The border crossed us


Eddie Corazon has plenty of reasons to be confused and angry, but finds his way as a teenager in the US of Mexican descent through books


LouAnne Johnson
2009, Alfred A. Knopf
197 pages

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

WHAT MAKES a former US Navy journalist and Marine Corps officer become a high-school teacher is an interesting mystery, but even more interesting are her personal experiences and the stories she hears from her pupils.

Judging by the success of My posse don’t do homework (1992), which was made into the film Dangerous Minds in the 1990s one can congratulate the well-intentioned LouAnne Johnson for her work. The motion picture, however, was lambasted by some for being “unoriginal”, “offensive in terms of racial politics” and “a debased depiction of teaching and education”.

Turning her attention to a US working class teenager of Mexican descent at an “alternative” school in Muchacho, Johnson tells the story of Eddie Corazon, a boy with plenty of reasons to be confused and angry about life: he was wrongly labelled a sex offender; he is often told to “go back” to where he came from, never mind the fact that for 300 years generations of his family had been born in the place, and his grandfather explains “we didn’t cross the border, mijo. The border crossed us”.

No mercy

Eddie knows he is an intelligent kid, but he is also convinced that studying is a pointless exercise. He concludes: “We’d still be freaks and losers except we’d be freaks and losers with educations, so we’d understand exactly what we couldn’t have”.

For the men in his hood, there is no mercy (in one way or another they are tainted by the pressures of working like slaves, “building a reputation”, crime or prejudice), and to opt out can be deadly.

Eddie dreams of the day when school teaches you “how to make somebody really love you, and how to turn off that little voice in your head that tells you what a loser you are”.

But the deciding factors for real change in Eddie’s perceptions about school are his interactions with women, a car crash, a punch up and a lesson in sensibility.

The most important lesson in this story is that, to learn to like reading, you only need to find the right book. A cop suggests that he read The Four Agreements, “a real short book” that “can change your life” – but for Eddie the life-changing book is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

Readers can perceive that Eddie and the rest of the characters are based on real people, and constructed with great affection in a narrative that is engaging and good enough to be read aloud in class.

Johnson manages to highlight that students and education in general in US schools have problems of their own, and can be a good companion to The Freedom Writers (1999), the trail-blazing work of non-fiction written by students under their teacher Erin Gruwell.

Nonetheless, teenage readers from abroad can also benefit from reading Muchacho, and by accessing the author’s website they can also obtain free student guides. The website also provides interesting free materials for teachers.

Author’s website

WATCH the author talking about Muchacho on Youtube

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer

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