Trigger warning: Book Access contains discussion of sexual assault.
Valeria Luiselli is an award-winning Mexican author that lives in USA. ‘Tell Me How It Ends’ is a reflective look at the author’s work as an interpreter in America with immigrant children. It is structured in four main chapters - Border, Court, Home, Community and is guided by the questions that children are asked when they seek entry into the United States in order to provide the lawyers that will defend them with all the information that they would need to present a strong defense. The book describes the injustices they face in their home and by the US government and draws attention to the difference between what the media suggests are the inevitable problems associated with immigration and the actual experiences of immigrants.
There are three main themes in the book. The first is the contrast between the ideology that America is the ‘land of the free’ with the country’s intrinsic resistance to immigrants, who are perceived to be outsiders, and the unjust treatment of Indigenous Americans, and other minority groups in the United States. The second major theme revolves around criticizing the American immigration system, focusing on how the process is especially daunting for children due to the financial and emotional stress it places on them. To support this idea that the journey to legally immigrate to America is tasking for children, Luiselli gives examples of the types of experiences that could show that a child has enough ‘battle wounds’ to be granted the immigrant status. Some of these include receiving death threats, being beaten or having abusive parents. Such experiences, according to Luiselli, ‘may open doors to potential immigration relief and, eventually, legal status in the United States’. Finally, the book touched on the connectedness of the Americas explaining how the United States and Mexico are part of the same social system with interrelated problems, and suggesting that the problems and misunderstandings that trigger immigration to America have ‘historical roots’ and can be better understood when the relationship between the two countries is fully appreciated.
There were many key points made by Luiselli in ‘Tell Me How It Ends’. Firstly, she proposes that although organized criminals pose threats to immigration, the process is also made riskier by government intervention. As an example, she suggests that the Mexican government’s control of La Bestia made travel by trains more dangerous and may have promoted the use of other modes of travel which may also have posed serious risks to migrants. Moreover, Luiselli touches on how abuse to women is very common during the immigration process with up to eighty percent of women and girls who cross into Mexico getting raped on the way. She mentions that the situation has become so prevalent that women take contraceptives before embarking on the journey north to protect themselves from what they consider to be inevitable. Furthermore, it is estimated that thousands of people disappear when crossing Mexican and American borders, but this situation is made worse by the government’s inability to accurately calculate the number of migrants lost during each journey.
Valeria Luiselli at Hay Festival of Literature and Arts in 2016
‘Tell Me How It Ends’ is relatively easy to read as Luiselli draws the reader in by comparing the experience of a migrant to the experiences of her own children, encouraging the reader to feel emotionally connected to the issue being presented. She blends the historical basis of resistance towards immigration in America with the current political climate (how the presidents of America and Mexico at the time affected the landscape of immigration between the two countries), allowing readers to view international migration through its various lenses and fully understand the scope of the issue and how much it affects the migrants.
Purchase a copy of Tell Me How It Ends:
Luiselli, Valeria. Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions. Coffee House Press, 2017.
Chidera Olalere is a student at Scarborough College studying the International Baccalaureate programme. She is author and creator of Dera's Diary, an online blog exploring social issues on a personal and societal level.