A Woman’s Journey

     A hero’s journey requires separating from the comfort of a known way of life and moving  towards another way of being in the world. Makina, the female protagonist, in Yuri Herrera’s novel Signs Preceding the End of the World, embodies this role as she leaves the Little Town and journeys across the Big Chilango river.  Leaving behind her life as a trusted switchboard operator, Makina pushes against the western trope of the male hero and easily  inhabits the subject position of heroine in Herrera’s narrative. A reimagined hero emerges with all of the components associated with the hero’s journey in this non-traditional interpretation.  This immigrant’s story is important as it not only places a young woman at the center of a traditionally patriarchal narrative but concedes her gender and emotions as neither and both female.

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    US/Mexico Border (https://www.google.com/url?)

     Makina maintains her femininity and is a heroine.  Herrera does not create a hyper-sexualized aggressive female character in the tradition of western male prototypical leading men.  At the point of crossing the Big Chilango, Makina is helped by Chucho who she finds attractive and “before things got rough, felt him lean in close and sniff her hair, and she was glad she’d had the chance to shower” (39).  Held under by the swift current, Makina panics but then “intuited that it made no difference which way she headed or how fast she went, that in the end she’d wind up where she needed to be. She smiled”(39).  She is savvy, smart, and sensual without displays of overt masculinity or dominant stereotypical tropes of manliness.  Makina speaks three languages, can navigate the slippery world of the patriarchal Latino power dynamics in her community and across the border, and trusts her intuition during the journey. She does not use knives or guns, or overt shows of power and aggression to be a compelling character.

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     There is nothing extraordinary in her success because women are heroes.  Her story is only extraordinary because the perspective is from a female inhabiting a traditional role who is often bland and muted by male characters who fight and demand their power. Makina is comfortable in position as the heroine and does not need the drama of complete subjugation to succeed. She can die and rise again over and over coming out with scars and lessons learned while inhabiting the complex amalgam of daughter, sister, lover, and heroine.

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The Love and Hate Shared Between Two Lands

Is there truly anyway a person can fully understand how difficult it is travel across the border? Without personally living through the experience, told stories and experiences are all people have to learn from. One of Mexico’s greatest novelists, Yuri Herrera gives people an insight on how difficult and dangerous it is to travel as an alone female. In his novel,Signs Preceding the End of the WorldMakina the main character experiences a range of emotions while she’s making the journey from hope, to pure terror, feeling exposed, and feeling lost. The story is told through her point of view, and gives the feeling as if you are a fly on her back the whole time, experiencing everything she did. With out this first person point of view the audience would not have an immediate feeling of being violated or defeated. Written by Yuri Herrera and translated by Lisa Dillman, these two allowed many people to see how emotionally and physically exhausting the journey is.

Unknown.jpeg‘Make America Mexico Again’ – Anti-Trumpers Wreak Havoc While Waving Mexican Flags. http://rightwise.com

Makina had to be so strong to endure everything she went through. Situations that included being violated on the bus, escaping from bullets, being interrogated by cops, to running into dead ends trying to find her kin. I loved that Makina was independently strong through her own initiative. Being sent from her family back in Mexico to find her brother in the states she had to decide for herself how she was going to survive and stand her ground. Two of her more powerful scenes that I inspired me were her encounter with the man on the bus in the beginning of the novel and her written note to the police officer towards the end. On the bus I believe this is the first time the audience sees how ruthless Makina is to any disrespect. As a man nonchalantly touches her thigh she takes control by twisting his fingers in a painful position and told him “I don’t like being pawed by fucking strangers, if you can believe it.” You go girl! Another one of my favorite scenes includes her writing a note a police officer. As the male officer is mocking and dehumanizing these immigrants, he yells at one to write why he is in trouble. Makina being the bad ass she is takes the paper and uses reverse psychology to call out the cop on his racism. She really is such a powerful and strong character.

