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Summary and book reviews of Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Children of the Land

by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo X
Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Jan 2020, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

22.

The ride to the border checkpoint was quiet. The driver, too, must have known what had transpired, given where he picked us up from and where he was taking us to, and the silence between us. At the bare minimum, he knew we'd had to leave someone behind. He kept his eyes locked on the road.

Even though it was December, it still felt hot in the middle of the day, so I cracked open the window. Traffic was backed up for about half a mile at the checkpoint. We inched forward, unbearably slow. Either Juarez was tugging us back, not wanting us to leave, or El Paso was pushing against us, not wanting us to enter.

Walking down the lanes were street vendors with their merchandise hanging from hooks on large boards. Others carried large sticks with plastic balloon animals, cotton candy, popcorn, newspapers, and toys, so many toys. Their bright colors against the hazy sky made me want them as if I was ten years old again but knew better than to ask for a toy when there wasn't any money.

...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In this book, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo navigates a wide variety of borders: ancestral, emotional, mental, idiomatic and geographic. Similar to recent memoirs like Reyna Grande's The Distance Between Us (La distancia entre nosotros) and Trevor Noah's Born a Crime, which explore coming of age between cultures, Children of the Land reveals how a person can push the limits of endurance, survive and transform their experience into literature...continued

Full Review (851 words).

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(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

Los Angeles Times
In this courageous memoir, Castillo lays bare his emotional truths with remarkable intimacy and insight. Ever the poet, Castillo can’t resist a lyrical stroke here and there, like when he describes arriving in Mexico 'the same way as the light entered the rosary, and when we departed the corridors of its prisms, we did so no longer wholly intact either, a little broken.' The same outcome awaits the reader who encounters this book.

New York Times
Even as the novel charts the voyages of its vagabonds, it represents an attempt to draw the periphery into the center, steering us toward the provinces as it renovates the Cuban novel...This chaotic, democratic bricolage — each voice vulgar and vulnerable in its own way — styles the novel as a series of interviews. Taken together, they represent a cubist inquest into the soul of Cienfuegos.

Kirkus Reviews
A heartfelt and haunting memoir just right for the current political and social climate.

Library Journal
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.

Booklist (starred review)
Castillo uses his prodigious poetic craft to plumb each family member's odyssey through the U.S. immigration system...Castillo lays bare the inherent unfairness and high psychological toll of the current immigration system on people in both the U.S. and Mexico.

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

Author Blurb Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street
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.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

In his memoir Children of the Land, author Marcelo Hernandez Castillo recounts applying for and receiving DACA. This is a temporary immigration status that alleviates some of his worst fears about being deported as an undocumented college student.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a program administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). It started in 2012, under President Obama, and is sometimes called the "Dreamers" program. DACA allows a very narrow category of people who are immigrants to remain in the USA on a temporary basis while their permanent status is being decided. The program has defined a class of individuals who were brought into the USA as children and remained past their ...

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