Border Child by Michel Stone: A review

The story of Mexican migration is a literary land mind, its lore and iconography, deep and opaque. Intractable images abound—aliens and walls, Arpaio and invaders—all frozen in the mind’s eye. The human story begging for nuance, still percolating in the stomach-acid of immigration blather.

We have shared a border with our Mexican compadres for almost two-hundred-and-fifty-years. We sun and play in their playas while the poorest of their poor labor in our fields, scrub toilets, and work the night shift, caring for the dying. Yet, we know precious little about the complexity of the Mexican people, their real history, world-view, and reality, especially the paperless adventurers who dare to cross over in darkness. Their parable trapped in icy clichés.

Border Child is a welcome literary ice pick, a sharp and poignant story that chips away at the pejoratives and slander, bigotry and dehumanization of people wandering in search of a better life. The book invites nothing but lovely sentiment and delivers a few colorful surprises; a cartel’s hush-hush cooler packed, with colorful parrots, a daughter sensing the presence of a mother she had never known in a glob of clay. Stone has a strong feminine touch, her voice paced and steady, never intrusive.

There are some romanticized moments and imagery in the book. The once idyllic life of Mexican artisans and campesinos is fast disappearing, replaced by urban slums, clear-cut forests, alcohol and drug abuse, and dangerous, political corruption. Even the colonial City of Oaxaca, where the story unfolds, now overrun by invasive tourism, its zocalo full of plastic Chinese goods.

Stones lens however does not interfere with the powerful dignity she carves into the lives of Lilia and Hector, and their beautiful children Alejandra, Fernando, and Elizabeth, nor with this heartbreaking tale of love and loss. In fact, it is her American voice and easy-way with words that makes this work so important and accessible for her audience.

Appropriately titled Border Child, this utterly human story invites us into the vulnerable world of an infant child and her migrating parents—something minacious, yet understandable—and into the foreign and ugly reality of a line in the sand, called a border. In doing so, Stone is insisting, in a soft and elegant manner, that we ask ourselves which of the two is most important.