The BookBrowse Review

Published January 22, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

Children of the Land
by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
28 Jan 2020
384 pages
Publisher: Harper
ISBN-13: 9780062825599
Genre: Biography/Memoir
Critics:
Readers:
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This unforgettable memoir from a prize-winning poet about growing up undocumented in the United States recounts the sorrows and joys of a family torn apart by draconian policies and chronicles one young man's attempt to build a future in a nation that denies his existence.

"You were not a ghost even though an entire country was scared of you. No one in this story was a ghost. This was not a story."

When Marcelo Hernandez Castillo was five years old and his family was preparing to cross the border between Mexico and the United States, he suffered temporary, stress-induced blindness. Castillo regained his vision, but quickly understood that he had to move into a threshold of invisibility before settling in California with his parents and siblings. Thus began a new life of hiding in plain sight and of paying extraordinarily careful attention at all times for fear of being truly seen. Before Castillo was one of the most celebrated poets of a generation, he was a boy who perfected his English in the hopes that he might never seem extraordinary.

With beauty, grace, and honesty, Castillo recounts his and his family's encounters with a system that treats them as criminals for seeking safe, ordinary lives. He writes of the Sunday afternoon when he opened the door to an ICE officer who had one hand on his holster, of the hours he spent making a fake social security card so that he could work to support his family, of his father's deportation and the decade that he spent waiting to return to his wife and children only to be denied reentry, and of his mother's heartbreaking decision to leave her children and grandchildren so that she could be reunited with her estranged husband and retire from a life of hard labor.

Children of the Land distills the trauma of displacement, illuminates the human lives behind the headlines and serves as a stunning meditation on what it means to be a man and a citizen.

"Castillo uses his prodigious poetic craft to plumb each family member's odyssey through the U.S. immigration system...and to describe the raw emotion and pain experienced while...living under a cloud of uncertainty and fear...Castillo lays bare the inherent unfairness and high psychological toll of the current immigration system on people in both the U.S. and Mexico." - Booklist (starred review)

"Castillo writes with disturbing candor, depicting the all-too-common plight of undocumented immigrants to the U.S." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Honest and unsparing, this book offers a detailed look at the dehumanizing immigration system that shattered the author's family while offering a glimpse into his own deeply conflicted sense of what it means to live the so-called American dream. A heartfelt and haunting memoir just right for the current political and social climate." - Kirkus Reviews

"In large part an attempt to answer the question of how to create a landscape of memories divorced from spectacle, this inventively rendered memoir provides an intimate, important look at the immigrant experience, family and intergenerational trauma, and coping with the ongoing presence of uncertainty in one's life." - Library Journal

"This moving memoir is the document of a life without documents, of belonging to two countries yet belonging to neither. Hernandez Castillo has created his own papers fashioned from memory and poetry. His motherland is la madre tierra, his life a history lesson for our times." - Sandra Cisneros author of The House on Mango Street

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by lani
the immigrants' invisibility
Today,March 11, the Supreme Court said" the Trump administration may continue its 'Remain in Mexico' policy for asylum seekers while lower court challenges continue, after the federal government warned that tens of thousands of immigrants amassed at the southern border.."Reading this one hour after I finished this powerful and haunting memoir it really hit home. Castillo came to the US as an undocumented 5 year old from Mexico with his family.What the author conveyed in a lyrical poetic fashion was an illumination like no other of the immigrant's dilemma . He never felt like he belonged in either country, felt invisible and was constantly in fear of his family's deportation. When his father was deported, he eventually went to see him after 10 years because he qualified for the DACA program. His constant anxiety only fueled his sense of cultural confusion. The book takes us through his shame, hope,love of family, and the very real process of documentation that immigrants must go through. Raw and unflinching, you will understand the world better if you read this now.

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo is the author of Cenzontle, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. prize (BOA editions 2018), winner of the 2019 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award in poetry, a finalist for the Northern California Book Award and named a best book of 2018 by NPR and the New York Public Library. As one of the founders of the Undocupoets campaign, he is a recipient of the Barnes and Noble "Writers for Writers" Award. He holds a B.A. from Sacramento State University and was the first undocumented student to graduate from the Helen Zell Writers Program at the University of Michigan. His work has appeared or is featured in the New York Times, the Paris Review, People Magazine, and PBS Newshour, among others. He lives in Marysville, California where he teaches poetry to incarcerated youth and also teaches at the Ashland University Low-Res MFA program.

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