Snapshot Review: Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Title: Children of the Land
Author: Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Harper
Release Date: January 28th 2020

      “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.”

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      “I ventured to believe that the function of the border wasn’t only to keep people out, at least that was not its long-term function. Its other purpose was to be visible, to be seen, to be carried into the imaginations of migrants deep into the interior of the country, in the interior of their minds. It was a spectacle meant to be witnessed by the world, and all of its death and violence was and continues to be a form of social control, the way that kings of the past needed to behead only one petty thief in the public square to quell thousands more. The biggest threat to immigrants who succeeded in crossing was the fear that the apparatus was always watching you. It was the idea that was most menacing, that infiltrated every sector of a person’s life—total and complete surveillance. It was the unrelenting fear that was most abrasive on a person’s soul.”

  • The writing – The excerpt above is just a small look at how powerful, imploring, and reflective Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s memoir is. If I didn’t already know he was a poet, the lyrical language and the emotional depth of his words would have given him away. He is unguarded, laying himself bare to the reader. Sharing both external and internal struggles, Hernandez Castillo recounts crossing the border as a child, his contentious relationship with his father and the consequences of his subsequent deportation, growing up undocumented, forging a place for himself in a country that didn’t always feel like home, reconnecting with his father, and saying goodbye to his mother when options that would have allowed her to stay in the U.S. run out.
  • Identity – As someone who lives on the outskirts of society Hernandez Castillo has spent his life grappling with his identity. Born in Mexico but raised in the US, but not a citizen, Hernandez Castillo has struggled to find his place. Conflicting questions arise: how do you give yourself wholly to a country that could kick you out at any moment? How can you belong to a country that you haven’t seen since you were a child, memories of which feel intangible?
  • Parent-child relationships – Hernandez Castillo never had a good relationship with his father. He recounts how hard his father was on both his children and his wife. The target of his resentment toward America was often his children. Hernandez Castillo recalls the homophobic comments which would ring in his head years later when he was finally able to come to terms with his bisexuality. In contrast, Hernandez Castillo’s relationship with his mother was always one of affection. She worked hard to keep him and his siblings comfortable in a new country.
  • Immigration and trauma – One of the most significant things this memoir does is consistently present immigration from the migrant’s perspective. Whether it is Hernandez Castillo as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S., his father being deported and then finally being eligible for reentry, the desperation felt by both him and his mother as they seek a way for her to stay, there is a degree of trauma that is rarely spoken of. Those who ask for help are forced to perform their trauma for a stranger in order to be granted assistance. It is a process that dehumanizes you and then turns around and demands you prove your humanity.

  • Nothing to note.

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s Children of the Land is an essential read for those looking for more insight into the lives of the undocumented. It’s honest and often heartbreaking, but also a fierce plea to see and listen to those who in this country who are forced to keep silent.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

3 thoughts on “Snapshot Review: Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

  1. This sounds like a tough read but that it tells a story that needs to be told. Glad you enjoyed it so much.


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