Igrew up a few minutes north of
one of the world’s busiest border
crossings, the San Ysidro Port of
Entry, with a father who enjoyed going back and
forth between the United States and Mexico.
When I was a little girl, Papi often took me to
the Baja California coast to pull hermit crabs and
conchas de mar out of the tide pools, telling me
their names in Spanish. He’d point at the ocean
and whisper about shipwrecks and mermaids
beneath the surface.
He was a playful father, full of fantastical
stories. He was resourceful too: he could align
breaks, fix broken pipes, carve steel plates for
ships. Once, he tapped my mother’s telephone
line. All that lay beyond the boundaries of
accessible experience was fascinating to him: the
deep sea, outer space, my mother’s private
Eventually, he left the boundaries of what
most of us would define as reality altogether.
Papi concluded that the CIA was subjecting
him to mind control experiments. He heard voices
in his head and felt painful electric shocks in his
body. I felt I had to recover the enchanting father
of my youth. The only way to do so was to travel
into his world. I moved to Mexico to try to
understand my father, researching his past and
the country that made him. I wrote CRUX: A
Cross-Border Memoir to solve the mystery.
Borders seduced me, too: between reality
and imagination, substance abuse and sobriety,
safety and peril. They were lines that beckoned
me deeper into my father’s reality. As I crossed
borders in pursuit of him, I became increasingly
self-destructive, experimenting with drugs and
dangerous men and sneaking into smuggling
routes for my work.
I was becoming my father. But I had
pursued a career in journalism. This provided a
foundation to follow back to earth. CRUX is
nonfiction, a reported memoir. Journalism gave
me the tools to untangle myself from my father.
Discovering that Papi was many things at
once – not just one thing –– saved me. While
researching my father’s roots in Mexico, I learned
that his great grandmother Juanita
was a clairvoyant curandera who was paid to
commune with the dead: La Adivina. While
nonfiction, CRUX is also full of magic. I believe
embracing the contradictory nature of reality has
kept me sane.
Science and spirituality can dwell side by
side; it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Growing up in a border town taught me that.
Papi recently built a garden of curative plants.
His cupboards hold homemade powders and
potions. While talking about wanting to die, he
heals sick friends and relatives.
A few months ago, my car stopped working
in Tijuana, Mexico while I was on assignment on
a Friday night. My phone was almost dead. A few
strangers tried to jump-start my car, in vain. I
called my father.
He was drunk in San Diego, self-medicating an
unbearable heaviness in his limbs. He asked me
to text him a “pin” of my location so he could send
a cross-border tow truck. Fifteen minutes later,
Papi himself showed up on his motorcycle.
He threw open the hood of my car, whiskey
on his breath, and tinkered with my engine.
I was able to go back home in my repaired
vehicle, full of love and concern for my father: hero
and anti-hero, reckless and reliable. At the end of
the day, he’d saved me. LS
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About the Author
Crossing Borders In
Pursuit Of A Father
By Jean Guerrero
Jean Guerrero is an Emmy
award-winning reporter for
KPBS, the NPR and PBS
affiliate in San Diego. She
reports on immigration and
border issues for public radio and
TV stations across the
country. She has also worked for
The Wall Street Journal in
Mexico City and has an MFA from
Goucher College. Her book
CRUX: A Cross-Border Memoir
was published by One World /
Random House. She won the
PEN/FUSION Emerging Writers
prize. To learn more about Jean
42 www.latinastyle.com LATINAStyle Vol. 24, No. 6, 2018