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NONFICTION : FAMILIA: MIGRATION AND ADAPTATION IN BAJA AND ALTA CALIFORNIA 1800-1975 by Robert R. Alvarez Jr. (University of California: $35; 213 pp., illustrated).

May 03, 1987|Jesus Salvador Trevino *

Anthropologist Robert R. Alvarez Jr. was born into a unique community of extended families, linked to each other for many generations through complex kinship bonds. In "Familia," he chronicles his roots and that of a dozen of these interlocking families as they migrated northward from a common home in the mining town of Calmalli, Baja California, in the 1880s. At the turn of the century, they came to the border town of Mexicali. Later, they immigrated to the United States and settled in the San Diego community of Lemon Grove in the 1920s.

Alvarez shows that the northward migration of these closely knit families was as much motivated by intimate bonds of reciprocity, based on confianza (trust), as it was by socioeconomic push/pull factors more commonly used to explain the migrant experience. These strong bonds of interfamily trust were first established in Calmalli, but later proved decisive in initiating family mobility.

With each move northward, interfamily ties were reinforced through an ever-expanding network of intermarriages, compadrazgos (godfatherships), and a pervasive sense of parentesco (family sentiment). New families were recruited into the matrix, and families previously unassociated became linked. All of this served to strengthen family values and the identity of individuals as they struggled to survive in a new environment.

The greatest merit of this highly readable and engaging book is the humanization of the immigrant experience. It is filled with individual anecdotes of love, struggle and hope mirrored in that greater institution: la familia .

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