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Setting & Genre




• Latin American novel

• Quest narrative

Setting Overview:

Into the Beautiful North takes place in Tres Camarones, a fictional town in Central Mexico, San Diego, Tijuana and "on the road." It is the story of a small group of Mexicans as they journey north into the United States on a quest to save their hometown from bandidos.

Questions for Analysis

  • What is your impression of Tres Camarones?
  • From the author’s description, what kind of picture do you have of the town and how does this influences the readers’ sympathies for this quest?

Background Information

• El Rosario, Sinaloa – Rosario, Sinaloa is the town referred to as Tres Camarones in Urrea's writing. El Rosario is a city and its surrounding municipality in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. El Rosario, a small town about 31 miles (50 km) south of Mazatlán, is famous for the altar in the town church. El Rosario was once the richest town in Southwest Mexico because of the local mining operations.

• United States-Mexico Border: The international border between the United States and Mexico runs from Imperial Beach, California and Tijuana, Mexico in the west, to Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, in the east. It traverses a variety of terrains, ranging from major urban areas to inhospitable deserts. From the Gulf of Mexico, it follows the course of the Rio Grande (Río Bravo del Norte) to the border crossing at El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez. It crosses vast tracts of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Desert, the Colorado River Delta, westward to the Pacific Ocean. The US-Mexican border is considered an open border.

• United States-Mexico Border Enforcement: The United States–Mexico border has the second highest number of both legal and illegal crossings of any land border in the world, behind the Canada – United States border. Today, the border is guarded by twenty thousand border patrol agents, more than any time in its history. However, they only have "effective control" of less than 700 miles (1,100 km) of the 1,954 miles (3,145 km) of total border, with an ability to actually prevent or stop illegal entries along 129 miles (208 km) of that border. The border is paralleled by United States Border Patrol Interior Checkpoints at major roads generally between 25 and 75 miles (121 km) to the U.S. side of the border, and garitas generally within 50 km of the border on the Mexican side.

Kankakee, Illinois

Luis Alberto Urrea wrote the following article in the New York Times about Kankakee

Kankakee Gets Its Groove Back

by Luis Alberto Urrea

It seems the only time Chicagoans think of the small city of Kankakee fifty- five miles to the south is when the inevitable springtime storm warnings crawl across the bottom of our televisions. If a bad storm or tornado is coming, chances are pretty good that Kankakee is in its path. A few years ago, Kankakee was listed as one of the worst cities in America. David Letterman deepened the insult by shipping the city two prefabricated gazebos to elevate the livability factor.

When a Kankakee library board member, Mary Jo Johnston, recently invited me there to do a reading, she warned me to watch for wild turkeys on the highway. I expected twenty- five retired women in a quaint brick building. It took me three drive- bys to realize that the corporate tower in the center of town was the library and that more than 325 citizens of Kankakee were waiting inside.

This reception had little to do with me — and everything to do with Kankakee, the commercial engine of a county still reeling from an economic downturn. Kankakee is pulling itself back from the brink. And it all started with the library. The one thing that the people of Kankakee know is that to rebuild a suffering city, you first have to reconstruct its culture, its community.

Mayor Donald Green, sixty- three, has lived in Kankakee his entire life. But as Mayor Green started his thirteenth year in office last month, he did so in a town where 60 to 70 percent of the homes sold now are being bought by newcomers.

You could see that reflected in the audience at the library. There were the expected bright Midwestern faces. But beside them were the faces of people who’d once lived in the Chicago projects and the towns of Guanajuato State in Mexico, who were now working in Kankakee’s farms, nurseries, and restaurants.

When Mayor Green realized that the overwhelming majority of Kankakee’s Hispanic residents (who account for about 10 percent of its population) hailed from Guanajuato, he took a delegation of community representatives down there to forge an alliance. By creating a “sister city” relationship, Mayor Green wanted his newest citizens to understand they have a role in determining Kankakee’s future.

“My philosophy is you can take this community, revitalize it, make it financially solvent,” he said. “You give it all back to the people of the community because they are the ones who have the power.”

When Provena Health abandoned its headquarters in the seven story Executive Center downtown in 2002, it was the community’s idea to convert it into a library. Less than a year after the renovations started, the Kankakee Public Library moved from a dilapidated 105- year- old building into a sophisticated showplace that extended over three floors.

This new public library has become the cultural hub of the city, crucial to its downtown revitalization. A new bank and a satellite university campus have already been completed, and a park with a water fountain is on its way. (Mr. Letterman’s gazebos are still in use.) “It all started with the library,” Mayor Green said. “I can’t tell you how proud that makes our community.”

Our cities are scrambling to find fresh paradigms for a new America. Maybe, just maybe, the Midwesterners, librarians, and Mexicans of Kankakee, Illinois, have found theirs.

This essay originally appeared in a somewhat different form in the New York Times on June 11, 2006. Reprinted with permission.

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