The End of Her World

Recently, I finished the novel Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera and translated by Lisa Dillman. The Signs follows Makina, a young woman crossing the U.S./ Mexico border in search of her brother in the States. The novel was originally written in Spanish, and explores elements of pre-Columbus Aztec myth and a decolonized culture.  In Aztec myth, depending on how a person died, they may have to travel through the 9 levels of the Underworld for four years in order to reach paradise. Throughout the novel, there are subtle hints at the Aztec Underworld myth and the possibility that Makina is making such a journey.

The first hint that Makina is traveling through the Underworld is the chapter titles themselves. With nine chapters and nine levels to the Underworld, it is not easy to miss the suggestion. The chapter titles are: Earth, The Water Crossing, The Place Where the Hills Meet, The Obsidian Mound, The Place Where the Wind Cuts like a Knife, The Place Where the Flags Fly, The Place Where People’s Hearts are Eaten, The Snake That Lies in Wait, and The Obsidian Place With No Windows or Holes for Smoke. The correlating levels of the Underworld are called: Earth, River and Yellow Dog, Two Mountains, Obsidian Mountain, Bitter Wind, Banners, Arrows, Wild Beast, Narrow Place, and Soul at Rest. While are first glance the names do not directly match, the subjects of the chapters themselves play a large role into the connection. For example, in Chapter 2, the water and the river make an obvious connection, but we are left with Yellow Dog. Upon a quick Google search, I found that dogs in Aztec myth were believed to guide people to the Underworld after death. While there is no mention of the animal, there is the guide Chucho who helps Makina. The same happens for the levels Narrow Place and Soul at Rest. Chucho returns to help Makina in the last chapter and leads her to a small building, or the Narrow Place. Here, Chucho gives her the option to accept help and start life anew. Makina accepts and with a Soul at Rest, she says, “I’m ready” (107).

https://i0.wp.com/www.mexicolore.co.uk/images-aus/aus_57_00_2.jpg

“Illustration of the overworlds and underworlds” by Abel Mendoza.

Another hint to Makina’s journey being through the Underworld is Makina’s first and last sentence in the novel. Her first sentence is “I’m dead”, but the reader is led to believe by the following scene that Makina has only narrowly escaped death (11). However, in Chapter 3 Makina is hit by a stray bullet, and despite having an entrance and exit wound, and being able to see the gash it leaves behind, she comments that it “…didn’t hurt and barely bled” (96). A few pages later, Makina washes the wound and it appears to have healed. This scene stands out as odd not only because the protagonist brushes off a serious wound, but because the chapter before, Makina breaks a man’s finger, he cries out in pain, and is seen later with a large bandage. If Makina is dead though, why would she feel the pain of a bullet, and why then would she bleed? In which case, her last words in the novel are not odd either. In the last scene, Makina is standing in a white room with no windows, holding a file with her picture, but a different name. It is her new life. Instead of desperately wanting to return home immediately as she has desired the whole novel, Makina accepts, “I’m ready” (107). If this is indeed the end of her travels through the Underworld, her acceptance and eagerness to begin a new life fits perfectly.

Lastly, in Aztec myth the journey through Mitlan or the Underworld was completed in four years with the destination being the dwelling of the Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the dead. When a soul reached the Mictlantecuhtli, they would either find rest or disappear. In the novel, Makina completes her journey in roughly four days. By the fourth day, she has completed her original and final goal of finding her long lost brother. Once she has found him, her guide Chucho brings her to the small building where she is given the choice to stay or return home. Makina chooses life. Thus, Makina’s Underworld journey ends with finding rest.

