Growing up, the Mexican-American writer Luis Alberto Urrea wanted to read an immigrant tale that represented his own family. He never really found one, so he wrote it.
“The House of Broken Angels” (Little, Brown and Company) is the engrossing and indispensable story of the De La Cruz family, Americans who happen to have roots in Mexico.
Miguel Angel, “Big Angel” to all, is whittled down by cancer, using a wheelchair with a bike horn on it. His 70th birthday will be his last. But first he has to bury his mother, the family’s nearly 100-year-old matriarch, Mamá América.
Urrea’s use of language embeds the reader in Big Angel’s world, from “folksy Spanglish” (“keki” for cake), to phonetic spellings (“tenk yous” instead of “thank you”) to Spanish nicknames, words, phrases and sentences.
The is a tender, passionate, loving and violent book, just like la familia — Perla, Little Angel, La Gloriosa, Lalo, Minnie and more. They have their squabbles and secrets, their grudges and crushes, their rivalries and resentments. But for every moment of sorrow, there are two moments of joy; for every fear, a glimmer of potential.
Given the policy proposals and rhetoric of the Trump administration, it is impossible not to read this book in a political light.
There are more than 11 million Mexican immigrants in the United States, according to the 2016 American Community Survey. They serve in the military. They drink instant coffee and $5 skinny lattes. They listen to metal and Lawrence Welk. They play with Legos and Matchbox cars. They eat KFC and sushi. Just like Big Angel’s familia.
And it shouldn’t need to be said, but they are Americans. And this sincere family epic should be read all over our land of immigrants.