Ana Castillo. The Guardians.
The Guardians is set along the border region between southern New Mexico, E1 Paso, and Ciudad Juarez. The four main characters are each essential to the narrative as their stories and lives intersect. However, it is the border terrain, with the Franklin Mountains as the backdrop, that in many respects serves as the omnipresent main protagonist. It is appropriate that the title, The Guardians, is in reference to them, because they are in constant vigilance over this border region, majestic and sacred to those who live in their shadow.
Ana Castillo employs a multi-narrator voice that binds together an anthology-like work, creating a dialogue between its major characters across chapters, with each telling his or her story in a form that blends autobiography, memoir, and prayer. Regina, the main protagonist, is a self-sufficient nuevo mexicana who represents the toughness of the local landscape. Despite the many hardships and tough love she received from her mother, she has learned to survive and live independently. For several years she has been a guardian in her own right, raising her nephew Gabo, a high-school-age boy who aspires to become a Catholic priest. Gabo is an extremely resilient young man who suffered through his mother's brutal death and now deals with the mystery behind his father's disappearance while attempting to reenter the United States illegally. Miguel, a local high school teacher and Chicano activist, befriends Regina and attempts to help her locate Gabo's father. They are also aided by el Abuelo Milton, Miguel's grandfather, who becomes a grandfather figure to all and, in particular, to Gabo.
The narrative slowly delves into the characters' lives, creating a deep understanding of each one, revealing their histories, beliefs, personal philosophies, and lessons learned. The main plot eventually develops around the mystery of Gabo's missing father and his whereabouts. Through this uncertainty, the difficulties of living along the border become painfully heightened. There is almost a sense of imprisonment of the hardworking locals on both sides of the border who are caught between the INS's constant vigilance and the drug and body traffickers who take advantage of those desperate to cross the border. Between these two forces resides a community trying to scratch a living in the borderlands where the politics and practices of failed government policies, organized crime, and globalization leave many confined to the margins, vulnerable to its effects.
Throughout all the history, violence, and movement along this border, there remains one constant force: the guardians. Los Franklins, as Castillo dubs them, watch over the local inhabitants as they see all that transpires before them. The character without voice is, in the end, the most enduring and resonant throughout the narrative. (Editorial note: To read an interview with Ana Castillo, see page 59.)
Spencer R. Herrera
New Mexico State University