An American Journey: Culiacan to Redwood City is the personal memoir of Salomon Quintero. Mr. Quintero led a fascinating life. He met Cesar Chavez, participated in protests, spent some time in jail because of his participation, had several simultaneous romantic relationships before finding the love of his life, had a successful law career, and finally retired to find inner peace.
No less fascinating were the lives of his parents and grandparents. Salomon’s great-grandfather was born in Mexico when Benito Juarez was president. His grandfather died during the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1918, leaving a young pregnant wife behind. His father, Antonio, played football with Kenny Washington and went to Mexico to live for a while in the 1940s to avoid the draft where he met and married Beatriz from Culiacan.
After a failed business venture, Antonio decided to head back to the U.S. to look for work. He was detained at the border and forced to enlist. Beatriz smuggled her infant son across the border under her coat and registered him several months later in the U.S. Subsequent children were born in the U.S. and had a fairly typical American upbringing.
Mr. Quintero shares the trauma his father endured as a soldier stationed in the Philippines. He also chronicles the ongoing family house expansion over the years. He mentions fascinating characters that were part of his life growing up but doesn’t follow up on their lives or talk about how their presence otherwise influenced his childhood.
I was slightly disappointed with the erratic flow of the book. Chapters seem to be organized around different themes rather than chronologically, which made it difficult to keep track of how the story pieces fit together and who the characters were at any given point in the story.
Then there were odd tidbits that I would think a little research would have cleared up. For instance, Mr. Quintero mentions that Claire, a Jewish girl from New York, might have been married to his father. Shouldn’t there be records on that? He alludes to the fact that his newly married parents experienced hardships that remained family secrets as long as his mother lived, but doesn’t specify what those hardships might have been. In for a penny, in for a pound Mr. Quintero.
There were historical references and certain terms that could have been clarified for readers.
Mr. Quintero mentions that the cost of coyotes is exorbitant but doesn’t explain that he is referring to human smugglers, not the animal. This term and process could have been expanded on when he talks about how his mother smuggled her son across the border. Or when he talked about his family moving from the Cananea Copper Mines to take employment at the Copper Queen Mine, probably with the intervention of a labor-brokerage coyote.
Mr. Quintero tells us briefly that his grandfather worked at the Cananea Copper Mines but doesn’t include the information that during that time period a violently oppressed labor strike at the mines was one of the factors leading the Mexican Revolution.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading An American Journey: Culiacan to Redwood City. I did. In fact, I enjoyed reading it so much, that I wanted more, more clarification, more details, more organization, more historical references. I felt at times I was getting the cliff notes version of Mr. Quintero’s full and rich family history. I expect that since some of Mr. Quintero’s family is still alive, there may have been things he preferred not to dredge up. Be that as it may, I still found an engaging read.
This book was reviewed at Reedsy Discovery.