In 1911 during the Mexican Revolution, a Mexican family seeking refuge from Pancho Villa, soldiers, and violence migrates to Texas. Debut novelist Noble introduces 13-year-old Evangelina de León—a self-aware, observant, caring daughter and sister—her six siblings, parents, and abuelo, who live on a ranch located outside of Mariposa, a small, northern (fictional) Mexican town. Days after her sister’s quinceañera and the news of imminent raids and violence, the family splits up and, in waves, arrive at a relative’s home in Texas. They have not left struggle behind, however. Signs that read “No Perros! No Negros! No Mexicanos!” tell them they are shunned at grocery stores. The political and racial tensions in their new home town are not subtle: the family is denied a burial for a stillborn son; foreign-born children must use the woods as a bathroom instead of the school’s outhouse; a black boy is shot; a Lebanese kid is harassed; a young Mexican boy is spat upon; and both white children and adults are cruel to the immigrants in the neighborhood. Using the first person with Spanish sprinkled throughout, Noble propels the novel with vivid imagery and lovely prose, successfully guiding readers behind an immigrant family’s lens. Heartbreakingly real scenarios and the family’s perseverance will allow readers to forgive slow-moving sections. Loosely based on Noble’s own grandmother’s story, this debut hits awfully close to home in the current anti-immigrant political climate. (Historical fiction. 10-14)
Honest in its exploration of xenophobia, and timely in its empathetic portrayal of a refugee family, Evangelina Takes Flight is a vibrant and appealing historical novel.
In 1911, under threat of a raid by Pancho Villa and his men, Evangelina de León, her family, and their neighbors in Mariposa, Mexico, leave their homes behind. The book is divided between the first signs of danger on Rancho Encantado and Evangelina’s last week there; the journey by rail to Seneca, Texas; and the daily challenges the De Leóns face as they attempt to remake their lives. Laced with memories of Evangelina’s grandfather and his stories, the colorful plot emphasizes faith in God no matter the circumstances.
The chapters in Mariposa are especially skillful at drawing the close-knit clan. Events that would seem commonplace in less turbulent times gain additional poignancy in light of Evangelina’s tense state of mind. From sumptuous cookery to farm chores, an encounter with a scorpion, and a quinceañera celebration, natural details paint a world that is clearly ingrained and loved, yet seldom romanticized.
Once Evangelina crosses the border to America, the plot loosens, allowing serendipitous discoveries to play a strong role. Several scenes stand out for their ability to capture Evangelina’s altered status. Her arrival in Seneca—with its progression from storybook homes to the other side of the tracks—aptly signals the divisions in town. Her first day of school is rife with palpable anxiety and language barriers, and melds humiliation with
compassion in the form of a fellow child’s aid. A reunion with family that had been left behind in Mexico leads to news on the fate suffered by friends, which reminds the De Leóns how much there is to remain thankful for.
Despite the dark period, the book softens certain topics for a younger audience. The violence of Mexico’s revolution remains peripheral, and Seneca’s racism manifests in turned-away faces and one man’s rhetoric, which is rapidly quelled.
As much as this vital work takes on social issues, it’s Evangelina’s coming of age that resounds. Her abuelito’s maxim, “Challenges are chances in disguise,” grows into a gorgeously woven message of hope.
It is 1911 and 13-year-old Evangelina loves her life in northern Mexico, from her daily chores to her adoring family and the beauty of her surroundings. As her family celebrates her sister Elsa’s quinceañera, news arrives that revolutionaries are due to turn up in their town any day now. To escape the violence, Evangelina and her family travel to Texas, leaving their home and some of their loved ones behind. When they arrive, they are met with hostility from people who erroneously believe they lack hygiene or the ability to learn arithmetic or science. When a meeting is organized to discuss preventing any more Mexicans to continue settling in Seneca, it seems as if the situation will become more hostile for Evangelina’s family. With the help of a kindhearted doctor and her new friends Alfonso and Selim, Evangelina finds the strength to hope for a new life in an unfamiliar and unwelcoming place. Written in Evangelina’s conscientious voice and containing parallels to some of today’s current events, this hopeful, yet sometimes heartbreaking, novel is a fast and important read. — Selenia Paz
From blog: You Decide: Should I Read It or Not?
Evangelina lived with her parents, brothers, sisters and grandfather on her father’s ranch in Mariposa Mexico, which had been in the family for generations. She was looking forward to turning 15 in a year and a half so she could also celebrate her quinceañera, like her big sister. Everything about her life seemed to be going well, until the politics of 1911 turned everything upside down.
Due to the fighting that had begun with the Revolution, Pancho Villa and his soldiers roamed the countryside, robbing and killing villagers, Evangelina’s parents decide it’s too risky to stay in Mexico, so Evangelina had to leave her home and everything she loved, including her grandfather. It took days to travel to a small border town in Texas to live with her aunt but once there, the family found out they weren’t welcomed because they were Mexican.
Through the trials and tribulations she endured at school and at the hands of prejudiced villagers, Evangelina gained the courage to spread her wings and fly free as a butterfly, despite those who wanted her to crawl at their feet like a caterpillar.
I enjoyed learning about the Mexican Revolution from the eyes of a family who was living it. It was sad to read how Mexicans were treated in Texas and other states, even though they had been part of Mexico before the Mexican-American War. When settlers from the United States moved into these new states and took over land previously owned by Mexico, it was the Mexicans (the original inhabitants) who lost the rights to their ancestral homelands – just as what had happened to the Native Americans.