 

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mictlantecuhtli

http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/ask-us/13-heavens-and-9-underworlds

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogs_in_Mesoamerican_folklore_and_myth

Signs to The Abyss

illustration of gray wire

Photo by izhar khan on Pexels.com

 

In Yuri Herrera’s novel Signs Preceding the End of the World, there is one word in particular that carries the weight of the novel. Makina, the main character of the story walks through vast landscapes to reach the one thing that people today cross borders for. Makina crosses the Mexican border to reach her brother. When Herrera writes, “She’d been asking after her brother around the edges of the abyss” (Herrera), we know that Makina is traveling through a kind of hell to reach a family member.  Despite all the darkness and violence that Makina is surrounded by she stops at nothing by traveling through an abyss to see a family member. Just like those today trying to reach family members on the other side of the border, Makina is determined to make something happen by traveling through an abyss.

 

Another instance when the author refers to the word, abyss in the novel is when he writes, “but the breadth of that abyss and the clean cut of its walls didn’t correspond to the modest exertion of the machines” (Herrera). This is right after when Makina, “cleaves her way through the cold on her own” (Herrera), which we can almost connect to Dante’s last circle of Hell, in which Dante had to travel through a frozen lake to get to the last circle, whereas with Makina, she travels through cold as well finally reaching her brother in the last stage of her travels. Maybe Makina’s travels weren’t as horrific as Dante’s travels, but the fact that Makina also traveled through cold during the final stage of her journey, creates an interesting metaphor for having to journey through an abyss.

 

 

 

SIGNS

We’ve been discussing Signs Preceding the End of the World, by Yuri Herrera, and Image result for signs preceding the end of the world sparknoteswe see that the opening image is striking and immediately captures our attention. I believe that this element is very crucial to this opening scene in the model. Herrera begins her novel with, “I’m dead, Makina said to herself, and hardly had she said it than her whole body began to contest that verdict and she flailed her feet frantically backward, each step mere inches from the sinkhole, until the precipice settled into a perfect circle and Makina was saved. Slippery bitch of a city, she said to herself. Always about to sink back into the cellar” (1). The opening scene is a girl, Makina, thought she was dead but actually missed the falling in the sinkhole by a couple of feet. The city that she lives in is falling apart and yet she continues on her day like nothing had happened or she hadn’t just been saved.

Makina ends up crossing the border to the US, in which she is still continuing to push forward on her feet to complete the journey for her mother. Makina is made a fighter from everything she goes through on her journey, which goes against gender stereotypical norms. Herrera may be trying to point out gender stereotypes that are in our world and her audience as the readers will be able to see in reality how girls act. In reality, we may be able to empower women for who they really are and not push them down but let them to flourish into beautiful flowers. Overall, both of these novels discussed very striking images that were important to these novels that help put the setting into place and allow us to embark on the journey that the authors wrote for us.

Also I believe that reading this novel is also very relevant in today’s current world. I believe that Herrera may had been trying to bring to light the dilemma of borders and its immigrants.  Makina is crossing the border of the United States of America and Mexico. Makina is traveling in honor of her mother and has put a lot of effort into her journey. Makina is traveling from, “The Little Town was riddled with bullet holes and tunnels bored by five centuries of voracious silver lust, and from time to time some poor soul Image result for borders us oldaccidentally discovered just what a half-assed job they’d done of covering them over” (2). When I read this quote I picture the silver mines that were in use and the wars that possibly may have happened due to the silver being found. The war with many bullets, could have been perpetuated by the silver being found. Humans want to live their best life and want to be wealthy. This little town may have been conquered by another country and then fought for independence and possibly had lost. This changes boundaries over and over again because different conquerors come and go and there is always someone that lands on top.

Also, when Makina is crossing the border she has no intention of staying which is odd due to most immigrants coming to America want to stay for a better future. This US-Mexico border is unstable because these borders are always changing. I truly saw this for my own eyes when we went to the art exhibit and saw all the different maps. There were maps depicting the same countries and states from different periods of times and in which there were many different borders that we don’t see in present day. The dilemma of immigrants and borders is something that in the end must be handled delicately because in the end we are all skulls and bones when we end up in the grave, 6 feet under.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

worldliteraturetoday.org/…/signs-preceding-end-world-yuri-herrera

aboutthesky.com/…/1045-mexico-original-borders

Mirrors Reverse the Signs

Few novels capture the spirit of the immigrant and the struggles they face leaving home, crossing the U.S. border, and integrating into American society.  Signs Preceding the End of the World is one of these few. It is a brilliant novella written by Yuri Herrera in mythology structure and tone. Short synopsis: a swaggin’ young lady, Makina, travels from her homeland of Mexico to the U.S. to find her M.I.A. brother. In the process, she goes through a metaphoric journey through the nine levels of hell as she lets go of who she is and begins to see that there is no such thing as home anymore.

