family. Makina at once helps explain her brother’s decision to stay in the north, signals that she is also undergoing a gradual transformation, and illustrates the difference between the collectivist culture of rural Mexico and the more individualist culture of the U.S.
En route to the army base, Makina sees a crowd of rainbow flag-toting same-sex couples celebrating their weddings on the steps of an important building. She is “dazzled by the beauty” but wonders why marriage is so important. She thinks of the gay people in her own life and how she has helped them communicate and celebrate their “loving that could not speak its name.” But here, gay people are “acting just the same” as those in “normal,” heterosexual marriages. Maybe, she thinks, they believe in marriage because they are used to “good [marriages] where people don’t split up.” So they end up “imitating people who’ve always despised them.” Or maybe they “just want the papers” so they can “fit in” after sticking out for so long. When she gets to the military base, there is another series of flags, which are exactly the same.
This passage is a fitting rebuttal to Makina’s musings on the nature of family. The LGBT community in the U.S. was fighting for (and later won) the right to legal same-sex marriage during the period when Herrera wrote this book. Whereas Makina takes her family for granted—even if it is divided and unhappy—many people are not even allowed to form families. As when she learned to see African American people as the “key to her quest,” this encounter shows Makina that people are actively fighting the kind of discrimination she experiences, and that her initial disappointment should be accompanied by hope. But she also faces a dilemma: is it better to assimilate and win respect from the mainstream, or to fight and change what counts as mainstream? There is certainly a concrete political advantage in a Mexican immigrant having “the papers” to assimilate, but this does not mean the fight is over. And, of course, the string of rainbow flags contrasts sharply with the uniform, regimented flags outside the military base, further establishing the contrast between mainstream American society and its marginalized groups.