Monday, 11 July 2016

In The Country We Love

Author: Diane Guerrero
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
First Published: May 3, 2016
First Line: "One moment -- that's all it takes for your entire world to split apart."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe star of Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin presents her personal story of the real plight of undocumented immigrants in this country.

Diane Guerrero, the television actress from the megahit Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, was just fourteen years old on the day her parents and brother were arrested and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career for herself, without the support system of her family.

In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman's extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, many of whom have citizen children, whose lives here are just as precarious, and whose stories haven't been told. Written with Michelle Burford, this memoir is a tale of personal triumph that also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families likes the author's and on a system that fails them over and over.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: In this book Diane Guerrero, actress in the popular Jane the Virgin and Orange is the New Black TV shows, details her experiences as the daughter of undocumented residents who, at the age of 14, suddenly finds herself alone in the US when her parents are deported.  Readers will be shocked at how easily Diane slipped through the US system with no government agency contacting Diane, an American citizen, to make sure she was okay after her parents were deported.  Instead she relied on the help of her community in Boston, her own sheer determination and the generosity of family friends to take her in.  But even with their support, Diane feel quite alone and is forced to become an adult at too early an age.

The issues of undocumented residents has been in the news quite a lot lately making this book relevant and timely.  Guerrero gives a personal look into what life is like for undocumented residents - the constant fear of being caught, struggling to make ends meet and being victims of fraudsters out to take advantage of people who desperately want to become legal citizens.  She also shows the strength, love and support of her local community and how they come together to help whenever they can.

Her account is, at times, heart-breaking, maddening and shocking but always with a real honesty. She doesn't sugar coat her problems and faults with her readers as she struggles to remain connected with her parents, deal with her feelings of abandonment as well as confront alcohol abuse and mental health issues. 

She has a very causal and conversational feel to her writing with some contemporary slang (complete with occasional hashtags) thrown in.  Sometimes this writing style can backfire and this book felt more like chatting with a girlfriend most of the time.  But I think, for the most part, it works for this book and I couldn't help but imagine her saying some of these lines in a Maritza Ramos style.  For those who aren't Orange is the New Black fans, Maritza is the character that Diane plays on the hit show.  Diane talks a bit about her OITNB experiences and cast mates - their banter and connection is just as solid on and off set as you'd imagine. 

Now when I watch Orange is the New Black I have a much better understanding of this relatively new actress.  You really cannot understand a person until you've walked a mile in their shoes.  As a Canadian citizen, I have had a very different experience growing up but I appreciate how thoroughly she described her feelings and struggles to her readers to enable us to get a glimpse into her life and help us to sympathize with people in similar situations.

While she has started on a successful career as an actress and has become an advocate for immigrants, readers witness how the loss of her parents, at such an important juncture of her life, influences her positive and negative life experiences in such a dramatic way.  While Diane accounts her own struggles in this book she has become the voice of many who continue to fight for the opportunity to be American citizens.  She is a force to be reckoned with and I applaud her for sharing her painful upbringing, humanizing immigration and shedding the light on America's need for inclusivity.

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