Sample Book Review on Hector Tobar’s novel ‘The Tattooed Soldier’

The Plight of Latino Immigrants in The United States

The current state of the Latin Americas is a reflection of the social, economic and political challenges faced by the country. The characteristics that have been associated with the community include political upheavals and violation of human rights. The population of the Latinos in America grew significantly between 1980 and 1990 due to the political instability in different regions such as Guatemala (Minich 224). The perception of the immigrants about America was that it was a country where they would find peace, and where human rights would be respected. They thought of the country as a democratic nation where the opinion of the people was considered while making political decisions. The Latino immigrants looked forward to leading better lives in the country, but the reality was opposite. The political administration in the United States at the time failed the immigrants as they were not treated equally with the other citizens.

It was hard for them to find jobs and this affected their economic as well as social welfare. Those who were lucky to secure jobs mostly worked in businesses that endangered their lives. This affected the pace at which the community developed in terms of political, social and economic aspects. The inability to afford basic necessities such as education and high quality health care affects a large part of the society even to date. Different authors have expressed their concern for the community using varying methods such as through the use of stories and poetry. One of such authors is Hector Tobar, who uses a fictional story to express the plight of the community in the United States in the 1990s. In his novel, he expresses the challenges that the community went through in their efforts to survive. This paper analyzes one of Tobar’s novels, The Tattooed Soldier, which shows the predicament of Latin Americans in the country. The paper identifies Antonio Bernal, a violent soldier who served in the government as the monster in the story. Although he is depicted as a victim, his motivation to kill the man who murdered his family brings out his monstrous character.

The fictional story is based on the lives of Guatemalan immigrants who freed their region due to civil wars that claimed many lives. The height of political instability in Guatemala at the time was high, forcing many people to look for better lives in other regions (Mills 236). Among the best places that the people chose included Los Angles, which was characterized by many economic activities that guaranteed them prosperity. The author uses the lives of the two immigrants to show the challenges that were faced by the whole population of the Latin immigrants in the country. One of the primary characters is Antonio Bernal, who is depicted as the victim in the story. His life is defined by depression, anger and misery that the immigrants faced in their country. Through the character, the author shows the reasons that made the immigrants free from their countries.

Back in Guatemala, Antonio did not find peace as there was a lot of political upheavals. The region was characterized by civil wars that claimed the lives of his wife and an only son. The author shows how the government treated the people who complained about its poor administration. For instance, Elena, who was killed for expressing her concern about poor drainage in the country. The best place that Antonio thought of relocating to was Los Angeles, but it did not offer him the life he expected. He expresses his surprise at realizing that women who had degrees in medicine worked as laboratory assistants. He was referring to the way the United States government denied the Latin Americans employment opportunities, even in areas where they were qualified. The high rate of racism in the country denied the Latin Americans equal employment opportunities, thus affecting the extent to which their political, social and economic welfare developed (Quandt et al. 2640)

The fact that the immigrants did not secure jobs easily made it difficult for them to develop economically because they could not even afford basic necessities. In one incident, the author describes the way Antonio was sent away by the landlord for the failure to clear his rent arrears. This is a reflection of the suffering that majority of the Latin Americans faced as a result of racial inequality in the United States. The low economic status of the people rendered most of the immigrants homeless and this made their misery even worse. Being homeless made their social life hard and they could not even unite for a common cause. The bitterness about the challenges that the immigrants faced at home made it hard for them to grow (Irr 449). They were still haunted by the adverse impacts of the civil war in their regions and this impacted their lives negatively. Most of the immigrants were psychologically disturbed, with an urge for vengeance against the people who hurt them. In the novel, the author describes Antonio as the character who could not afford even the basic necessities, but his drive for revenge transforms him into a monster, determined to take down a man he believed to have murdered his family.

Guillermo Longoria is the other character that the author uses to show the plight of Latin American immigrants. Although the character’s economic status is better off compared to Antonio’s he still experiences racial discrimination in Los Angeles. The author highlights that it is hard for Longoria to find formal employment, even with his military training. However, he secures employment with an illegal parcel service. Before relocating to Los Angles, the author cites that Longoria worked as a military agent with the Guatemalan government. In his line of work, he killed many people including Antonio’s wife and son. The author uses the character to explain the inhumane actions that forced the Latinos to migrate to regions such as Los Angeles. Longoria did not choose to be a military man in Guatemala, but he was kidnapped and trained on the military skills required to execute the orders that his government wanted to execute.

