Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border
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Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  412 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Luis Alberto Urrea's Across the Wire offers a compelling and unprecedented look atwhat life is like forthose refugees living on theMexicanside of the border—a world that is only some twenty miles from San Diego, but that few have seen.Urrea gives us a compassionate and candid account of his work as a member and "official translator" of a crew of relief workers that provide...more
ebook, 208 pages
Published December 1st 2010 by Anchor (first published January 2nd 1993)
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Urrea tells stories from his time spent working as a translator for missionaries in and around the Tijuana garbage dumps. The author wasn't doing it for God, but for the people, as he got sucked into it by a charismatic man named Pastor Von:

One of Von's pep talks revolved around the unconscionable wealth in the United States. "Well," he'd say to some unsuspecting gringo, "you're probably not rich. You probably don't even have a television. Oh, you do? You have three televisions? One in each room
Lars Guthrie
Since my enthusiastic reception of Urrea's 'The Hummingbird's Daughter,' my Dad has cheerfully assigned a couple of collection of essays by that author to me. It's an assignment I have cheerfully met, although I can't say reading this one was always cheerful. Just across the border in Tijuana, his home town, Urrea worked with evangelical missionairies to give aid to people living in the most severe kind of poverty--the kind of poverty we associate with India or Africa, not somewhere next to San...more
Luis Alberto Urrea gives readers a vivid description of what life is like for those living in the dirty, vermin-infested, & often violent "dompes" (garbage dumps) of Mexico. I thought I knew hardship growing up, but after reading Urrea's tales of misery, I realized my life could have been worse. I was blessed enough to be born on the "right side" of the border, a clueless Mexican American. Yes, I learned all about my culture as far as music, food, language, & holidays; but I had no idea...more
Patrick O'Neil
Mexican border towns are strange, confusing, and sometimes wonderful, and Luis Urrea takes us there. His essays in Across the Wire, exemplify that jumble of emotions and experiences that make up a land caught between so many different dominating factors - money, poverty, politics, and race, to name but a few. With his elegant non-judgmental style of writing Urrea portrays the residents of garbage dumps, forgotten barrios, shantytowns, and abandoned hillside houses filled with glue sniffers. Some...more
Jerry Withers
Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border was published in 1993 and it is a journalistic collection of narratives that were observed by the author, Luis Alberto Urrea, from 1979 to 1992 in areas near the Mexican-American border where he worked as a translator and helper for the missionaries. Luis Alberto Urrea was born in Tijuana, Mexico where he grew up and gained his interest in homeless Mexican-Americans. He attended the University of California, San Diego, and earned an und...more
I had to read this for an university social work class. While full of crass language and unpleasant stories, I found it full of important information that helped me to better understand a side of immigration that Americans should know. I wouldn't want to read it again, but I will never forget some of the lessons I learned. Many of Urrea's experiences are heartbreaking.
Mano (Leslie)
A series of vignettes from this Tijuana born writer, shows a heartwrenching and often difficult to read portrayal of poverty and the struggle for life on the border.
A really great book shows us how everything is great and worth to die for
While not quite as compelling as Urrea's later "The Devil's Highway", this is still gripping writing. At his best, Mr. Urrea feels like non-fiction's answer to Cormac McCarthy. Using sparse, visual language, he creates imagery that cuts straight to the truth. He is the son of an American mother and Mexican father, and he has seen the wire from both sides.

