The Devil’s Highway

Coyotes and Chickens Symbol Analysis

Coyotes and Chickens Symbol Icon

“Coyote” has long been the most common term in Mexico for someone who smuggles people across the border, but The Devil’s Highway introduces readers to a new nomenclature, or “border slang.” What most Americans think of as coyotes—the men who smuggle illegal immigrants across the border in cars, vans, or on long desert treks—are now most commonly known as polleros, while the illegals they transport are known as pollos. Urrea is careful to note that the word for chicken, the animal, in Spanish is “gallina,” while the word for cooked chicken is “pollo.” Thus, pollos are “cooked” before they even set foot in the desert, and polleros are tasked with shepherding them across the desert. Coyotes are higher up on the “food chain” of border gangs, just as coyotes are, in the natural world, far above chickens. The fact that those who traverse the expanse of the border are referred to by nicknames taken from the animal world symbolizes the dehumanizing culture of the smuggling business in general. Most vulnerable are the “cooked chickens” at the bottom of the food chain, whose lives are considered both worthless and compromised from the outset of any smuggling journey. Fierce and wily coyotes prey upon the smaller, more defenseless chickens—and the symbolism of these identities speaks to the ruthlessness as well as the seeming inevitability of such power dynamics along the border.

Coyotes and Chickens Quotes in The Devil’s Highway

The The Devil’s Highway quotes below all refer to the symbol of Coyotes and Chickens. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Little, Brown and Company edition of The Devil’s Highway published in 2004.
Chapter 1 Quotes

You’d be hard pressed to meet a Border Patrol agent in either southern Arizona sector who had not encountered death. All the agents seem to agree that the worst deaths are the young women and the children. The deaths, however, that fill the agents with the deepest rage are the deaths of illegals lured into the wasteland and then abandoned by their Coyotes.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Related Symbols: Coyotes and Chickens
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 3 Quotes

From El Papalote, it seems like the myth of the big bad border is just a fairy tale. One step, and presto! You're in the EEUU. Los Estados Unidos. There's nothing there. No helicopters, no trucks, no soldiers. There's a tarantula, a creosote bush, a couple of beat saguaros dying of dry rot, some scattered bits of trash, old human and coyote turds in the bushes now mummified into little coal nuggets. Nothing. The smugglers tell the walkers it’s just a day’s walk to their pickup point. How bad can it be? A day of thirst, some physical struggle- they've lived like that all their lives.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Related Symbols: Coyotes and Chickens
Page Number: 57-58
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

The Mexican government’s border sign near Sasabe doesn’t actually say “Coyotes.” It uses the hipper slang of the border. It says, “Los Polleros.” A pollero would be a chicken-wrangler. The level of esteem the smugglers hold for their charges is stated plainly. They’re simply chickens. Of course, if you know Spanish, you know that the word for “chicken” is gallina. “Pollo” is usually reserved for something else. A pollo, as in arroz con pollo, has been cooked.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Related Symbols: Coyotes and Chickens
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Coyotes and Chickens Symbol Timeline in The Devil’s Highway

The timeline below shows where the symbol Coyotes and Chickens appears in The Devil’s Highway. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Rules of the Game
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...all along the border of Border Patrol officers abusing their power—assaulting women they find, shooting coyotes, or smugglers, in the head. There are rumors that Texas Rangers handcuff the “illegals” they... (full context)
Chapter 2: In Veracruz
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Don Moi García, a recruiter and fixer for the Coyotes of Sonora, was a “walking ad for the good life.” He had an American car... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Coyote and the Chicken
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...government, and each side has a “simmering hatred” for human smugglers, known as polleros or Coyotes depending on their rank within any given smuggling gang. (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...sign in Sasabe, a border town south of the U.S., which explains, in Spanish, that Coyotes “don’t care about your safety or the safety of your family,” and warns would-be immigrants... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...Illegal entry is a veritable industry along this roughly two-thousand mile stretch of border, and Coyotes “hawk destinations like crack dealers in the Bronx sell drugs.” Border slang, however, refers to... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...worked in Phoenix, and had a vast network of contacts all across the States. The Coyote in the case of the Wellton 26 was known as El Negro, though his real... (full context)