BY: DIXIE SALAZAR
When Carmen Luna’s brother Tomas is abducted by Immigration (ICE) and taken to an unknown location, she knows her elementary magic will not be enough to free him. Forging a surprising friendship with Chia Yang, a Hmong girl, Carmen joins forces—and magic—with Chia in an effort to free Tomas and save her home from the evil realtor, Mr. Silver, who collaborates with ICE to steal the property and valuables of those who are deported. Together, Carmen and Chia must draw on the knowledge of their ancestors and the strengths of their separate cultures to save Tomas and battle the evil forces that threaten to destroy not only their families—but everyone on Earth.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Carmen & Chia Mix Magic by Dixie Salazar, Carmen is a 15-year-old girl, most of whose family is in the US illegally. In the neighborhood where Carmen and her family live is an evil realtor who profits from turning illegals over to the immigration services and then stealing all the family’s valuable possessions once they are deported. Carmen’s mother and brother are illegals and when her brother is abducted by the realtor’s goons, Carmen and her friend Chia, a Hmong immigrant, mix their magical abilities, culture, and the knowledge inherited from their ancestors to battle this evil gang of mercenaries.
The book is unique in a couple of ways. First of all, it mixes a combination of Spanish and English dialogue in a way intended to teach some of the Spanish language. Secondly, it has a study guide in the back, which would make the book an excellent educational tool for junior high and high school students. Carmen & Chia Mix Magic gives us a revealing glimpse of what life is life for immigrants, legal or illegal, who leave behind everything they knew and loved and move to a new country, hoping to find a better life. Not only are they mostly made to feel unwelcome, they don’t even speak the language of their new country and that, along with many other obstacles, makes it difficult for them to survive. It illustrates how important family can be at such a time, and what some people with do when their loved ones are threatened. It also illustrates how some unscrupulous people will use the problems of those less fortunate to make a profit at others’ expense. I think the book is one that all young people should read. Maybe, if we have a better understanding of other people’s problems and heartaches, we might learn to be more tolerant.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Carmen & Chis Mix Magic is a YA/educational novel about a family of illegal immigrants struggling to survive in a difficult situation. Their problems are compounded when they are targeted by a group of thugs who get rich by turning people over to the immigration control and then stealing their valuables when they are deported to their homelands. In this case, however, the thugs are after a magical plate that is in the possession of Carmen’s family, though they are unaware of it.
Carmen & Chia Mix Magic gives us a view into a world that few of us even know exists—one where people live in daily fear of the authorities and where they can trust no one but their families. It is a story of culture shock, courage, and the love of a young girl for her older brother. The book is well written, educational, and I recommend it to anyone who wants both a better understanding of the Spanish language and a glimpse of a world where culture and family are sometimes the only things you can call your own.
Four silver discs burned through the tinted glass, trained on the sobbing child and her mother.
Tonto’s binoculars slid down from silver wrap around shades. “Ya sure it’s them?”
“Yea, look just like Boss describe–Kid needs a smack with a two-by-four, shut her up.” Sicko moved his black-rubber-gloved finger down the page of a notebook beside him. “And that’s the address, all right.”
“So what’s next, Sicko?” Tonto growled.
“The beauty a this job is we don’t gotta do nothing but make the phone calls and wait.”
“So why we here then?”
“Make sure we got the right address, Tonto. Silver waitin for the call from us, then he call the ICE, then ’bouta week, they do their thing, pick up the woman and back she goes to Mexico–Silver got it all lined up to buy the house–we go in and make our haul–see that statue on the porch? Silver got his eye on that–had it checked out–it’s real old and our inside person say they got lotta silver jewelry real old too and some real old Mexican pots ’n junk.”
“So what happens to the kid? She’s probably born here.”
Sicko shrugged. “That’s, like Silver says, their problem.”
“Hey, aint that other place on this street, too? The one with the old cars and stuff? Maybe we check it out long as we’re in the neighborhood.”
“Yea, think so–round the corner, ’bout two streets over. Vamanos.”
The van jumped away from the curb and sped up.
