This novel is about two mothers engaged in a custody fight over a child called Ignacio. He is alternately called Iggy and Nacho by the two women who love him. Who is the best mother for him? Is a two parent family better? Who is the legitimate mother? Who deserves custody? Who could provide the better life for the child? Would his life be better because his mother is rich and can provide him with a proper home, education and promising future, or would his life be better because his birth mother raises him in their common culture and language, but in poverty and with few of life’s benefits or opportunities? Who has the most right to that child? Who should have the right to decide such an issue? These are just some of the questions raised by this book. Others are about the immigration system and the treatment of undocumented foreigners or illegal aliens who enter the country without the proper papers, breaking the law, and then in order to stay, often break more laws. Are they really herded into unsafe, bug and rodent infested centers and then faced with substandard food, substandard treatment, mockery, rape, blackmail and physical and psychological abuse by corrupt and cruel guards working in a malicious, inhumane system with no oversight? I was horrified by the scenario the author presented and had never before heard of such abuses.
Both of the women who love Ignacio are from immigrant backgrounds. The birth mother, Solimar Castro-Valdez is from Santa Clara Popocalco, a village in Mexico that cannot even be found on a map. Her village is gasping for breath. The residents there, live from hand to mouth, often depending on relatives who are in America for support. How they manage to get into America does not concern them that much, although they know the passage into the USA is very dangerous. They believe they have no hope for a better life unless they try. They know that they will likely never be reunited with their families, never be able to return, but they will be able to send back money for them to improve their lives, and hopefully, they will have better lives as well. They are desperate for something else!
Before Solimar even arrived in California, she was robbed, cheated, beaten and raped by a variety of thugs in her own country. Bribery and lies were the standard fare to conduct business in Mexico. Now in America, she is illegal and always afraid of being discovered. There was danger here, as well. Soon, she breaks another law and buys false papers to satisfy her employer. Did she realize that she bought fake papers, that all the money she paid only bought her counterfeit documents?
In the end, whether or not she knew did not matter. She was manipulated into doing and saying things by law enforcement officers who never took the time to understand her plight or explain her situation to her when she was arrested? She was angry and frustrated. She knew she was doing something wrong and yet she continued, in order to remain in America. The more she got away with, the more arrogant she became about what she expected and how she expected to be treated. In her situation, did she have the right to any expectations? Did she have a right to object to her situation?
When Solimar was arrested, her child was taken from her arms. Should her child have been taken from her? He was an American citizen; she was illegally in the country when he was born. She was going to be deported, but what about him? The wheels of justice for her were going to turn slowly and without consideration for her welfare. Did she deserve more consideration? Doesn’t everyone? Yet, the question remains, what is the right way to proceed?
Ignacio’s foster mother, Kavya Reddy, is first generation American with a family that hailed, originally, from India. She and her upwardly mobile relatives are all doing well in America. She is childless. Although healthy, she and her husband, Rishi, cannot conceive a child. Kavya desperately wants a child, so they look for other ways of bringing a child into their lives. They consider fertility treatments, adoption and finally foster care. Rishi and Kavya have lots of love to give. They understand that the birth mother has the right to petition to get her child back, but they give that little thought until the prospect of losing the child arises. Kavya wants to run away with him. Can she do that? What does Kavya decide to do? What does Solimar decide to do? She has a rent in her heart without her son. Should she steal him?
Solimar was caught in the system as an illegal immigrant, and was shunted from detainee center to detainee center with no idea of where she was or where she was going, but she desperately wants her child back. She suffers from deplorable conditions; she is subjected to terrible physical and sexual abuse from the guards and other employees in the immigration system. The contrast between Kavya and Solimar is stark. Kavya is living the American dream and dreams of being a mother. Solimar wants to achieve the American dream and dreams of once again being a mother to her child. Both are thwarted by circumstances beyond their control; some difficulty comes from being unable to deal with the system and some comes from the iniquity and corruption built into the system.
I felt that iniquity existed in the author’s portrayal of Solimar as hardworking and deserving, as an underdog constantly preyed upon by those more powerful and Kavya as a bit like a spoiled child who wanted what she wanted and felt short-changed if someone else got it and she did not. I found the portrayals disingenuous. Soli broke the law, and then she broke it again and again. Yet the author presented her as a righteous person, justified in her behavior. She was undeservedly being preyed upon as an illegal immigrant and the system unjustly trapped her in its web. Little attention was paid to the fact that she was on the wrong side of the law. Little attention was paid to the fact that both of the Reddy’s were hard working and law abiding. Little attention was given to the poverty and crime in Mexico. A great deal of attention was paid to the corruption in America’s immigration system. Somehow, Solimar’s desire to improve her life was considered far more honorable than Kavya’s desire to improve hers.
The book created great conflicts within me, and perhaps that was the ultimate purpose of the author, to create more awareness, but I found the acceptance of illegal behavior uncomfortable as well as the idea of using children as kind of a commodity.