Monday, November 23, 2020

Book Review: In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, with Michelle Burford

You may know Diane Guerrero from her work on Orange is the New Black or Jane the Virgin. But what I'll bet you don't know is that her parents were illegal immigrants to the US. And one day, when she was a teenager, she came home from school to find them both gone. No one ever checked up on her, no social worker ever arrived. Instead Diane had to fend for herself when she was fourteen.

Luckily, she had some good family friends who took her in. But then they moved and she had to find another family willing to take her in. She was able to visit both of her parents in the prisons they were sent to before their final deportation, which was incredibly traumatic. And as a US citizen, when she was older and when their family had scraped together some money, she was able to visit them in Colombia. But they can never even visit her again. 

She had to figure out her life, alone. She never felt comfortable--always felt like an imposing guest. Luckily the year before she'd gotten into a prestigious performing arts school, and the teachers there as well as her fellow students, encouraged her to go to college (in fact it was pretty much assumed that she would.) She had to figure out how to do that on her own too. And while the college itself part was figure-out-able, what was tricky was what to do with herself over college breaks when she had no home to go to, she wasn't a foreign student so she didn't have a host family, and again she felt like a giant imposition if she went back to the families who'd already put her up for so long in high school.

Obviously, she did eventually figure things out. And she eventually was a successful actor, appearing on two hit shows simultaneously. But she gives us a window into the real consequences of the deportations of illegal immigrants. If she'd just had a tiny bit less support, if just one or two things had gone wrong, she'd have ended up with a tragically different adult life. I found the book eye-opening.

This book is published by Henry Holt, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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