No matter how you feel about the challenges that haunt the U.S./Mexico border - and I know that's an emotional, politically charged argument -...more
Maximiliano Hernandez
Across the Wire was basically plotted at Mexico's frontier nearest cities( Tijuana, Ensenada, Tecate, Mexicali, ect.)The book is based on true life short stories of poor people that had experience a tremendously horror in their daily lives. Its heartbreaking stories bring a sad atmosphere to the reader that make the book even better because the reader wants to read it as its going on. Some of the main characters would be Luis Alberto Urrea, Negra, Mike,and the serranos. This was Luis Alberto Ur...more
Liz Murray
It's not easy to find words to review a book like this. Urrea paints an honest and respectful portrait of the people who touch his life in the borderlands. I've recently spent time in South Africa working with a friend who runs a program in a township there. If I didn't have that as a vague reference point I might have read this differently, or have been touched differently. The lives Urrea portrays live a tougher life than the people I know in SA but there are some commonalities. Another review...more
Luis Alberto Urrea looks unblinkingly at Tijuana in the 90s. How one longs for a time when reading about the San Diego-Tijuana border meant books like this, with its collection of stories of people living in enormous landfills, deep and enduring poverty, campaigns to do something about it and--of course, this is Tijuana, which General Abelardo Rodriguez turned into a magnet for Californians seeking whatever was forbidden to them--corruption. That Tijuana was swallowed by the drug culture--the Ar...more
Susana Olague Trapani
Absolutely heart-wrenching stories of life on the Mexican border, all of them tinged with what makes up life: despair, hope, renewal, defeat. For someone like me, it's a reminder of the various faces of Mexico, and how easily we can hide them behind our culture, geography, history, and the mask we want to present to the world. An earlier work of Urrea's, it's not as gripping a narrative as The Devil's Highway: A True Story, but you can see that the path toward that book started with the recounti...more
I recently heard Luis Urrea speak at the Tucson Festival of Books. He shared a bit about his life growing up in poverty in Tijuana and later going back as a "missionary", I grabbed this book. A first hand view of poverty at its worst and yet a story of survival. Think you got troubles? Better read this book and adjust your attitude!
Here's a book I hope to never forget. Unflinching and unfiltered. My mother was born in Mexicali and spent several years in Tiajuana before moving to the U.S. in the 60s. There's quite a bit she's never shared. For that I'm sorry.
This book will stay with me forever. Urrea's writing is so concise and poignant that he conveys so much in such a slim book. The chapter about his father is haunting. It's interesting to read this after his new Fiction book, "Into the Beautiful North," because you see its beginnings in "Across the Wire" - character names, settings and themes. No wonder "Into the Beautiful North" was so strong - it was based on real expereinces.

DO NOT READ THIS DURING LUNCH! Too many graphic descriptions of intes...more
People who read this book need to understand that this book is going to be biased. in the beginning the author explicitly states that this book is going to be his personal account about his experience of the border life in Tijuana. people who want truth about the hardships these people face need to pick up this book and read it. I see homeless children and have to ask myself where and how did these children end up on the streets. This book is a very emotional account of those that have gone as f...more
This book was a collection of essays written about the very poor in Tijuana. I'm sure someone has already reviewed it as "an unflinching look" at life on the Mexican-American border, and I'd have to agree. Urrea doesn't leave out any lice, diarrhea, scabies, or other tough situations encountered during his time working with the people of Tijuana's colonias.
The book as a whole felt a little choppy and jumpy, not as well written as it could have been. I couldn't read it all at once, either, as sad...more
In contrast to The Devil's Highway, Across the Wire is a series of vignettes rather than a traditional narrative. In nearly every instance, it too presents a crushing story of the disasters that plague life lived right on the frontier between Mexico and the United States. Unlike the Devil's Highway, however, Urrea does somewhat more reporting and somewhat less moralizing. The slight shift in emphasis gives this book a grittier, less polished feel, which I think makes it a stronger read overall....more
Barb Harris
another great NF book by Urrea. Stories not of those who cross the wire into the US, but those left behind, or those that cannot. Living in barrios, hovels, garbage dumps. Makes you rethink if you even remotely think you ever had it rough. Urrea is so good at getting his characters on paper. I wanted to feed each and every kid....take Negra home with me. If there ever is to be one, Urrea's stories will be one of the catalysts that will help Americans recognize the true issues behind illegal immi...more
This is a fantastic book. Urrea is a genius and I first heard his stories read on NPR's This American Life and was totally sold. The book is hard to get through in an emotional sense. It is very graphic and full of unpleasant details which are not for those with a weak stomach. Having traveled some in Mexico I really enjoy all the details Urrea portrays through words and how he does it. Feels like you are really there. I highly recommend the book if the subject interests you.