The main reason she can never feel at home in the U.S. is because she is alienated, hunted,  and discriminated against. One specific scene makes this extra clear. A cop interrogates Makina and a handful of other immigrants, when she writes ten lines of injustice as she has experienced it while on her journey. Then she hands these thoughts over to him:

We are to blame for this destruction, we who don’t speak your tongue and don’t know how to keep quiet either. We who didn’t come by boat, who dirty up your doorsteps with our dust, who break your barbed wire. We who came to take your jobs, who dream of wiping your shit, who long to work all hours. We who fill your shiny clean streets with the smell of food, who brought you violence you’d never known, who deliver your dope, who deserve to be chained by neck and feet. We who are happy to die for you, what else could we do? We, the ones who are waiting for who knows what. We, the dark, the short, the greasy, the shifty, the fat, the anemic. We the barbarians. (Herrera 99-100)

Do these words remind you of anything?

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” -Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

Whether or not this was intentional (though I highly think it was), Herrera reverses the spirit of racism by mirroring the Preamble (above), which promises to make the country as united, just, and fair as a nation can be. Makina writes her own Constitution for Mexican immigrants everywhere as she bridges her people and their culture with the so-called diverse one of America.

The End of Makina’s World

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While the book opens with our main character Makina saying, “I’m dead”, we learn that she is very much alive and about to go on a journey of a lifetime. Yuri Herrera’s “Signs Preceding the End of the World” is centered around Makina, a young street-smart Latina who must travel across the US-Mexico border to rescue her brother who went to the US in search of opportunity but ended up getting scammed. We follow her as she encounters friends and foes and we get a glimpse of what’s happening inside her head while on this mission.

 

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Even though this isn’t the end of the actual world, despite the name of the book, this is the end of Makina’s world as she knows it. Since we can only know and experience what Makina is going through, we see that her view of the United States is negative, almost like it’s a place where dreams go to die instead of where they come true. Through Makina’s eyes, Mexico is this lovely, friendly, wonderful place and the United States is scary, dangerous, and unfamiliar. This is interesting because most of us who are reading this book are from the United States and to hear this character talk about our homeland like it’s a hellhole is definitely a strange experience. However, Makina’s perspective isn’t completely wrong. People migrate to the United States all the time in hopes of a better life just to get sent back to their country or sometimes even get thrown in jail. These are Makina’s people that are getting treated like dirt by US citizens for risking their lives to cross over a border so in a way, Makina has a right to feel alienated and uncomfortable in this new world. Makina’s life is in Mexico and to have to leave her home and enter a new one is terrifying, especially when her people aren’t treated well in this other country. While it’s definitely not all sunshine and roses living as a US citizen, people risk their lives every day because of the stories of the “American Dream”, including Makina’s brother, and while some end up making it, others do not.

