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His novel The Old Gringo (1985), which became a film starring Jane Fonda and Gregory Peck, explored the US-Mexican border as a real and symbolic frontier. He returned to it in The Crystal Frontier (1995), a novel in nine stories in which Latinos cross the Rio Grande only to become invisible (terrain covered in Ken Loach's new film, Bread and Roses). Despite the brutal economic realities of a land frontier where the first world abuts the third, Fuentes relishes the "silent reconquest" of the Mexican territories lost in 1848. "In the US, 35 million people speak Spanish," he says. "Los Angeles is the second Spanish-speaking city in the world after Mexico City - and before Madrid or Buenos Aires. These people are bearers of culture." He believes the Latino presence will reshape US politics. "The US has become a multicultural nation, which makes it stronger, not weaker - though it has difficulty accepting the fact."

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