Good News and Bad News ; A Memoir of Success, a Journey of Horror

Article excerpt

Take away the political fireworks, and the word immigration summons two distinct stories: one a tale of hope and endless potential, the other of risk, poverty, and sullied dreams.

While no person's life can be so easily reduced, two new books exemplify the two tales. Rose Castillo Guilbault in "Farmworker's Daughter" recalls her journey as a 5-year-old from Sonora, Mexico, to the Salinas Valley of California, where her divorced mother hoped to start anew with the encouragement of a distant cousin.

The duo faces plenty of hardship: Rose's mother initially works without pay in her cousin's restaurant; Rose bears the ethnic taunts of her classmates. When her mother meets the bracero, or farmhand, she will eventually marry, the three move to a farm deep into the country, isolated from the street life they knew so well back home.

Yet they are eventually able to buy their own home - her mother's dream - and watch their daughter attend college. The book ends with Rose, working her last summer with migrant workers to make money before heading to university. She goes on to become a columnist for Pacific News Service and the San Francisco Chronicle and now is vice president for corporate affairs at AAA of Northern California.

It's an affectionate story and a compelling one, full of poignant, powerful description. Yet, as is often the case with autobiographies following a strict chronology, some sections grow tiresome, while others fly by too fast.

In contrast to Rose's success story, journalist Jorge Ramos chronicles the last hours of a trip cut tragically short in "Dying to Cross, The Worst Immigrant Tragedy in American History."

On May 13, 2003, about 70 people were packed into a trailer headed from Harlingen, Texas, to Houston. It was one of the hottest days of the spring, the air conditioning was off, and the walls offered no ventilation. In the end, 19 immigrants died, including a 5-year-old boy. …