“Hey, look out!” Tonto screamed.
Sicko jerked the wheel and crunched the brakes, but not in time. All they saw was a flash of black and white, but they felt the sickening thump against the combined shriek of the tire and the terror-struck animal.
“Oh man, Sicko, I think you got a cat.”
Sicko gunned the engine and swooped down the street, tires squealing. “We gotta scram. Silver gut us like fish if he finds out. We s’posed to be keeping low profile.”
Carmen Luna had just turned the corner when she saw the silver van streaking toward her, but it sped past with a blur of smoked glass and burning rubber. Then she saw the cat, a limp muff of fur slung in the gutter. Carmen caught her breath sharply and nudged it with her foot, but it didn’t move. She knelt down, reaching for the still warm fur, then pulled back. There was nothing she could do for it now, except call animal control when she got home. Heart still pounding with fury, Carmen shakily made her way home.
They should have stopped to see if it was okay. Working in the fields, Carmen and her family had come across many a maimed creature and, always, her mother or father rescued the poor, broken beings and took them home to nurse. Carmen had once seen her mother bicycle the tiny, matchstick legs of a baby bird, fallen from a nest, to revive it, then take it home and feed it a drop of mescal. A few weeks later, when it was strong enough, they’d waved it back into the almond blossoms and watched it take to the sky.
Now Carmen could not stop thinking about the poor, black and white kitty–someone’s pet, most likely. She hurried to make the phone call, hoping that whoever owned the cat wouldn’t come upon it, especially since it had been thrown so cruelly into the gutter.
Occupied with her thoughts, Carmen didn’t see it at first when she turned the corner, but she felt something cold snaking down her back. The smell of something rancid made her look up, then her whole body jerked. There was the silver van parked down the street and across from her house. Carmen stopped in her tracks. She was sure it was the same van with the darkened widows, and now it just sat there as if waiting for her. Maybe they saw her. All she could think to do was turn around and run. Flying over the sidewalk, her feet took on a life of their own, dragging her body along like a deflated balloon. Finally, lungs ready to pop, she stopped for breath behind Medrano’s Market, a candy and beer stop along the bus route.
Panting, Carmen leaned against the back of the building. She knew that hit and run was a crime, but did that include animals? Angry voices from inside interrupted her thoughts. Carmen moved closer to the slightly ajar back door, and leaned inward. “Mi hermana es…es very sick, senor. We have to pay lot of dollars for the medicine. Pero…she do not want to sell her casa…”
“Well, what about all that stuff she had in the yard sale? She told me I could have it. I go over there to pick it up and some gang banger come to the door, says she change her mind. And she signed papers, you know, for the house.”
“No! She wouldn’t sign papers to sell,” a younger voice chimed in. “You guys lied to her…we going to get a lawyer. You blood suckers better back off. And don’t send any more people around to talk to my sister. She’s a sick lady–”
“She signed those papers, and we got lawyers, too. This isn’t over.”
Carmen heard the front door slam and ran into a burnt metal smell, as she rounded the corner of the building. A shock of silver almost blinded her as a tall, iron-gray-haired man nearly mowed her down. His stiff hair and face that looked chiseled, as if out of ice, reminded her of one of her brother Tomas’ evil action figures. Something round and metal tumbled around in his left hand–a measuring tape in a metal case, Carmen saw, looking more closely.
He whipped the tape out in Carmen’s face with a jerk, almost smacking Carmen in the face, then laughed coldly when she jumped. “Careful who you stare at, lookie lou. There was a murder on this corner the other day–a girl about your age, too.” His lips formed a smile, cold and hard as a zipper.
Shoving her hands in her pockets, Carmen frowned then turned on her heel and walked back the way she had come as slowly as she dared, her heart break-dancing against her chest. This route back now led her past the house where she’d seen the cat killed, but there was no sign of it now. Carmen let out a long, raggedy sigh. Her worries, that had before mostly involved her family’s troubles, now widened out in a world suddenly become ominously dark and foreboding.
© 2014 by Dixie Salazar