Joseph VanZutphen understands the plight of DACA families.
He fictionalized that experience and wrote “Child of Sonora,” which begins with a juxtaposition of the lives of two 7-year-old boys — one in present-day Scottsdale and the other a Tohono O’odham Nation member in 1848.
“Although each story illustrates the proverbial human pronouncement — that there is joy, sorrow and difficulty in life no matter the year or the landscape — the stories converge and provide a parallax view of Native Americans’ endemic struggle with the U.S. immigration process, both historically and today,” the Goodyear resident said.
“Child of Sonora” received the finalist award for e-book fiction from the 2020 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.
In the book, 7-year-old Colby of Scottsdale loses his mother to a heart attack. Mel is not only his sole parent but his confidant and hero.
“Together, they regularly get absorbed in evening baseball on TV, which both distracts them from their grief and tightens their father-son bond,” VanZutphen said.
“However, Mel is also dousing his aching grief with alcohol, and, unknown to Mel, his precocious child is hurting deeply because of it. Mel owns a small landscaping company and owes his success, in part, to the reliable hard work of his crew of three. One afternoon Alfonso ‘Poncho’ Marquez, his foreman, receives a deportation notice after his arrest for felony possession of a hash pipe, and this sets into motion a legal defense based on suspicion that the pipe was planted, but more important is the constitutional argument that Poncho’s rights as a DACA recipient are not equal to other legal residents.”
That’s when Mel and Colby get involved in helping Poncho fight the dubious pipe discovery and the injustice of the legal system.
In the Tohono O’odham, a 7-year-old boy loses his parents to a massacre of his village by renegades from the U.S. Volunteer Army in 1848. He is picked up by regular Army soldiers and taken to a mission in the Gila Valley where he is made to learn the white man’s ways.
“This tragic usurpation of his tribal ways leads to his lifelong mission to redeem his ancient customs and pass them to future generations,” VanZutphen said.
“Each of these succeeding generations has its own struggles with acceptance and injustice as 175 years of discrimination reaches all the way to the present day,” he said.
VanZutphen understands problems with immigration. His son married a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient in 2016.
“I never paid attention to DACA,” he said. “Then I learned about the trials and tribulations of it, like the fear of going to the supermarket and having the police show up.
“It’s so sad to hear that. The main person in my book is a DACA recipient who’s 27 years old who is pulled over. The book goes on with that and his fight against it.”
The 252-page “Child of Sonora” is VanZutphen’s first book. He was an English major in college and then worked as a reporter and English teacher. In 2016, when he was semiretired, he considered writing a book. He’s working on a second one now and eyeballing a third.
“‘Child of Sonora’ gives important insight into Native Americans and the DACA predicament,” he said. “Generations of Native Americans throughout the U.S. are affected by DACA because their Native American parents, grandparents or great-grandparents ventured from the U.S. to Mexico and then could not come back legally.”