As a child, actress Diane Guerrero knew she wanted to be on stage. She would dress up to sing in their apartment, choosing between Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston ballads. Diane ran home from school after practicing her latest solo to find an empty house: rice on the stove, plantains half-sliced, and a newspaper on the table. Fourteen-year-old Diane knew something was wrong, and hid under the bed.
In The Country We Love: My Family Divided reinforces the humanizing power of literature– its ability to accent news stories with infinite empathy. The book is split into three sections: her childhood, career, and charge. The first of these is the most striking, as readers learn that Guerrero was to fend for herself when her parents were deported to Colombia. For the next several years, Guerrero rarely sees her parents, either visiting them in detention centers or back in Colombia. Pushing aside the conventional debate on immigration, Guerrero emphasizes a different dimension: what happens to the kids left behind? The answer is devastating.
“Not only had U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement been silent, I also hadn’t received a call from Massachusetts’s Child Protective Services. At fourteen, I’d been left on my own. Literally. When the authorities made the choice to detain my parents, no one bothered to check that a young girl, a minor, a citizen of this country, would be left without a family.”
Guerrero bounces from house to house, staying with family friends who can host her for a year or so. Determined to succeed, she eventually gets into college but lacks the proper resources to succeed. She drifts further from her parents, who have separated, and deeper into debt and depression. By the time she builds a stable long distance relationship with her parents, they had missed graduations, boyfriends, proms, and performances. When she finally visits her mother, who legally resettles in Spain, she realizes they’re nearly strangers.
Guerrero considered law school, to learn more about immigration in the hopes of helping her parents resettle legally in the United States, but soon realizes that acting is the only profession for her. Now, people know her from Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin. Finally in a position where telling her story can help others, she has now published it in full, and on her own terms. The predecessor to this book is this article, which was the first time she’d ever publically shared her story.
In the Country We Love is amicably written in the conversation tone of a 20-something, but can be serious when necessary. The last section of the book broadens her story, providing statistics and anecdotes to bolster her urging for smarter immigration policy. After the rest of the book, it feels like the necessary conclusion at the end of a term paper. However, it’s written with a purpose: to instill in the reader the same passion for “common sense” immigration policy that she has.
Those who feel passionately about either side of the immigration debate should read this book. Those who don’t get why immigration is such a divisive topic should particularly pick it up. Regardless of your stance, read this book with an open mind and consider what we can do better.
Disclaimer: I was given this book in exchange for an honest review. But my dad is obsessed with Orange is the New Black, so he probably would have made me read it anyway.
Elements of Diane Guerrero’s story were very close to my heart. What books have you read lately that really seemed to resonate with you on a personal level? Let me know in the comments!