Herrera’s Makina

From what I heard, Signs Preceding the End of the World is a translated novel by Yuri Herrera. It can easily be summarized as a woman, Makina, crossing the border between Mexico and America to deliver a letter and get her brother back. It sounds like an adventurous story full of conflict but the author makes the trip sound like it’s nothing. It’s mostly due to how he created Makina, a Mexican woman who behaves like a secretary in modern standards but has a very important role and isn’t portrayed like most Latin women in Spanish literature. For starters, she’s no pushover, Makina sounds like any woman doing what she’s told to at first glance but she’s not afraid to punch a guy, hold a normal conversation with an underground mob boss, or snap off a groper’s finger. On pages 30-32, Makina was getting her bus ticket and these two younger guys where used for Herrera to show how tough she is; one of the guys at the bus, let’s call him Lucky, was trying to “accidentally” feel up Makina’s thigh but she caught his finger, bent it back to his wrist, and said “You crossing over to find a gig? Then you’ll need every finger you’ve got, won’t you? Cause you can’t cook or pick with your tootsies, now can you? So [listen] up,I’m going to let you go and you’re going to curl up with your little friend back there, and I swear on all your pain that if you even so much as think about me again, the only thing that hand’s going to be good for is wiping ass”. A long statement but it perfectly captures Makina is as a character and woman this early in the novel. Maybe not entirely as a woman but it shows her defiance against another guy and that’s something not all female characters portray in Latin literature.
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Another thing to point out is Makina’s purpose, she’s the messenger in all this. She’s told to deliver this to so-and-so, meet up with that guy and that guy, and so on. Normally this would be a parallel to her strong character but Herrera makes her profession more meaningful than being just a messenger. “You don’t lift other people’s petticoats. You don’t stop to wonder about other people’s business. You are the door, not the one who walks through it (page 18)”, those are the rules Makina goes by. That’s how Herrera describes Makina, not as a maid or servant but as a bridge from one person to another. Herrera makes this more important by mentioning, on the same page, that Makina operates a switchboard with the only phone in her village for miles and being able to talk in three tongues, “sometimes they called from nearby villages and she answered them in native tongue or latin tongue. Sometimes… they called from the North; these were the ones who’d often already forgotten the local lingo, so [Makina] responded responded to them in their own new tongue. [She] spoke all three, and knew to to keep quiet in all three, too (page 19)”.
In short, Herrera’s female protagonist is someone unique, who can run any errand and be expected to come back for more. She’s not tied down for being a woman or a messenger, she does what she’s told to do and isn’t weak or vulnerable because she’s a woman. In fact, she used her sexuality to take advantage of the opposite gender and isn’t faint from violence, “even though she hadn’t wanted to be fawned over, just wanted a man to lend himself, [the boyfriend] touched her with such reverence that it must have been smoldering inside him for ages (page 27)”, “Before [Makina] was through, [the boyfriend] nodded as if to say Yeah, yeah, just sticking your tongue in my mouth again, and then turned and versed with the weariness o a man who knows he’s being played and can’t do a thing about it (page 29)”, “With his cane, [the old man]pointed to a little door at the back of the store [where Makina] washed her hands and face; the wound on her ribs was dry and when she rubbed the soap across it hardly even stung (page 58)”.
These quotes Herrera made are meant to establish the type of character Makina is because if she and her brother switched roles, Makina being in the US and her brother running all of her errands and making the trip across the border to get her, then it wouldn’t have the same impact or carried as much weight as another Latino doing a man’s job.

Why Immigrants come to the United States?

Last night I finally finished reading, Signs, by Yuri Herrera and translated by Lisa Dillman. In short, it is about a Latina woman named Makina, who resides in Mexico and goes through many trials and tribulations in order to search for her brother in the United States. What I thought was interesting in this book is the reason why her brother leaves. I was expecting to hear a sad story of one family member leaving to help the ones who stay behind. That was not the case, he left to try to claim the land they had supposable left from their father, “…I’m off to claim what’s ours. Makina tried to convince him that it was all just talk but he insisted Someone’s got to fight for what’s ours and I got the balls if you don’t ” (29). Makina mentions he sends a few notes, but no money. I decided to further research the reasons Mexicans leave their homes and families in the real world.

Calexico border crossing into Mexicali

After reading a couple articles from credible online sources I found out the main reason people leave their country is to alleviate themselves from poverty. According to CNN, ”Mexican government and business leaders agreed on Tuesday to raise the country’s minimum wage starting on December 1 to 88.36 pesos from 80.04 pesos ”. This article came out in December 2017, and in U.S. dollars that is $4.70 A DAY these people are making! You can do the math and clearly see families are living in poverty. These families are going to the United States to survive, because their own government evidently does not care about their well being. The United States minimum wage is currently $7.25 AN HOUR. It is an issue for Americans, but not for immigrants.

