Growing up, Jean Guerrero looked at her father with a mixture of both awe and anxiety. Marco Antonio was an enigma, a charismatic man who easily drew people into his orbit only to furl into himself and his demons. He could make himself a hero and just as easily cut his daughter down with venomous remarks. In her new book Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir, Guerreroâ€”a former foreign correspondent who recently won two Emmys for her series â€œAmericaâ€™s Wallâ€�â€”uses her investigative-journalism background to unearth her familyâ€™s painful history and make sense of her fatherâ€™s complexities.
This journey takes Guerrero back and forth between her home in California and her familyâ€™s ancestral lands in Mexico. Yet even with her paternal ancestorsâ€™ slow immigration north through Mexico and toward the United States, the idea of borders as a theme feels shoehorned in. Guerreroâ€™s mother is Puerto Rican (something not discussed in too much detail in the book) and her father grew up in Mexico, but while her fatherâ€™s family was poor, crossing the border to work in the United States seemed by all accounts pretty straightforward. When the family accumulated more wealth and was able to move to California, they did so at a time when immigration from Mexico was much easier than it is today. And once they settled there, their family meat business became a great success. Guerreroâ€™s grandparents are now well-off, allowing the family to easily travel to and from Mexico to work or visit relatives.
Still, Crux is intriguing in the ways it explores the concept of reality itself. Guerrero was a little girl when her father was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In hindsight, she recalls, hints of mental illness had always been there, but were always written off as either eccentricities or the results of drug use. For Marco Antonio, the first undeniable break with reality happened after a humiliation at work; he quit on the spot and deteriorated from there, cycling between bouts of hyper-productiveness, paranoia, and severe withdrawal from everyone, including his family. He drank too much and smoked crack, and his wife thought the drugs had ruined his mind. Ultimately, for everyoneâ€™s sake, she asked him to leave. His stints in rehab and the far-flung journeys that let him temporarily escape his demons meant that he missed a lot of Guerreroâ€™s formative years.
Marco Antonio began insisting that he heard voices; in 2008, on Guerreroâ€™s 20th birthday, he confided to her that the CIA had experimented on him during those periods heâ€™d been missing from her youth, recounting terrifying experiences of being shocked and tormented. The calm clarity of his retellings even led her to entertain the possibility that heâ€™d been an unwilling participant in something similar to Project MKUltra, the CIAâ€™s now-notorious Cold Warâ€“era mind-control experiment that used people seen as lacking credibility, such as drug addicts, as guinea pigs. Guerrero was determined to examine all angles of fatherâ€™s story, no matter how far-fetched, because it was all relevant to understanding herself: She had always wondered why her father was the way he was, and had grown up anxious about her own mental state. Whenever Guerrero would step out of line or talk back, her mother would accuse her of â€œacting schizophrenic.â€� The line cut deep, often making Guerrero question her own grasp on the world and act on self-destructive behaviors.
Guerrero was determined to examine all angles of fatherâ€™s story, no matter how far-fetched, because it was all relevant to understanding herself: She had always wondered why her father was the way he was, and had grown up anxious about her own mental state.
So when Guerrero got the opportunity to move to Mexico City and report on coffee plantations and cocoa farms, she jumped at the chance to move to her fatherâ€™s homeland and learn about his past. In fact, Marco Antonio initially accompanied her there for safety (this was in 2010, a time when Mexicoâ€™s cartel violence was escalating), and she finally got to see her father through her adoring relativesâ€™ eyes. To them, he was mysterious and larger than life, a curandero, or a healer. His eccentricities and drug use? Acceptable shamanic practices. Guerrero began wondering: Does he even have schizophrenia, or is he a mystic like his great-grandmother? Ultimately, she found, there was no simple answer or singular truth, and there never will be.
Fans of HBOâ€™s Westworld are by now familiar with Julian Jaynesâ€™s concept of the bicameral mind, a philosophical exploration of how mankind attained self-awareness. In the left hemisphere of the brain, the theory goes, the voices in oneâ€™s head were the gods whispering thoughts to a human; the right hemisphere interpreted these thoughts. As synapses between both hemispheres developed, so did true consciousness and self-actualization. Guerrero references the bicameral mind and other philosophical possibilities regarding her fatherâ€™s state, reflecting on them alongside her cultureâ€™s embrace of curanderismo and spirituality. In this light, anything and everything becomes a possibility at the intersections of culture and the intangible nature of reality.
Memoir fans will love the ambitious and sometimes experimental structure of Guerreroâ€™s debut. In spite of the pain and dysfunction that Marco Antonio caused in their familyâ€™s life, Crux remains a love story of a daughter trying help her father find a place in the world: somewhere between the logical and the unknowable, between the standards of Western medicine and the curanderismo that runs in his blood. Itâ€™s a wild ride.