Book Review of "Once: Once"

Lee Cuesta delivers insightful and entertaining look at Mexican realities

AT A TIME when Mexico is feeling overlooked by its northern neighbor, Lee Cuesta’s new book uncovers many of the cultural and historical factors that influence Mexico’s relation with the United States, yet have remained unknown by the majority of US citizens and politicians.

While the administration of Mexico’s first non-PRI president is rocked by revelations of corruption related to drug trafficking, and illegal immigrants flood across the Arizona desert, Cuesta’s book provides a rare and stunning glimpse into the elements that render neighboring cultures so incompatible.

The New York Times has reported that “the two neighbors do not talk much about anything these days,” due to the White House’s fierce focus on terrorism. As a result, “their relations … have gone from stalled to strained.” In this climate, Cuesta’s fascinating book, Once:Once, provides timely information concerning Mexico/US relations. Despite its classification as fiction, this book was assigned categories by that include Foreign Relations, Mexico, Chiapas, Religious, and Visionary & Metaphysical.

As a journalistic novel, Cuesta’s 380-page book is based on facts – historical, cultural and political – authenticated by a section of appendices following the story. In fact, it is based not only on his own ten-year experience living outside Mexico City as a professional journalist, but also on personal, on-site investigation in the Mexican state of Chiapas. As a result of this investigation, his three-part nonfiction series of articles was first published in the World Pulse newsletter, and subsequently reprinted in the Canadian newspaper, Indian Life.

The story begins with a murder mystery to solve, and the character affected most directly is the female protagonist with a dual identity, whose aunt was one of the victims. The murder is a direct outcome of the religious intolerance in the state of Chiapas. Few Americans realize the extent to which religious persecution is still a potent reality in Mexico.

The protagonist, known equally within her family and church by both names Consuelo and Mizraim, is also a leader in the Ejército Popular para la Independencia de Chiapas (People’s Army for the Independence of Chiapas), referred to as EPICH. There she is known as Subcomandante Josefa. Her involvement provides a key element of her self-identity.

However, for reasons she has yet to fathom, the EPICH movement is cancelled. The cancellation coincides with the reappearance in Chiapas of her close friend, a male character named Javier. Although a US citizen, Javier is the son of a local cacique, or tribal boss. When EPICH is abruptly cancelled, Javier invites Mizraim to accompany him when he returns to the United States. Although she initially refuses, and he leaves without her, she ultimately accepts the journey that Cuesta uses to reveal vast cultural differences.

Furthermore, when Mizraim arrives in the US, she learns of a century-old plot to reannex to Mexico the southern section of the US – the territory that Mexico lost as a result of the US/Mexico War in 1848. Initially called The Plan of San Diego (Texas), the plot is an historical reality that called for an armed uprising in 1915 in order to recapture this lost territory. German envoys eventually joined the plot, attempting to foment conflict between the US and Mexico, and this fact led Woodrow Wilson to enter World War I in 1917.

Ultimately, Once:Once is a story in which both of the main characters, Mizraim and Javier, seek to close the gap in their lives left by the disappearances of their fathers. For Mizraim, this closure comes only as a result of solving the murder mystery, with which the story opened.

Although readers may experience minor difficulty getting into the book at the beginning, due to its authentic cultural details and complex relationships, they are encouraged to keep reading, because very quickly the effort is well rewarded. Once the groundwork is laid, you won’t put it down.

Click here to buy: Once-Once Novel