CROSSING BORDERS IN PURSUIT OF A FATHER
By Jean Guerrero – Author of “CRUX: A Cross-Border Memoir”.
I grew up a few minutes north of one of the world’s busiest border crossings, the San Ysidro Port of Entry, with a father who enjoyed going back and forth between the United States and Mexico.
When I was a little girl, Papi often took me to the Baja California coast to pull hermit crabs and conchas de mar out of the tide pools, telling me their names in Spanish. He’d point at the ocean and whisper about shipwrecks and mermaids beneath the surface.
He was a playful father, full of fantastical stories. He was resourceful too: he could align breaks, fix broken pipes, carve steel plates for ships. Once, he tapped my mother’s telephone line. All that lay beyond the boundaries of accessible experience was fascinating to him: the deep sea, outer space, my mother’s private conversations.
Eventually, he left the boundaries of what most of us would define as reality altogether.
Papi concluded that the CIA was subjecting him to mind control experiments. He heard voices in his head and felt painful electric shocks in his body. I felt I had to recover the enchanting father of my youth. The only way to do so was to travel into his world. I moved to Mexico to try to understand my father, researching his past and the country that made him. I wrote CRUX: A Cross-Border Memoir to solve the mystery.
Borders seduced me, too: between reality and imagination, substance abuse and sobriety, safety and peril. They were lines that beckoned me deeper into my father’s reality. As I crossed borders in pursuit of him, I became increasingly self-destructive, experimenting with drugs and dangerous men and sneaking into smuggling routes for my work. I was becoming my father. But I had pursued a career in journalism. This provided a foundation to follow back to earth. CRUX is nonfiction, a reported memoir. Journalism gave me the tools to untangle myself from my father. Discovering that Papi was many things at once –– not just one thing –– saved me.
While researching my father’s roots in Mexico, I learned that his great grandmother Juanita was a clairvoyant curandera who was paid to commune with the dead: La Adivina. While nonfiction, CRUX is also full of magic. I believe embracing the contradictory nature of reality has kept me sane. Science and spirituality can dwell side by side; it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Growing up in a border town taught me that.
Papi recently built a garden of curative plants. His cupboards hold homemade powders and potions. While talking about wanting to die, he heals sick friends and relatives.
A few months ago, my car stopped working in Tijuana, Mexico while I was on assignment on a Friday night. My phone was almost dead. A few strangers tried to jump-start my car, in vain. I called my father. He was drunk in San Diego, self-medicating an unbearable heaviness in his limbs. He asked me to text him a “pin” of my location so he could send a cross-border tow truck. Fifteen minutes later, Papi himself showed up on his motorcycle. He threw open the hood of my car, whiskey on his breath, and tinkered with my engine. I was able to go back home in my repaired vehicle, full of love and concern for my father: hero and anti-hero, reckless and reliable. At the end of the day, he’d saved me.
Jean Guerrero is an Emmy-award-winning reporter for KPBS, the NPR and PBS affiliate in San Diego. She reports on immigration and border issues for public radio and TV stations across the country. She has also worked for The Wall Street Journal in Mexico City and has an MFA from Goucher College. Her book CRUX: A Cross-Border Memoir was published by One World / Random House. She won the PEN/FUSION Emerging Writers prize. To learn more about Jean visit www.jeanguerrero.com
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