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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

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  548 Ratings  ·  69 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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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Kurt Reichenbaugh
Started reading this morning and finished this afternoon. Published in the early 90's and told as a series of real stories, this book reports the lives of people living in and around Tijuana and the border between Mexico and California.
Mar 25, 2015 Karimi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had to use several of the chapters in this book for a social psychology essay. I decided to read the entire book and was not disappointed. I really enjoyed Urrea's writing style. He mixes his personal experiences with in depth character analysis of the people he interacted with.

I think this book is necessary reading for anyone who lives in an American state near the border of Mexico. This book gives a unique account of the lived experiences of Latinos living in the borderlands that is much to
Nov 28, 2016 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read
A non-fiction classic. Brutal and beautiful.
Nov 25, 2011 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 27, 2009 Lars Guthrie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Patrick O'Neil
Apr 09, 2009 Patrick O'Neil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 10, 2016 Jenny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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)
Mar 05, 2008 Mano (Leslie) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 10, 2010 Whitaker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really great book shows us how everything is great and worth to die for
Jerry Withers
Sep 06, 2014 Jerry Withers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 04, 2012 Tana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Luke Owen
Oh my god this was so frustrating to read. The author is Mexican but he's a white Mexican and he's from America and he goes to Tijuana to do charity and shit which is the whitest thing you can do. I hate his perspective on things because his perspective is stupid. Sorry to be harsh but if I did not have to read this for a class I would not have.
Jun 01, 2011 Tommy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 -
Liz Murray
Oct 09, 2013 Liz Murray rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 12, 2012 Nick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 03, 2013 Susana Olague Trapani rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
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
Aug 22, 2009 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 16, 2008 Kristin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-the-border
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
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
Jul 21, 2012 Barb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 18, 2011 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 24, 2007 KDUNK rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 24, 2010 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2010
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.
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.
Jan 14, 2013 patty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
Jan 03, 2009 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 25, 2008 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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."
Kiandra Haaf
May 31, 2008 Kiandra Haaf rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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.
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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.” 2 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.” 1 likes
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