This book of stories begins when the narrator, el Wito, is born to Mexican American fieldworkers in 1938 at a time when the Great Depression was deepening once again. The stories follow the impoverished and displaced family as it threads its way from inland grape vineyards to coastal Central California where they find steady work in the vegetable fields. What would have been an uplifting American success story instead turns dark when the entrepreneurial family opens a thriving farmworkers’ labor camp in the heart of Guadalupe, California. It was unforeseen by Guadalupe fieldworkers that the tiny town would become a weekend red light district for an army base just as World War II begins.
A white Army soldier is sweating on an upper bunk across the cell from me. Lying in our bunks in the Seaside city jail near the Fort Ord Army base, he is struck mute by his anguish, acutely agonizing over killing a pedestrian in town while driving drunk. His torment is so intense he lies with his hands clenched by his side and his body in a full sweat. His gold-rimmed glasses are completely fogged but he doesn’t take them off. He is still in brown, the infantry full dress uniform with dark green tie and shiny black shoes. Guadalupe’s Red Light District had prepared me for this. I had seen army soldiers crashing drunk in their uniforms, bloodied shirt fronts and all, grabbing onto our women as they went down. Now I was one of them. I felt sorry for him. The word “dreadful” came up but quickly disappeared as the coolness of the cell and the mustiness of cot mattresses closed in as reminders of my own reality.