Cross Over Water

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University of Nevada Press, 2011 - Fiction - 204 pages
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Yanez deftly explores the coming-of-age of Raul Luis Cruz, a Mexican American teenager who grows up in El Paso, just across the Rio Grande from Juarez, still home to many of his relatives. At 12, after his mother gets a promotion, Raul and his family moves to a northern suburb, a step up from the Lower Valley where he grew up, leaving behind his beloved neighborhood 'like a lizard tail in the desert.' In high school, he finds his niche as team manager of the football team, and takes pride in his job bagging groceries at Big Way Foods. But after graduation, Raul knows he must 'evolve' into something more; the problem is knowing just which path to take. His new girlfriend, a college student from California, volunteering with the homeless in People's Park for the summer, opens up a new world to Raul, and steers him toward applying for community college. --
 

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Yañez deftly explores the coming-of-age of Raul Luis Cruz, a Mexican American teenager who grows up in El Paso, just across the Rio Grande from Juárez, still home to many of his
relatives. At 12, after his mother gets a promotion, Raul and his family moves to a northern suburb, a step up from the Lower Valley where he grew up, leaving behind his beloved neighborhood “like a lizard tail in the desert.” In high school, he finds his niche as team manager of the football team, and takes pride in his job bagging groceries at Big Way Foods. But after graduation, Raul knows he must “evolve” into something more; the problem is knowing just which path to take. His new girlfriend, a college student from California, volunteering with the homeless in People’s Park for the summer, opens up a new world to Raul, and steers him toward applying for community college. Yañez, also born on the border, brings that region to life as he portrays with humor, perception, and compassion what it is like to grow up there, perhaps wishing to never leave. This title has been recommended for young adult readers: YA/Mature Readers: Many high-schoolers, whether Mexican American or not, will be able to relate to Raul’s struggle to take the next step toward adulthood, leaving behind all that is familiar. —Deborah Donovan
El Paso Times Book Review by Rigoberto González (4/3/11)
Richard Yañez’s debut novel “Cross Over Water” (University of Nevada Press, $22 paperback) takes a lucid and refreshing look at a side of the borderlands seldom acknowledged among the sensationalistic headlines: the El Paso that nurtures one young man’s imagination as he moves through the different stages of life to become a healthy and productive member of his hometown.
As a child, Ruly was “allergic to everything” in the Chihuahuan Desert, so he spent most of his youth sheltered in a home that “always had a comfortable bed, a big closet, and a full fridge.” He shaped his world with what stood within reach: the television, the bathtub, and his flirty cousin Laura, who awakened a sexual desire that kept his fantasies going through adolescence.
While at Ysleta High, Ruly, now simply Raul, attempted to come out of his shell by joining the football team, but only as a manager since he “had always been more comfortable on the sidelines.”
It’s not until after graduation that he dares to step out of his “Gordo-Boy” safe zone, claiming his independence by moving into his own place, supporting himself, and exploring spaces like the Lower Valley and Segundo Barrio, where he encountered stories less fortunate than his.
His social consciousness was furthered along by Elena, a Filipina-Chicana feminist visiting from the West Coast, who introduced Raul to this mysterious emotion called love. Yet not even love was strong enough to tear him away from home; at the end of her summer stay, she invited him to return with her to California, and he declined.
Left pondering Elena’s critical question — “Why can’t you leave El Paso?” — Raul must then retrace his steps to determine whether his choices were guided by his fears and comforts, or if indeed his mother’s statement about the inextricable bond between people and place was true: “We are where we’re born.”
Yañez takes this coming-of-age narrative to a higher level by shaping a character who holds such respect for an environment that’s ever-changing, ever-fallible, yet as redeeming as he is. Raul is El Paso personified: aware of the past, but always heading to the future because “the past could deport you to a place in your memory. And no matter how much you declared yourself to the present, you were hopelessly uprooted.”
“Cross Over Water” is set to become a sentimental favorite of El Paso insiders who will recognize the many businesses and sites that have become institutions or cherished memories of the international border; but so too will outsiders appreciate an alternative path into a city that’s been more closely
 

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About the author (2011)

Richard Yaqez, born and raised in El Paso, Texas, is a graduate of New Mexico State University and Arizona State University. He has taught at Antioch College, Colorado College, and has been a Fellow at Saint Mary's College Center for Women's InterCultural Leadership. His fiction has appeared in Our Working Lives: Short Stories of People and Work and was featured in the Chicano Chapbook Series edited by Gary Soto. He is currently working on a novel, Cross Over Water.

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