Elena Is The Wife Of Antonio Bernal
Elena is the wife of Antonio Bernal, one of the leading characters represented as a refugee in the city of Los Angeles, California, from war-torn Guatemala. Hector Tobar, in his work, The Tattooed Soldier (1998), provides Elena’s narrative to highlight the harshness of the war environment. Elena and her son are killed in Guatemala by the mere fact that she takes a responsibility to air what is wrong in the delivery of services by the government (Tobar, 1998). Elena writes to the government and claims that the authority has failed to treat a leaking sewerage into one of the local’s drinking water source, therefore, threatening the health of the local people.
By giving an account of the unfortunate tale of Elena, Tobar, wants to show the uncontrollable environment of political and social pollution. According to Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America (2000), by Juan Gonzalez, the Guatemalan government suffered turmoil for long especially after being overthrown by guerillas sponsored by the United States and the nation came under civil war (138). That meant that there were rampant injustices and precariousness experienced by the citizens. That is the reason why Antonio the main character fled Guatemala. Antonio goes to Los Angeles, California and encounters a United States soldier, Guillermo Longoria, who was involved in the killing of his family back home, and the desire for revenge awakes in him (Tobar, 1998).
In short, the author uses the Elena narrative to characterize the Guatemala war environment with fear and terror. His characterization of the nation is proven right by the fact that, the Guatemalan soldiers, were perpetrating many criminal acts that left many people in terror (Tobar, 1998). For example, they were involved in the bombing of cafes, kidnapping of innocent but wealthy individuals and the worst of it all; they would murder any person suspected to be an informant.
In Los Angeles, the two main characters, Antonio Bernal and Guillermo Longoria, meet each other. They had almost the same former positions in Guatemala, before meeting here in Los Angeles. In Guatemala, Longoria was an army death squad member who was involved in the killing of Antonio’s family. Antonio Bernal, a former student, is a Guatemalan refugee who is homeless in the city of Los Angeles, living under a bridge. In fact, Antonio has to find ways to survive and is always wondering how he will cope with the class and racial discriminating surroundings. On the other hand, Longoria enjoys more luxurious privileges, such as having an apartment and a job in customer relations at a local mail delivery store (Tobar, 1998).
The refugees in Los Angeles, are overwhelmed by their suffering and end up rioting along with the Rodney King rioters. At this point, Antonio becomes emotional because he is reminded of his pain both in the United States and Guatemala. Antonio never forgot the face he seen, in a Guatemala Park, of the murderer of his family. He only saw the face one time right before coming to the U.S. only to see that face again, coincidently, across a chessboard in a park, in Los Angeles. He then gets the urge to revenge over his suffering and the killing of his family by killing Longoria (Tobar, 1998). The differing situations of Antonio and Longoria in Los Angeles, is a clear emphasis that no justice is served. Longoria, who can be termed as a war criminal, is free after all the pain he has caused Antonio and many other families. The irony is that the one who needs justice to avenge him, Antonio, is the one suffering while the criminal enjoys the available privileges in the harsh economic situation both in the United States and Central America. In the end, an illusion of justice is found. Antonio buys a gun and ends up killing Longoria to avenge himself (Tobar, 1998). It is an illusion of justice because it is a criminal act that still leaves Antonio with the same economic and political injustices.
Tobar sets his story based on the occurrences happening in the city of Los Angeles and Guatemala in 1991 and 1992. The happenings were the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles and the civil war in the country of Guatemala. In Los Angeles, many war immigrants such as Antonio were homeless and faced many economic and social challenges. They had escaped their country torn in a civil war with the hope of finding justice in the foreign land. The author uses the two areas to show that even though the city can be said to be of high standard life, it still faces the challenges that are found in the middle-class areas represented by Guatemala.
In other words, the two places are facing the same harsh economic times. The protagonists are caught up in both scenarios of Tobar’s settings. Longoria and Antonio involved in the turbulent occurrences get to feel the general impact and are affected in different ways.
The author’s purpose of creating a parallel comparison of the two places is also to show the uniqueness of the protagonist’s identities. The same situations face them, but their identities remain intact. Antonio is determined to kill Longoria and Longoria sees no problem in the conditions the immigrants face. He believes America is a nation of organization and order. However, the author highlights that it is their attitudes and emotions that change to adapt to the environment (Tobar, 1998). Ultimately, the end point of the authors paralleling of Guatemala and Los Angeles is intended to indicate that people can change their emotions and attitudes to adapt to an environment, but their identity remains the same. Also, both the wealthy and middles class areas can experience the same economic and social-political challenges.