This was a tough book to read but very well done. It takes place in Tijuana when the author was working with a religious aid group. He starts out by saying "Poverty is personal: it smells and it shocks and it invades your space." I liked how he took one person's story for each chapter. He made it personal and you really felt for these people. I had just read Into the Beautiful North and I saw how he took his real experiences and put them into that book. Also very good.
As I was preparing to work as a Border Patrol Agent, I wanted to read about the life of those making the journey and get to know more about who I would be working with. I read several books by this author and really can't stand the border politics but the books are very interesting.
Hard to give more than 3 stars to a book that was depressing and made me worry that my defenses of Mexico all these years were made more out of naivete and wishful thinking than knowledge... But it is Urrea, so the writing is good (not as powerful as in Devil's Highway--this is an earlier book), and it's definitely eye-opening re: poverty, corruption, plain ole' bad people--and also good ones.
Having been on both sides of "the wire," I've found this book to be very powerful. It's a quick read at 190 pages but it's packed full of stories that are heart rending and no doubt absolutely true. I'd recommend it to anyone who wonders why Mexicans enter our country illegally. I love the quote from the mother who's raised her family within the city dump, "at least here we have garbage."
Thing Two
Luis Urrea, author of the fascinating The Devil's Highway, published a collection of essays for the San Diego Reader about his experiences as a relief-worker in the late 70s/early 80s for a Protestant organization providing assistance to the residents of the Tijuana city dump. His experiences explain why people opt to "cross the wire" and enter the US illegally.
sad but real... reading it more than a decade after its publication makes me wonder how many more things/events in my country i ignore.. how oblivious one can be to the reality that surrounds us, i mean, its not like I'm not aware of the chaos my people deals with every day, but i guess, detaching ourselves from that reality its the only way to survive... this book it's a keep...
Kiandra Haaf
The violent chaos gripping Tijuana and other border towns right now is happening alongside a poverty-stricken population trying to get by living in a dump (literally). Read this to find out why people are willing to risk everything to cross the border. Chances are, you would, too. This book will motivate you to do something to help the kids, and open your heart to immigrants.
Horrific, hard-boiled and sad. Somewhat dated, as life in 2013 on the mexican border, drug wars, etc. must be far worse (hard to imagine how that could be) now, than the horrors that comprise this book. Not the type of book you would read while sitting down to a meal. In fact, I learned that the hard way.

Look forward to reading more recent works by this writer.
Jill Boyd
I don't recommend this book as the stories are horrifying. Yes, I wonder why I finished it? Because it was a compelling read about life over the border in the garbage dumps of BC. It is an expose of man's utter depravity and one author's cynical views of it. The book will stay with me in the same way as a string of cuss words or a depressing life event.
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Luis Alberto Urrea is the award-winning author of 13 books, including The Hummingbird's Daughter, The Devil's Highway and Into the Beautiful North (May 2009). Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, Luis has used the theme of borders, immigration and search for love and belonging throughout his work. A Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005 (nonfiction), he's won the Kiriyama Prize (2006...more
More about Luis Alberto Urrea...
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“Poverty ennobles no one; it brutalizes common people and makes them hungry and old.” 0 likes
“It seems jolly on the page. But imagine poverty, violence, natural disasters, or political fear driving you away from everything you know. Imagine how bad things get to make you leave behind your family, your friends, your lovers; your home, as humble as it might be; your church, say. Let's take it further - you've said good-bye to the graveyard, the dog, the goat, the mountains where you hunted, your grade school, your state, your favorite spot on the river where you fished and took time to think.” 0 likes
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