Shifting Faces

Signs Preceding the End of the World is a novel written originally in Spanish by Yuri Herrera, and later translated by Lisa Dillman. It follows a young woman from Mexico, Makina, who ventures to the United States to search for her brother whom has been out of contact for an extended period of time. Makina’s trip is not strictly the legal sort, and so is ferried across the border with little to nothing to her name. The trials she faces on the trip are by no means easily navigated, but she is resourceful enough to make her own way, and ultimately find her estranged brother.

The reunion is not quite what Makina hoped, and brings to light a strange concept of identity. Makina’s brother ultimately found himself unable to conceive the notion of returning to Mexico, his old home where his family resides. This distancing is in a way, a cultural indoctrination that immigrants face whenever they travel to a new land for any extended amount of time, especially when they plan for a more permanent stay.

Makina even asks her brother, “Why not leave, then?” to which he responds, “Not now. Too late. I already fought for these people. There must be something they fight so hard for. So I’m staying in the army while I figure out what it is”(93). Makina’s brother originally came to the United States to retrieve land that supposedly was owned by his family, in hopes of making a profit before returning home. However when that plan proved fruitless, he was roped into the army in the hopes of making his trip worth something.

That vague idea of something, a ‘meaning’ for his journey is a goal forever out of reach due to its inherent ambiguity. After losing his simple plan of ‘retrieve land’‘profit’, Makina’s brother is without purpose. Yet, he still has the drive to make something of himself and so he stays in America, rather than returning home to Mexico empty-handed.

Now that he has it in his head that he plans for an extended stay, naturally he would wish to become comfortable in his new surroundings. This means adapting, or even conforming. Being in the army this concept is exacerbated to an even greater extent as uniformity is important to the cohesion of the military. While strict, this structure provides a measure of predictability to his life, and in that routine comes comfort.

Furthermore, Makina’s brother arrived alone, and lived with and among Americans nearly his entire stay in the United States. Without a constant presence of a family from his home’s culture, there is nothing immediately tying him to his heritage. And so, he slowly sheds his identity as the Makina’s brother, the Mexican boy, to the young American that has fought for the sake of his country.

This slow shifting of identities is frightening in a sense, as it is a simple thing for smaller cultures to become absorbed and diluted by significantly larger ones. Yuri Herrera captures this gradual indoctrination with frightening accuracy throughout the novel.


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