Thursday, December 28, 2017

In the Country We Love

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero (2016)

You may know her as Maritza from Orange is the New Black or Lina from Jane the Virgin, but she was also the child of undocumented immigrants. When she was 14 years old, Guerrero came home from school one day to find that her parents had been taken. They were sent back to Colombia and Diane, who was born in the US and therefore a citizen, was left to fend for herself. She lived with her friends' families, struggled her way through school, and went through some very dark periods before finally following her calling as an actor.

Although I have watched several seasons of OINTB, what drew me to this book was the story about her family. As I've mentioned before, I'm on the Community Read committee at work and we've talked a bit about finding books about immigration. I think it's particularly important to talk about the kind of immigration that people like to call "illegal" because I don't think most people know what they're talking about when they use that phrase. I'd love to learn more about it myself. Guerrero's parents did what is common, which is to get a visa to come to the United States, and then overstay that visa. The process you must go through to try and become a citizen once you're here on a visa takes years, literally years, and I gather that's why people's visas tend to expire. Once that happens, trying to reopen your case can bring unwanted attention and sometimes, as in her family's case, result in deportation. I'm honestly a little bit fuzzy on the details of exactly what happened and what her family could have done differently - if anything - to prevent this from happening, but perhaps Guerrero doesn't know either. She was very young and it's a confusing system.

Her relationship with her parents suffered so much because of their separation. They talked on the phone, and she eventually went to Colombia to visit, but not having them involved in her daily life meant that she kind of slacked off about keeping in touch. She had a lot going on that she had to contend with. She grew up in Boston and got into Boston Arts Academy, a new performing arts public high school. Although she loved performing, she didn't think it was practical so instead of applying to a conservatory she went to Regis College, hoping that she'd eventually go into law. After a lot of academic and personal struggle she eventually admitted law wasn't going to do it for her, and that's when she finally started taking acting classes and found her true calling.

Written in a very casual style (with help from Michelle Burford) it's definitely not a literary masterpiece - there's lots of slang and hashtags and whatnot - but that's fine. It's it's a co-written celebrity memoir about someone who happens to have a pretty interesting background. Because of the sub-par writing and the fact that it doesn't go into immigration issues in a more general way I likely won't recommend it to the Community Reads committee. But I'm glad I picked it up - it was a fun and interesting story.

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