People also leave to escape the violence drug cartels bring on. According to USA Today, “In Mexico, the government has fought drug cartels for years. That war and the battle between cartels over territory have left a trail of destruction and blood. Homicide rates broke records after the arrest and extradition of former drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman ”. The cartels murder anyone standing in their way of reaching their goal, regardless if their innocent or not. The United States is far from perfect, but if you compare their drug violence to ours, we are a safer country.

Image result for mexican cartel map 2018

Works Cited

Hayes, Christal. “Thousands of Immigrants Pass through the Southern Border. Why Are They Fleeing Their Home Countries?” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 25 June 2018, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/06/25/immigrant-family-separation-why-flee-home-countries/729013002/.

Patrick Gillespie business leaders agreed on Tuesday to raise the country’s minimum wage starting on December 1 to 88.36 pesos from 80.04 pesos. The 10% raise is good news for 24.7 million Mexicans who work either one or two minimum wage jobs. “Mexico to Raise Minimum Wage…to $4.70 a Day.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, 20 Dec. 2017, money.cnn.com/2017/11/22/news/economy/mexico-minimum-wage/index.html.

Tucker, Duncan. “Mexico’s Most-Wanted: A Guide to the Drug Cartels.” BBC News, BBC, 27 Mar. 2018, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-40480405.

Mary Ann. “Crossing from Calexico, California to Mexicali, Mexico.” Mexicali MaryAnn, 26 Mar. 2010, mexicalimaryann.com/2010/03/26/crossing-from-calexico-california-to-mexicali-mexico/.

The Loss of Identity

In Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, the reader follows the travels of a young woman named Makina who is searching for her brother. Throughout the book one can see the identity of Makina and those around her being lost as they stay longer on the other side of the border. This identity makes up who Makina is as a person. The identity includes one’s beliefs, one’s cultural practices, one’s religion, one’s way of life, etc. As Makina searches for her brother, she assures herself “She was coming right back, that’s why that was all she took” (Herrera 52). The situation of telling either yourself or others that you will only be gone for a short amount of time to go to a certain country is not always true.

Grayscale Photo of Road

People will have all sorts of reasons for leaving their homeland, but assure themselves they will return. In the case of Makina’s brother, his original intent was to obtain land. In Makina’s case, she left her country and crossed the border to get her brother back. In the end they both stayed. This is something I’ve seen with people from extended family or friends. They tell their loved ones in Vietnam they will return with riches, or whatever reason, then they would end up staying in that other country and never return. If they do return, it is only temporary and they who have left their homeland has become someone else like how Makina’s brother took on a new identity and let his old one die. It is something about the new land that seduces oneself entirely. Whether it is the food, the culture or cultures present, it draws the curious in and them traps them. At the end of the novel Makina after being given a new identity “understood with all of her body and all of her memory, she truly understood, and when everything in the world fell silent finally said to herself I’m ready” (Herrera 107). It is this acceptance that Makina realizes there is no fighting this change for she too has been bound by this new world. The old identity, the original person that arrived in this new land is no longer present. Staying in new lands is like poison. They take their time killing off one’s original identity until all that is left is a shell for a brand new identity is take place. People leave, but they never return the same if they return at all. Something always lingers from the new land visited. The new world will affect the old world within either by completely killing off the original identity replacing it with another, or corrupting one’s identity with new ideals.

Aerial Photo Of High-rise Building

Sources:

Herrera, Yuri, and Lisa Dillman. Signs Preceding the End of the World. And Other Stories, 2015.

https://www.pexels.com/photo/grayscale-photo-of-road-1038935/

https://www.pexels.com/photo/aerial-photo-of-high-rise-building-754587/