Book review: “Trust Our American Dream”

“Trust Our American Dream,” a comedic piece of historical fiction, depicts the contemporary plight of undocumented immigrants in assuming liberty as a basic natural right. Author Don Balla, John Brown University Professor of Business emeritus, fulltime lawyer and outspoken advocate for immigrant rights, strategically employs Abraham Lincoln’s views concerning the Declaration of Independence: “The assertion ‘all men are created equal’ was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain … Its authors meant it to be — and thank God it is now proving itself — a stumbling block for those who, in after times, would seek to turn a free people into the hateful paths of despotism.”

Following this framing of basic rights to liberty of movement and pursuit of happiness, Balla offsets an artful mix of zany drama with serious engagement in a maze of harrowingly complex legal nuances. The unassuming hero of the drama, Jesus Noyes, has been denied a driver’s license by the State of Arkansas. Jesus, his three children and wife, Morena Castillo, seek a family road trip to Niagara Falls, mispronounced repeatedly by Jesus as Nicaragua Falls. The heart-wrenching story of Morena’s path to the United States buttresses the comedic tenor of the rest of the narrative.

First, we encounter Morena in the latter part of the 20th century as a child refugee of Guatemalan conflicts between indigenous groups and Hispanic coffee farmers. Upon fleeing south, she suffers firsthand the vitriolic anti-immigrant prejudices Mexicans harbor against Guatemalans [hence the given name ‘Morena’ for her ‘dark’ skin]. Enduring sexual abuse at the hands of a Mexican captor, she eventually escapes captivity by slitting his throat only to later to discover she carries this abusive stranger’s child.

If her story alone were not enough to evoke solidarity for this countryless denizen, Morena’s and Jesus’s crossing of the Jordan/Rio Grande to escape Mexican poverty climaxes in the birth of another child, Blythe (literally: happy, carefree) in the precise middle of the river ambiguously on the border.

Balla counters the Noyes’ family drama with the gigantesque austerity of brother and sister Asian duo, lawyer Abraham Lincoln Kim and marginalized rights-champion Joan Vark Kim. He embeds the woes of this socially discriminated pair, for both reasons of their Asian heritage and their inhuman height, as co-champions of the anti-discrimination cause they passionately defend in Noyes v. Arkansas.

As for the antagonists, the climax of absurdity (as if reality were sometimes more strange than tragic-comedy) comes with the passing of the ALIEN law in the Arkansas legislature. The piece of legislation serves as a strategic block and threat to the untimely progressivism of Lincoln. As a clever acronym for Arkansas Legalized Infamy and EducatioN Act, the ALIEN Act deems it legal in Arkansas to shoot undocumented immigrants and all Catholics without guns. As protection against racial-ethnic profiling, Rep. Lucky O’Brien from Yell County proposes, ‘Folks, you can’t biblically order the citizens of Arkansas to shoot illegal alien lookalikes … and Catholics without guns … without providing for a City of Refuge.’

Employing biblical irony, with Walkintoad, AR as their refuge, Balla thus places the undocumented migrants morally on par with accused murderers. To find out if the Noyes fulfill their hope of making it to Niagara Falls as a family, I unreservedly recommend you to undertake the roller-coaster ride of intense hilarity, deep intellectual insight and heart-moving sentiment sure to ensue upon reading this captivating book.

Bowman is an adjunct professor of political science and philosophy at JBU. He can be reached at jbowman@jbu.edu.