Attitudes towards Mexicans and other foreigners are, unfortunately, still alive today. Despite having to flee their homes due to war, gangs and other types of violence, many are not met with acceptance when they arrive in the United States. I loved what Evangelina said on page 111 when she asked, “Why do people in town glare at us so hatefully if they’ve never even met us? What would they do if the war was in Texas and their sons and daughters and fathers and sisters were being kidnapped and killed?”
I have to get on a soapbox to say that people need to put themselves into the shoes of others, and stop being judgmental. As I’ve said time and again “no one is an original American except for Native Americans, so think about where YOU would be now if your ancestors were kept out of the country the way you’re trying so hard to keep others out.” Think about it really hard.
Highly recommended for ages 12-16.
By Cris Rhodes
MY TWO CENTS: Diana J. Noble’s Evangelina Takes Flight is timely to a startling degree. As a work of historical fiction, Noble’s portrayal of upheaval in Mexico caused by the Mexican Revolution and Pancho Villa’s raids on farming villages remains relevant to this day. In confronting the racism and xenophobia rampant at the border, where shops display signs declaring “’No Dogs! No Negroes! No Mexicans! No Perros! No Negros! No Mexicanos!’,” Evangelina’s story parallels contemporary struggles for racial equality (92). As racial tensions build both in the text and in real life, Evangelina’s stand to keep her school desegregated feels remarkably current, and in its demonstration of child activism, Evangelina Takes Flight holds up a powerful example.
Though Noble doesn’t spend much time explaining the political situation of Mexico during the early twentieth century, the book doesn’t suffer from this lack of context. Indeed, told from the first-person point of view of Evangelina, the text should not offer details outside of her awareness.
The book begins mere days after Porfirio Díaz was ousted as president of Mexico, an event that certainly would not have reached the secluded rancho where Evangelina lives, let alone Evangelina herself. Yet, as we journey along with the tenacious and imaginative Evangelina from her fictional Mexican town of Mariposa to the United States to escape the violence wrought by Villa, Noble invites the reader to watch Evangelina grow and mature. She might not be able to foment resistance in her native Mexico, but she certainly can in the United States, and eventually does when called upon to stand up for her right to an education.
Though Evangelina is still a child, at least by modern conceptions of childhood (she turns fourteen during the course of the book), she is entrusted with great responsibility, much of it in the field of medicine—leading her to dream of one day becoming a nurse or even a doctor. While this dream defies the limitations put upon her by her race and her gender, Evangelina does cling to some, perhaps stereotypical, tenets of Mexican femininity. She’s excited for her upcoming quinceañera, and she longs for the attention of boys—one boy, in particular: Selim. Evangelina’s blossoming relationship with Selim is doubly interesting because he is Lebanese—a fact that would likely cause some waves among her traditional Mexican family. Though Noble keeps their relationship chaste, the potential of an interracial relationship adds intrigue, and I wish there was more to it.
Understandably, however, Evangelina and Selim’s feelings for each other are overshadowed by an upcoming town hall meeting, which will decide if foreign-born students will be allowed to attend school with their white peers.
This book resonated with me on multiple levels. Evangelina’s struggle for independence, respect, and acquiring her own voice is something that many young Latinas, myself included, face today. Noble’s poetic yet accessible prose allows the reader to slip into Evangelina’s world and understand that problems can be overcome with perseverance and bravery.
Though this book is marketed as a middle grade novel, it may be more appropriate for experienced or older readers. I found Evangelina an intriguing and captivating read. Ultimately, for those looking for a book that faces contemporary issues through the lens of historical fiction, Evangelina Takes Flight certainly fits the bill.
TEACHING TIPS: Evangelina Takes Flight would pair well with other books about school de/segregation or child activists, such as Duncan Tonatiuh’s Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Méndez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation or Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist. In addition, because of its historical setting, Evangelina would also be useful in teaching about the Mexican Revolution, the history of Texas, or historical race relations in the United States.
Evangelina Takes Flight offers lessons on metaphor and imagery, especially in its use of the butterfly as a symbol of resilience. When Evangelina’s grandfather tells her the story of the migratory butterflies for which her hometown of Mariposa is named, she starts to see the butterfly as an image of strength. Students could be guided to find passages where butterflies are mentioned to see how Noble constructs this extended metaphor. Students may also be encouraged to deconstruct the representations of butterflies on the cover of the book in a discussion about visual rhetoric.
PIMA COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY
Thirteen-year-old Evangelina, who lives in Rancho Encantado in Northern Mexico, is looking forward to having a quinceañera celebration as splendid as her older sister’s. But the year is 1911 and the Mexican Revolution is about to change her life. Fleeing the violence of Pancho Villa, her family moves to Texas, only to encounter new difficulties. The tiny, segregated town in which they find themselves is not welcoming to Mexicans. Evangelina is humiliated at school, and the town is calling a meeting to discuss what to do with the Mexican immigrants. Life is so very different than it was on the ranch! Can Evangelina find a way to make a new life for herself? This heart wrenching and yet hopeful story of a Mexican family’s struggles in the U.S. is compelling historical fiction for young adult readers, ages 12 and up.