Review: Marcelo Hernandez Castillo's Children of the Land
It’s been quite some time since I last wrote a post sharing my musings on my reading adventures. Just like many of you, the tumultuous events of this year have had their impact on my mental well-being, motivation, ability to concentrate, and overall energy. While I’ve been doing some reading, I just haven’t been able to get myself to write about what I’ve been reading, until now, when I just had to tell you about Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s memoir Children of the Land.
I have to admit lately many of my book purchases are first inspired by book covers. This was certainly the case with Hernandez Castillo’s book. The bright colorful large leaves that appear to engulf the bold print of the title, immediately drew me to wonder what was it about his story that would make him appear to be hiding underneath the thick foliage. Once you begin to read this intimate personal story of an undocumented immigrant’s experience living in a constant state of anxiety, carefully remaining as invisible as possible, in order to avoid deportation, you can begin to understand the imagery of the cover.
The overall story is about the author’s family and their experience crossing the border and creating a life of survival in the United States. Using his poetic skills, Hernandez Castillo, beautifully portrays the everyday challenges, growing up perfecting living in silence and invisibility. When he is fifteen years old his father is deported, leaving both a vacuum and a sense of relief, as the family was now free from the father’s abusive tirades. Ten years later, Hernandez Castillo has DACA status and is able to finally travel to Mexico and see his father. The remainder of the story focuses on the family’s navigation of the tedious and expensive immigration process, as the son attempts to get both parents to return to the United States at different moments and under different circumstances.
The part of the story that most stood out to me are the eight days Hernandez Castillo’s mother spends at a detention center at the border. For eight days this elderly and ill woman slept on the floor, had limited access to bathroom breaks, and was in a windowless warehouse where night and day were indistinguishable. She didn’t know if or when she would be called to have her asylum request considered. After eight excruciating days without any information about his mother, the author finally receives a call that she will be released at a McDonald’s parking lot, almost as if she’d been a kidnapping victim. When she finally was able to speak of what she endured and witnessed she shared stories about the other women in the detention center, pregnant women, young mothers, children, who’d been there for months just waiting for their fates to be determined.
If you want to truly understand what the experiences of undocumented immigrants are like, what leads a family to embark on a dangerous journey crossing the border, and what the challenges are in our immigration process, don’t rely on what the media tells you and instead turn to those who have experienced it all first hand. Read Hernandez Castillo’s memoir and hear the voices of those that otherwise must remain in silence in order to survive.