Personal, political: "In the Country We Love" by Diane Guerrero

Book: In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

Release date: May 3, 2016

Pages: 272 (Note: I have the audio version, clocking in at 9 hours, 10 minutes)

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.

Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir

Rating: ★★★★

Diane Guerrero, the television actress from the megahit Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, was just fourteen years old on the day her parents and brother were arrested and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career for herself, without the support system of her family. 

In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman's extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, many of whom have citizen children, whose lives here are just as precarious, and whose stories haven't been told. Written with Michelle Burford, this memoir is a tale of personal triumph that also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families like the author's and on a system that fails them over and over.

For a good cry, listen to Diane Guerrero's heart-wrenching performance of the audiobook version of her memoir about fending for herself after the deportation of her parents. Whew.

Guerrero plays fun, fearless characters on two of my favorite shows, so I was surprised and intrigued by her tragic backstory. Wherever you stand on the immigration debate — and trust me, my feelings even as a child of immigrants are mixed — you'll feel for the plight of a young girl who fell through the cracks of the broken system. Guerrero lost her family in an instant, and she was left to figure out her next moves on her own. Child services didn't come knocking. No foster home was arranged for her. She was simply left behind.

In an approachable narrative that at times sounds like a conversation you'd have while kicking it with your homegirl, Guerrero interweaves tales of her childhood both with and without her parents, her difficulties processing her life with them away in Colombia and her struggles to stand on her own two feet. 

There were so many moments in this book that made me angry and upset. I was appalled to hear about how, after her parents were arrested, neighbors walked right into Guerrero's home and raided the fridge, telling her they wouldn't be needing that food anymore. I was deeply saddened by her raw honesty about her experiences with self-injury and alcohol abuse and her near suicide attempt. I was tickled by hearing about her audition for Maritza on OITNB knowing that it all worked out despite the agonizingly long wait for a callback. And when she met the president and he told her how much he loved her on the show? I was dead. 

If you are currently in the process of trying to move to Canada, you have probably learned that immigration laws are tough. Guerrero details all the attempts her family made to become legal residents, the scams they were victimized by. She saves the bulk of any facts and figures for the final chapter, where she brings light to the exploitation undocumented immigrants are subjected to in backbreaking jobs and masterfully takes down the idea of building The Wall (most immigrants fly here and overstay their visas, like her parents did). 

Guerrero's honesty is refreshing and illuminating. She doesn't hold back from revealing her bitterness toward her parents. She wasn't a model daughter, and for years avoided speaking to her parents as much as possible despite her love for them. I related to her financial struggles through college and the way she grappled with trying to be a "good girl" as her world fell apart. 

Warm, funny yet rooted in gravitas, In the Country We Love is an enlightening, personal read that puts a face on one of the most pressing issues of American society. Let it challenge and open you.