The author uses the character to show the dictatorial political system in Guatemala that forced the Latinos to relocate to other regions. Through the character, one understands the perception that the immigrants had about the high level of democracy in the United States. Although the immigrants did not face political challenges that they had experienced in Guatemala such as forced military operations, they faced other social challenges such as unemployment due to racial discrimination. Apart from forcibly recruiting young men into the military, the Guatemalan government executed people who challenged its decisionsin whichever way (Rodríguez 10). The death of Elena is an indication of the dictatorial leadership experienced in the region. She was murdered for expressing her concern about the poor environmental conditions in Guatemala that threatened the lives of the citizens. The immigrants hoped to find a more democratic political system in the country, but this was not the case. Equality was impossible in the country and this led to misery and suffering for both the young and old.

The suffering experienced by the immigrants made them turn against each other, further delaying their chances of success in political, economic and social development (Arias 174). They could not unite for a common cause, even if they faced similar challenges because the high level of poverty among them still distinguished the working class and the jobless. Antonio is depicted as jobless while Longoria is employed. Although he works in an illegal business, the small amount of money he makes is enough to pay for his basic needs. Antonio, on the other hand, cannot even afford to pay rent. The two classes did not realize that they faced a common problem of racial segregation and thus found no reason to fight against the vice that hindered their development.

The evil acts that the Guatemalan government forced the military personnel to commit make them evil as they were inhumane. They were commanded to kill anyone who was against the political administration and their families (Rodríguez, Saenz and Menjívar 221). The military men had jaguar tattoos on their bodies and this served as a mark of identity. This is the same identification mark that turned the flow of events in the story when Antonio identified it on Longoria’s arm. He was certain that he was the man who killed his family alongside other innocent citizens. From then on, he was no longer concerned about solving the social challenges that faced him, but was instead driven by the urge to take revenge. His motivation to kill Longoria made him focus less on his social well-being. This was the situation with most of the Latinos as they were focused on revenge instead of standing up in unity against the violation of human rights that they were experiencing. The lack of unity affected their social, political and economic development.

Considering the turn of events in the novel, one would consider Longoria as the monster because of the activities he was involved in while working as a soldier in Guatemala. He executed the orders to kill innocent people perfectly and even kept a collection of photos for all his victims. These are actions that would only be executed by evil people thus implying that he is the monster. However, the author makes the reader sympathize with Longoria making Antonio the monster in the story. The killings executed by Longoria are not out of his will because he gets orders from the dictatorial government. Further, the fact that he is one of the Latino immigrants proves that he does not approve of the actions conducted by Guatemalan government.For Longoria to become a soldier, he was kidnapped and trained on military skills by force. This makes him the victim in the story and Antonio becomes the protagonist who wants to kill him.

Antonio’s character as a monster is brought about by the fact that he does not consider Longoria’s motive for his actions. It is clear that Longoria does not support the evil acts by the government, but he has to abide by the command of the dictatorial government.  As an elite working for the government, Antonio ought to have understood the dictatorial nature of the government. He should have understood that his family would still be alive were it not for the government orders. He should at least have listened to Longoria’s side of the story instead of plotting to kill him. Although he seems to be the victim in the beginning, his actions make him a monster. His strong urge to kill Longoria without considering the motive behind his actions makes him the monster.

In conclusion, Tobar uses the different characters in the story to inform the readers about the reasons that made Latinos to migrate and the hardships they encountered in the new regions. Among the primary reasons that forced the people to move to new regions is civil wars that were brought about by the dictatorial political leadership at the time. The immigrants were convinced that region such as Los Angeles would offer them with better lives, but they were not welcome. The high rate of racial discrimination in the region made it difficult for them to secure jobs, even for those who had high academic and professional qualifications. The inability to secure good jobs made it difficult for the society to develop.  The social challenges they faced such as homelessness affected their ability to push for equality reforms at a time when racial segregation was at its peak.


Works Cited

Arias, Arturo. “Central American-Americans: Invisibility, power and representation in the US       Latino world.” Latino Studies 1.1 (2003): 168-187.

Irr, Caren. “Neomedievalism in Three Contemporary City Novels: Tobar, Adichie,             Lee.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Littérature     Comparée 42.4 (2015): 439-453.

Mills, Regina Marie. Guatemalan diasporic fiction as refugee literature: an analysis of        Héctor Tobar’s The tattooed soldier and Tanya Maria Barrientos’s Family          resemblance. Diss. 2014.

Minich, Julie Avril. “Mestizaje as National Prosthesis: Corporeal Metaphors in Héctor        Tobar’s The Tattooed Soldier.” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 17.1 (2013): 211-226.

Quandt, Sara A., et al. “Experiences of Latino immigrant families in North Carolina help   explain elevated levels of food insecurity and hunger.” The Journal of nutrition 136.10 (2006): 2638-2644.