Yuri Herrera, Makina, and the Failure of United States Identity

It had hardly been more than a few dozen yards, but on staring up at the sky Makina thought that it was already different, more distant or less blue. (Herrera, 40)”

This quote from the novel Signs Preceding the End of the World by Mexican author Yuri Herrera could be described as the core view of many non-U.S. cultures on the rest of the United States. The novel, originally written in Spanish of course and translated into English, which is the novel I had read, is set up as the classic “heroes journey” style, where our main character Makina, resident of the fictional city of Little Town in Mexico, goes on a journey to the U.S. to find her brother, and also on a journey of her own self discovery.

While the story itself is indeed a classic, one of the many themes and messages Herrera covers is the idea that the United States (you know, the country that’s supposedly the ‘land of the free’, a country filled with opportunities to create a better life in the ideological system of the capitalist, nationalist regime) has become a place that is dreaded to go to by immigrants from across the world. Throughout the novel, Herrera presents us with many examples of the narcissistic nature of American ideals. Whether it’s some old white woman that steals Makina’s make-up (Chapter 3, page 34) or a loud and obnoxious cop with a superiority complex (Chapter 8, page 97), the message becomes clear.

The United States has become a cesspool of hate, racism, greed, and cultural insensitivity. The U.S. citizens keep believing that they’re the only “civilized” country in the world, and yet they see themselves as superior to any person with a slightly darker skin tone as them.  Cultures are destroyed because they are frowned upon the moment they come into the country. And it’s not like the U.S. is barely acting like this, ever heard of slavery? Or colonialism? Herrera helps us see the harsh truth that the United States isn’t very united with the rest of the world. People here are seen as so horrible that people, like Makina, dread to come here, knowing that they’ll be treated so harshly.

And it has only got worse. We’ve elected corrupt officials, men that only wish to fill their bank accounts and men that only want to create barriers, separating ourselves from the world even more. And people are legitimately surprised at how American’s are seen by foreign countries. The U.S., as Makina puts it, is a place that is “less home” and “more distant”. She’s not saying it’s physically far off from her home in Mexico; she’s saying that it’s so far off from a true livable country, that anyone, even those born here, are treated like outcasts.

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