It’s almost like the moment of relief when the rescue comes is enough of a shock to kill most of the men. SO many died just at the moment they had hoped for. Maybe that will to live is strongest when we are alone but when we are among others we put our lives in their hands and it’s in the hand-off that someone so close to death can fumble the soul.
Urrea is exploring the word degrees, the degree of heat (108, 110), degrees of death, degrees of location (GPS N. 32.23.18/W. 113.19.59). Even degrees of caring among the dying, among the coyotes, among the border patrol. Degrees of humanity.
The image of Mendez crawling on his hands and knees “like a religious penitent” is sad and beautiful and necessary for his sins. Then Urrea describes how Efrain climbed a mountain to get a better look and died up there because he as too weak to climb down, like Moses seeing the promised land but not permitted to enter it.
The images of the delirious men pulling the American dollars from their pockets and tearing it into pieces is like one last effort for the men to have some control over their fate, as if they can tell the universe / desert that they don’t care about the damn money, about America. It’s the last thing they have power over: the power to give up and reject their dreams.
It’s not uncommon for Americans to think of the Mexicans coming across the border as not being really human, that they are just empty people-shaped things that are unknowable and darkly foreign. Yet the desert also does not care about humanity, does not have any compassion for the people in the desert. Perhaps the absence of empathy is like a burning desert.
I like that Urrea doesn’t try to determine intent, or even the facts of details, he’s just telling us everything that happened, all the contradictory evidence and also without being judgmental of anyone, even Mendez. But I’m sure anyone in the walkers situation sure as shit would be judging the hell out of Mendez.
Waiting as “rote as factory work”, “They were in the dirt like animals”, “Six o’clock in the morning took ten hours to become seven o’clock. A week later, it was eight o’clock.” Time slows as you slowly die, as if time is leaving you as you leave your body until the moment when you die and time stretches out to infinity. But for these people it was torture, like an endless factory job for KFC’s chicken farms.
“They were buried in the Granite Mountains” even though they were still alive. I got on Google maps to look at this region (Yuma and Pima counties, Arizona) and as bad as the books makes it seem I think it’s even worse when you see it. Hard to believe anything can live out there but it’s also quite beautiful too. A land of extremes, confusion, death, and beauty.
I like how he writes about the confusion as to what happened on the morning of May 20. Nobody was in their right mind so of course stories will vary.