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Book Review: In the Country We Love

September 5, 2017

 

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, by Diane Guerrero, star of Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin.

 

“One moment—that’s all it takes for your entire world to split apart. For me, that moment came when I was fourteen. I returned home from school to discover that my hardworking immigrant parents had been taken away. In one irreversible instant—in the space of a single breath—life as I’d known it was forever altered.”

 

Diane Guerrero’s parents were immigrants from Colombia who had arrived in the country legally and then simply stayed after their visas expired. Although they were unable to work legally and were often exploited by the employers who were willing to hire workers under the table, paid less than minimum wage or sometimes not at all, the life they found here was better than the poverty and violence back in Colombia.

 

For fifteen years they stayed under the radar, careful to avoid so much as running a yellow light in fear of attracting the attention of the police, but their dream ended when they were arrested by immigration officials and sent to a prison to await deportation.

 

Born in the U.S.A., Diane was an American citizen, and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) had no interest in her. At that moment, the fourteen-year-old girl fell through the cracks and was on her own. Child Protective Services was never informed. Her school never heard the news. Diane stayed with a succession of friends, hiding the fact that she was alone in the world from almost everyone who knew her.

 

After years of agonizing struggles to support herself, to earn a college degree and build a career, fame came suddenly. Still, she was careful to keep her family background a secret, fearing the shame of the public finding out that her parents were undocumented and deported. At long last, she found the courage and the freedom to share her story and speak for all the others who have been afraid to raise their voice lest someone notice that they are here.

 

Diane’s conversational style makes this book an easy read that feels intensely personal, which it clearly is. The book’s most powerful moments are the intimate stories that capture the constant fear and humiliation of undocumented life: The lawyer who accepted thousands of dollars over a period of years to get legal status for her parents, and then disappeared. The friends who heard of Diane’s plight when her parents were arrested and came over to her apartment, only to take the very food from her refrigerator. The time she was hit by a car and refused to let the driver call 911 for fear that the authorities would find out she was on her own. There is an immediacy to these stories, as though the author can still feel their emotion with the same intensity as the day they occurred.

 

Diane’s story is a valuable addition to the politically charged conversation about undocumented immigrants, providing a human perspective on an issue that affects millions of people in our country.

 

Verdict: Highly recommend

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