Book Review by Katie Bloomer, BookTrib

What’s it About?

One boy’s journey from his Mayan homeland to the United States, overcoming limits that seemed impossible and transforming not only his own reality, but that of his family and community.

Have you heard of the Mayan belief of cyclical time? (I remember the idea permeated popular culture over a decade ago, in the fated year of 2012.) It’s the belief that the cosmos exists in recurring cycles of destruction and creation. This belief extends to the human body, meaning we experience many endings and beginnings within our lives.

Marcos Antil infuses this belief throughout his book Immigrant, which acts as both a memoir and a biography of the lives of his family and people, the Mayan Q’anjob’al. At the heart of these interwoven stories is Antil’s own harrowing journey to the US as a boy and, ultimately, back to his homeland in Guatemala as a man.

Childhood Love & Hardships

Antil’s story begins with his parents, particularly his father, Marcos. At only 10 years old, Marcos left his small village in search of work to support his widowed mother. In the city, he found work sweeping at a shop where, over the years, he learned to repair radios as well. At 14, he returned as a boy “who had discovered that there was a world full of opportunities beyond the limits of his town.” Years later he met Antil’s mother, Lucía — a girl kept under the thumb of her parents — and the two eloped.

The two settled in the misty mountains of Guatemala in the small village of Santa Eulalia where Antil, the fourth of eight children (seven still living), formed many fond childhood memories. “We lived together the simple life of the fields, we knew how to gaze at the stars, how to chase squirrels, how to drink the dew on the leaves, and catch fireflies. Our lives tasted like tortillas and the meals that Mamá prepared.”

There were hardships as well, including the loss of an older sister, Antil’s often sickly constitution, and the atrocities of war between the government and guerilla factions. Due to this war and his father’s government-sanctioned position in the village, Antil’s father was forced to flee the country. As his mother and siblings slowly began to follow, Antil, alone at the age of 14, was the last one to travel the harsh path across Mexico and into the United States. His journey is inspiring and readers will enjoy watching him overcome the most insurmountable obstacles.

Always Remember Your Roots

But Antil’s story was still far from over.

Once in the US, he faced the hardships of adjusting to American life, including attending an English-speaking school and living during a time of heavy anti-immigration laws and xenophobia. He struggled to graduate and gain a scholarship to college, but he continued to try his hardest to earn his degree, establish a well-paid career and support his family. Through his hard work and dedication, and thanks to all the lessons he learned through hardship, he ultimately succeeds. “Even though the [transplanted] tree grows slowly, the time comes when it blossoms and bears fruits.”

Throughout Antil’s journey, he never forgot his roots: “I always asked God not to let me forget my humble origins and that before anything, any circumstance or adversity, I might always stand tall, proud of being a Q’anjob’al, Guatemalan, and Latino.”

As a successful computer engineer, he built his own company with a name reminiscent of home — the Q’anjob’al word meaning “to blossom.” In the end, the story comes full circle when Antil returns to his homeland to establish his company’s base. By bringing his company to Guatemala against the advice of others, Antil hoped to remain true to his identity and bring prosperous opportunities to his people.

Timeless & Evocative Story

In all, Immigrant is a humbling story of a modest man who appreciates everything he has in life and refuses to take any opportunity for granted. This story is brought to life by Marcos Antil’s concise prose and amazing descriptions that make the scenes fly off the page — from the humid coffee fields of Cocolá Grande to the bustling offices of Los Angeles. Antil weaves metaphors throughout the narrative that are unique and fully fleshed out; I particularly enjoyed references to the transplanted tree and the sacred Quetzal bird.

The details he includes to depict his heritage add yet another rich layer to the story. The cultural significance of his mother’s col makes her sacrifice even more poignant; his connection to his homeland is strengthened by hanging his umbilical cord from a tree; his mother’s avoidance of looking at the full moon while pregnant reveals her continuous dedication to family and adherence to tradition.

Though the events of this book span back decades, Immigrant is a timeless piece. The issues of immigration and social justice are still prominent in our country and Marcos Antil explores these issues from a refreshing perspective. Whether you have an interest in social justice, or just enjoy the story of a man defeating overwhelming odds, you’ll definitely want to read this one.



author avatar
Marcos Antil
Guatemalteco, maya q’anjoba’l, migrante y emprendedor tecnológico.