Confession time–I have never watched Orange is the New Black, but Diane Guerrero’s character, Lina, on Jane the Virgin is one of my faves. I was excited to receive Diane Guerrero’s new book In the Country We Love: My Family Divided* to review because, at minimum I like supporting Latina authors and knew it would touch on immigration. But I was pleasantly sucker-punched-surprised when I read this book. I read it in one sitting–it is that good and necessary.
First, my preconception of this book was that it would be bubble-gum lite in regards to immigration. I had heard of Diane’s story, but I’ve read some quickie memoirs before that just skim the surface and if I’m honest, I did not have super high expectations. But shame on me because this book painted such a complex, traumatic, tragic, sad, bittersweet love story between child and parents/ citizen and nation.
The narrative itself is incredibly well-written. Most readers will go into the story knowing the outcome of Diane’s family situation, but that is what makes reading her last day with her parents excruciating. You know what’s coming down the pike and it’s heart wrenching. The story flows incredibly well from the first chapter and keeps your attention throughout.
The most gripping part of this book is the raw emotions that are so palpable. From her brother’s desperation, her parents fear, her anger and despondency and loneliness–it’s easy to feel empathy with everyone. And truthfully, I have never read an account of a US citizen child that so beautifully encapsulates what is like to live in constant fear of the government taking away your immigrant parents.
I read this story and I became so angry for Diane–I could feel the hurt and pain she suffered and it’s the same hurt and pain my clients and their children experience on a daily basis. I read her story and think of my clients and all I can come back to is the disbelief of how are we treating the citizens of this nation. Diane is a U.S. citizen and yet she lived under constant threat of losing her family. When her parents were taken from her at 14 she was orphaned by the government. When we talk about grit and perseverance she showcases that power tremendously. But she also shows the clear long-lasting trauma that she suffered from being abandoned. She suffered a deep depression and she doesn’t exaggerate when she says that if it had not been for certain fortunate breaks she could have easily ended up in jail or worse.
Diane’s reality is still being experienced by our community. Our parents, cousins, siblings are not the only ones the live in the shadows. Their children, who happen to be U.S. citizens, also suffer from the fear and terror that someday their family can be taken away. What kind of trauma does that do to a small child while they’re in school? How can they concentrate when they worry that they’ll come home one day and their parents will be missing? How can we expect the teenagers in our communities to excel in education when their loved ones are yanked from their homes? What will become of those children when they have no one to guide them as they enter adulthood? How many will be fortunate like Diane? How many others will fall through the cracks? The system is infuriating and I’m so grateful that Diane was willing to be voice and paint a poignant yet sad picture of how this country treats its people.
So obviously, I highly recommend this book if you are an immigrant or a child of immigrants. The book does an amazing job capturing the fear, the shame, and the defense mechanisms that many of us experience, which results in a deep and vast divide between us and our parents.
If you practice immigration or are interested in immigration reform this book is an absolute must-read. I have not read any other modern narrative that captures the feelings of despondency, poverty, and fear within immigrant families. I know the indignities her family faced are similar to what my clients experience and it makes me want to work harder for them. Her call to action is also a great reminder of all there is left to do and what we can do to make our government work for us.
If you are an attorney, you must read this book regardless of your practice area. Reading her story, I saw so many instances outside of immigration, where the justice system failed–her brother, her parents’ employment, child protection, etc. Of what use is our law licenses if we don’t use it to make our communities better and stronger? Most pointedly, this book shows how desperately our communities need good attorneys. When she begins her story of her father finding a “Harvard lawyer” I felt a knot in my stomach. She describes a horrible situation of a sham attorney who manipulated people to pay him hundreds of dollars every couple of months with the false hope that he had filed papers for them. Diane’s father gave this criminal a small fortune in a desperate attempt to get legal status only to realize too late they had been robbed. Her father’s despair is so tragic and you can feel how they are not only robbed of their money, but of any real hope. It made me sick, though not surprised, that people take advantage of the most needy. Reading this reminded me how important it is to be a good ambassador for this profession. I hope other attorneys read this and feel compelled to do pro bono work when they can.
Finally, Latinas should read this book. No, not all of us grow up in poverty. Not all of us come from immigrant families. But our latinidad is a shared experience and even though Diane is Colombian-American, I felt so many similarities in her family’s struggle, her culture, and her childhood. I think other Latinas will feel the same. More importantly, we need to show publishers that there is a market for Latina authors, and that we are a group that is seeking real, raw, deep, and well-done content.
I am so impressed with this book and encourage everyone to go get a copy. When you read it, you will get sad, but then my hope is that you get angry enough to follow that beautiful call to action so that we can demand real reform.
In the Country We Love is now available for purchase.
*I received a copy of In the Country We Love, but have not received any compensation for my review. The review is my honest opinion.