With the current news about deportations and ICE arrests, it felt important to me to read a book from the perspective of someone who has experienced it firsthand. Guerrero is not an immigrant herself, but her parents and older brother were born in Columbia. Guerrero’s parents were deported when she was only fourteen years old, when she was left to fend for herself by the U.S. government (which, given the problems in the foster care system, maybe turns out to be a blessing). Growing up in the shadow of her parents’ status as illegal immigrants, both before and after their deportation, leaves some serious scars.
You may know that Guerrero is an actress on Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin. This is her story not only of her family, but of overcoming the many obstacles placed in her path. I found it devastating at times, but also inspiring.
She writes of her upbringing in the U.S., and the constant attempts by her parents to gain legal citizenship. Her parents love her, but after they are taken away, she describes what it feels like to try to maintain a relationship with her parents when they are miles away. She can visit them but they can’t come to her. I was incredibly sympathetic because fourteen has to be one of the hardest ages to be left alone to deal with huge problems like where you’re going to live and what you’re going to eat.
Guerrero comes home after school one day, without warning, to an empty house. She has to bring her parents clothes in their separate detention centers and then sees them driven away in a prison van by the authorities. All the while she has to deal with boyfriends and college and figuring out what to do with her life, while her parents are trying to make it day to day in what seems like a different world. She’s fortunate in some ways, in having good friends and particularly in having a really good high school to see her through these years. She’s also able to visit her parents in Columbia and has good experiences there, getting to know the rest of her family. It’s not all tragedy, but it does sound incredibly hard.
Guerrero also wrestles with the stigma attached to this experience. Only recently, as a successful actress, did she decide to share what she went through, and I’m glad she did, because we need to have a better understanding of what immigrant families (both legal and illegal) go through. My father was an immigrant to this country, but I can’t imagine having to worry every time someone knocks on the door that it’s the police coming to take your family away.
My only criticism of this book is that because it’s co-written, the tone can be uneven at times. Guerrero may not have the writing skills to convey all of her experiences into words, so there are times she gushes like a teenager and other times the tone is very thoughtful and somber. Still, even though co-written, her feelings and experiences are all too real.
Obviously this is one family’s experience, so it’s not meant to tell us all about immigration and deportation, but it does provide a lot of useful information. I think anyone who is concerned about the way immigrants are being treated right now would appreciate this book, as well as anyone who has followed Guerrero’s career as an actress.