It may be that this review is long overdue since the 1987 release of the book and its 2006 update. Yet its subject matter continues to be as relevant, or perhaps much more, as it was 22 years ago. Coyotes, a Journey through the Secret World of America’s Illegal Aliens is much more than an adventure, this is the story of desperation, survival, and the human condition. It humanizes the migrants, giving them the voice much needed to be accepted as fellow human beings. Teo, as Mr. Conover is named among his migrant friends, treks through the rough, risky, and illegal path that Mexican migrant workers take in their seasonal commute to work. Disguising to avoid bringing attention to himself for fear of, the suspicion of the human traffickers – los coyotes, the illegal crossing, los patrones in the US, the US migra and law enforcement, Teo experiences an identity crisis that becomes a significant issue among those that are compelled to lead this life, as well as their families.
This book should be required reading, as it is a necessity among those that argue the immigrant issue on both sides, and those that choose ignorance on the subject. Whether one is for or against the building of a concrete wall along the US/Mexico border, this story will enlighten your mind, deepen your heart, and nauseate your gut. It will cause you to think, to feel, and motivate you to be aware of your involvement, directly and indirectly, with these fellow human beings. I would appeal to Mr. Conover to continue giving voice to this subject and this fascinating and industrious group of survivors.
Wondrous quotes from the book to consider,
- (On the poor and work) America’s poor, young and old, take little interest in work so poorly paid it weems tantamount to begging. In Mexico, though, where work is tantamount to survival, the lowest job is still an opportunity.
- (On the border) …a fascinating place the border is. They had crossed south, to spend money. We would be heading north, to earn it. Nowhere on earth did such a developed country border one so poor. …all that was different came into strong relief: rich and poor, light and dark, content and hungry, mild and spicy, ahead and behind.
- (On group management) The Mexicans had a very different style for managing groups than americans do. There was no explanation of how far we would have to walk to meet the coyote, no questions or answers concerning how long it would take. Leaders made the decisions and the others followed. Broad consensus making was not a part of it; as the moment of departure approached, nobody checked around and asked, “Everybody ready?”
- (On crossing the desert) I was getting tired, and was impressed by how the Mexicans kept up the pace. I thought of Mexican nourishment: weren’t Americans much better fed? But, even on camping trips with backpacks, I couldn’t ever remember having pushed it like this. I didn’t think my american friends and I-even with European hiking boots and the finest clothing -would have been able to do it, not without eating, not for so long. How could you explain it? Was it simply will? Growing up accustomed to hardship? Was it fear?
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On the motivation to study a foreign language… Mostly I was motivated by my personal relationships/friendships with my Spanish teachers throughout Waldorf [Education]. They were always people who inspired and challenged me.
Ian Pollard Student at the University of Texas at Austin