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WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG/BLOG Our special blend of insight, analysis, and wit is now available in daily doses. Observer editors, staffers, and bloggers are posting regular reports online about Texas politics, news, and culture. a better life for themselves back home in Mexico. Throughout Delfino’s Dream, Quinones introduces readers to a remarkable array of characters, giving each his own chapter. There’s the bumblingly Shakespearean Tomato King, Andres Bermudez, a common villager who improbably becomes mayor of Jerez and governs 57 villages despite his starcrossed destino. There are Chuy Moran and Doyle Harden, the unlikely duo responsible for countless advertisements of poor taste the world over \(the two were seemingly almost single-handedly responsible for the velvet painting Albert Robles, a Penguinesque, smalltime California politico who, ironically, draws a divided city together. Then there’s Delfino Juarez, Quinones’ preferred protagonist, whose three chapters act as the book’s spine. Juarez is brazen and brave and arrogant and affable all at the same time, the one character in the book you find yourself consistently rooting for, and the one whose story you’re saddest to reach the end of. That story is common enough: Born in an outskirt village, he ventures to the big city as a small child, finagling his way through the treacherous desert to America, all the while waiting for the day he can return home. Common as the tale may be, Quinones tells it in a manner that aligns Delfino with the historical trajectory of his nation. Delfino embodies everything that is right in Mexico, and his failure to fulfill his dreams magnifies everything that is wrong. The desire for a glorious return to Mexico is the vehicle that drives these characters. It’s one of the book’s main ideas and serves as half of an answer to the fundamental Mexican migrant quandary: Why don’t Mexicans who are in the United States illegally attempt to assimilate more wholly into American life? You know how, when people go to Italy, they ride around on Vespas and smoke skinny cigarettes, but don’t really bother to learn anything about Italy because they don’t plan on staying? It’s kind of like that. Quinones expends significant effort steering readers in this direction, but does so with such a light hand that when you reach your destination, you’re allowed to feel like the smart one who’s figured out how to piece everything together yourself. The second half of Quinones’ answer to the Mexican migrant quandary is that many Mexicans are thoroughly jaded when it comes to anything and everything related to government. Quinones recounts the dictatorial and enfeebling hand of the PRI, Mexico’s ruling party for more than 70 years, until 2000. Quinones suggests that this history is another reason Mexicans have been unable or unwilling to assimilate more completely. In short, they tend not to band together seeking change through politics, unlike some other immigrant populations. Clearly the resolution to the Mexican-American immigration dilemma is unlikely to be gleaned from a single book. Any workable solution is going to require significant changes on both sides of the border, a bilateral communion too massive to expect reasonably, and an enormous amount of pragmatism from two equally dogmatic societies. But to approach the tales in Delfino’s Dream as an attempt to “solve” the immigration problem would be a mistake. Quinones uses each of his book’s journeys to humanize immigration, while other chroniclers have too often hyped it. This is easily Quinones’ greatest feat in Delfino’s Dream. He personalizes portraits of immigrants with a seemingly bottomless supply of compassion, honesty, and forthrightness, foregoing the standard exaggerations often associated with illegal immigrants. These are not mere parasitic culture thieves, as Lou Dobbs would have you believe, nor are they the beacons of peasant nobility leftwing sympathizers insist you see. Illegal immigrants, like most everyone else, exist somewhere between their polar presentations in popular culture, mired in the gray area of argument, as people with aspirations and fears and families and stories all their own. With the immigration debate inching closer and closer to shouting matches and sheer idiocya gigantic fence? Really? That’s the best we could come up with?Quinones presents the matter with skill and insight refreshing to even the most migration-calloused ears. Shea Serrano is a freelance writer living in Houston. AUGUST 8, 8008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29