While barely a hundred pages, Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World provides readers with an in depth look at the struggles that Mexican immigrants and migrants face when coming to America. There is not much that the reader knows about Makina other than she is a smart, strong, independent, teenage woman in search of her brother. I think that Herrera purposely leaves her character so vague because she is a representation of the 170,000 people who illegally cross the border each year. Many of these individuals are woman traveling with children.
A question that stays at the forefront of the reader’s mind when reading is: What are the defining characteristics of a border? Typically, a border is defined as a line separating two political or geographical areas, especially countries. In the novel, the main border that Makina must verse is the Mexico-United States border of the Rio Grande.
Furthermore, when Makina’s brother tells the story of how easy it was for the American family to get up and leave to Europe, Herrera points out a double standard. That family had the financial resources to leave the U.S. and create a new life for themselves without any issues or negative stigmas. Yet, Mexican migrants and immigrants find it so difficult to come to America. They pay steep prices, may have to get involved with cartels, must have connections, and may sometimes die despite all this.
There are also mental borders that Mikina must face. Yuri Herrera covers several interconnected and controversial topics including: nativism, racism, and profiling. These ideologies are best illustrated when Makina is confronted by the police officer.
Commonly, we think of police officers as “patriots” and the embodiment of all that is right with America. They stand for justice, maintain public order, and enforce the laws of the land. Still, here is where Herrera uses the policeman’s attitude towards immigrants as an exaggeration of American values and how the country negatively views them. A common phrase that we hear in politics today can be heard in the lines, “Civilized, that’s the way we do things around here! We don’t jump fences and we don’t dig tunnels” (97).
The officer views the immigrants as uncivilized, uneducated, and bad for America in general. The fact that he feels that they need to ask him for permission to do anything (from going to the doctor to getting a job) is a way to keep them down as a minority.
It is these types of mental borders that keep ignorance and hateful rhetoric alive today. It is unclear if Makina helped the officer transcend his mental border. However, it appears that she was able to assist him in understanding how foolish he truly sounded.
Like many Americans, the officer doesn’t understand that sometimes leaving their native country is in fact, as daunting as the end of the world.