On the Border

On the Border

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Arturo Islas' "Migrant Souls" is a short story based on the life on a Mexican American Family living in Del Sapo, Texas. The children attend public schools and show signs of enculturation while the parents both encourage and resist the Americanization of their children. The family deals with the everyday pressures immigrants often face and maintain a sense of humor throughout every experience. In an effort to have a unique identity, the family struggles with the social, psychological, and cultural duality "living on the border" causes them to have.

The family in "Migrant Souls" is an example of the social effect racism has on a subculture. The first example of this is when Josie thinks about how her mother has sympathy for the families of "twenty-one Mexican males" who died in a boxcar on the way to a job. Josie believes her mother had compassion because "they were not from the poorest class." She knows her mother is making a reference that the men were not "wetbacks" and this elicits a response from Josie about the difference between her belief and her mother's belief regarding "who did and did not `deserve' to be in the United States." The difference between the mother and daughter is interesting. The mother, because of racism, obviously feels the need to separate herself from a lower class of immigrants. Josie, the daughter, feels a sense of connection within her ethnicity and doesn't believe socio-economic differences should decide if one is welcome in the US. Her conviction doesn't mean that she isn't confused by this difference. Josie wonders why her mother accepts the girls dressing up like Native Americans but yet looks down on a similar class within her own race. The little girl surmises that "Mexican Indians were too close to home and the truth" establishing the idea that Josie believes her mother must have something to be ashamed of. Within this passage shows the social affect of racism on a group. The mother is judgmental of other groups within her ethnicity, and the little girl does not understand why she would feel this way. Little textual support is given about what "home and the truth" means to Josie, but it could be her way of saying that there is not a difference between her family and the very people her mother looks down on.

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Another example of the effect of racism on Josie is when she genuinely asks her father if they are "aliens." His response is passionate, denying that they are "aliens" while saying, "We are proud of both countries and have never and will never be that word you just said to me." Josie tells him that another girl at school said she was an "alien", probably to explain why she brought it up in the first place. His response initial scathing response is probably a gut reaction as a parent, wanting to protect his child from disparaging remarks. He goes on to explain to her the essence of racism, that words like "Aliens" allows people to objectify another group and allow for the other group to "deport of kill them." This shows the social pressures that the family faces. They are no longer simply Mexicans and they don't fit nicely into the stereotypical American term either, thereby living a life in-between.

Psychologically, the reader knows the family lives "on the border" because of the fear and tales about deportation this is part of their everyday existence. The first glimpse of this is shown when the little girls are playing in their Thanksgiving garb and the father, half joking, tells the girls not to wear the costume outside because they could be sent to a reservation. The little girls know too well what their father is referring to, sharing a knowing glimpse and think of the migra who "sneaked up on innocent dark-skinned people and deported them." This is the first of many references to deportation stories told to the girls to scare them into being cautious. The story about the "light-skinned" boy down the street who was taken by the migra shows that everyone is at risk of being taken at any moment for any slight misstep and also that the authorities don't necessarily care to find the correct identification for a person they decide to deport. The effect on of these myths/stories is that the girls are constantly afraid of being taken. Unfortunately for them, this probably perpetuates the insecurities about having the "right" to live in the country. When kids at school do call them Aliens, this fear of being taken out of the country would almost give the name calling more significance. Another important part within the psychological affect on the girls is shown when the family is smuggling the turkey across the border. Josie is gripped with fear as her mother jumps out of the car to distract the border patrol and we learn that Josie feels "too scared to laugh." Even though the father knows there is seriousness about the incident, it does not seem that he is gripped with the same type of terror as his daughter. The psychological affect on the girls is that much stronger because they are young and lack the control over their lives. Knowing that both the mother and the father fear deportation only furthers the girls' anxiety.

One positive area of the family living "on the border" both physically and psychologically is their ability to blend the two cultures that are a part of their life. The mother's effort to have an American style Thanksgiving pleases the girls a great deal. It is important to them because they are immersed in the fabled holiday at school and want to have a turkey because everyone else is doing it. The father, on the other hand, could care less about the tradition. Claiming that he could kill a pheasant that would be tastier than the turkey, he shows his indifference to the American custom of eating turkey. He tells his wife that eating turkey will "turn [his] girls into little gringos" insinuating that the enculturation of his daughters is a fairly negative occurrence in his opinion. Later the reader learns that he was probably just playing around, perhaps with a slight edge of truth, when the family goes "in search of the perfect turkey." Another point within the story that the reader is shown the cultural duality is when the father declares, "these Mexicans drive like your mother." Most drivers would not emphasize race if they were referring to a group they identified with, such as "these white people drive terribly." This suggests that he doesn't identify himself solely as Mexican, although he is not an American. This assertion shows that this family identifies themselves as Mexican-American, which is a unique and distinctive category on its own right.

Throughout their experiences, the family within Islas' "Migrant Souls" keeps an optimistic but cautious perspective about their role in the society in which they live. They try to protect their children from racial remarks and the threat of the migra. Unfortunately, the stories the parents tell have a negative affect on the children. This affect proposes the question of how much warning benefits a child. They effort they make to provide their children with both Mexican and American traditions is what makes this family the essence of an American family. The mixing of cultures, bringing the best of each country into traditions and rituals, is what makes this country unique. Perhaps the Coca-colas the family drank with the gorditas and menudo after their trip to smuggle the turkey shows best the natural integration of both worlds.
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