Book Review: Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream
By: Ruth Devlin
Date: February 9, 2011
Summary: Teachers of English language learners love Sam Quinones's stories, which illustrate why his characters have come to the United States. Ruth Devlin, a teacher-consultant with the Southern Nevada Writing Project, explores the classroom impact of this book.
Sam Quinones writes with compelling familiarity as he takes the reader on a tour of the lives of several Mexican immigrants in his book Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration. Living for many months as a journalist in Mexico, Quinones connected with the people whose lives he depicts, and, as a result, his book reads more like a novel than a nonfiction text.
Perhaps because of this quality, I felt intimately connected to the narrative in a way that I haven't in my other readings about migration. Quinones's stories are built from interviews with real people and illustrate why they have come to the United Sates. Gone is the "right or wrong" of the immigration debate, and in its place are the human reasons for moving from one place to another.
In his introduction Quinones talks about the surface reasons for migration we see most often in the news and in our classrooms. Families move in order to provide necessities for themselves—food, clothing, shelter. But his book goes beyond these oversimplifications to show the complexity of migrants' circumstances.
A powerful theme running through the book deals with the emotional costs paid by those who move. Quinones begins with the story of Antonio Carrillo, whose longing to come to the United States was spurred by a desire to not only avenge his father's death but also to defeat the local oppressor perpetuating the cycle of poverty in his village. His goal is to build a life that holds dignity and hope. For me, Carrillo's tale provided the beginning of a new understanding of why many Mexicans migrate north. While familiar with the economic reasons, I hadn't thought enough about the underlying causes.
I feel I am beginning to know the people whose lives Quinones so artfully records.
A People Struggle with a System
The three chapters about Delfino Juarez also focus on dreams of a better life. Escaping his father's alcoholism and his family's struggle for subsistence, he first tries to make a living in Mexico. I learned that, like many Americans, Mexicans often leave home to find work within their country.
Like Juarez, these Mexican migrants work during the week in Mexico City but return often enough to their villages to maintain family ties. The income they bring home enables villages with no agriculture or industry and few adult workers to continue to exist. However, for Juarez, eventually his only choice to support his family was to move to the United States.
Another theme of Quinones's book concerns the nature and effects of Mexico's classist society, which often makes it impossible for people to succeed if they happen to be born into the two-thirds of the population that live in poverty.
New Cultural Understanding for Educators
As I read, I realized how easy it can be to overlook the cultural costs paid by those who cross the border. For example, in the chapter about immigrant families in Kansas, I saw the cultural toll paid by families of talented young soccer players. For many of the high-school-aged Mexicans, soccer was a way to college (in the eyes of the teachers and coaches) and a better life—away from the meatpacking plants. But some families did not see the value of a college education in the same way that their children's teachers did, and as I do.
This touched me in a personal way. As a child of teachers—and despite our low socioeconomic status—I grew up knowing that college was an expectation. For the families in the book, this was not the case. As I read, another window was opened into the possible mind-set of my students' families.
Debra Schneider, a teacher-consultant with the Great Valley Writing Project and a colleague via the Know ELLs social networking space (an amazing online community of teachers of English language learners), has used this chapter with her immigrant high school students as a discussion starter to talk—and later write—about the truth they saw in it and the options they see for themselves.
Finding Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream has helped deepen my own knowledge of migration, and, as part of our invitational summer institute, the book could very well move participants toward more culturally responsive ways to involve ELL families. Further, the text raises the possibility of designing a history elective course in which high school students could discuss the relationship between Mexico and the United States.
Quinones is so skilled at storytelling that it is easy to see the book's application as a model of writing for those who wish to tell autobiographical or biographical stories.
This book illuminates my ELL students' lives and guides me as I think about how to best involve their parents in our school. I feel I am beginning to know the people whose lives Quinones so artfully records. And perhaps if I can get to know them just a little bit, I can in turn know my students, their families, and myself better.