‘They honor immigrants’: writers pick the greatest migration stories you should read

As a response to American Dirt, this article out of The Guardianis excellent.

Not all writers think of migrants as a “faceless brown mass”. Indeed, if there is one thing that readers should take away from the ill-fated release of the over-hyped American Dirt, it is that the stories of migrants and refugees have been and are continuing to be told by writers around the world, richly, with nuance, and without relying on trite stereotypes.

We asked the authors of some of our favorite novels about immigrants and migration to recommend an alternative reading list to American Dirt. Here are their selections.

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen is the author of The Sympathizer and The Refugees.
Viet Thanh Nguyen is the author of The Sympathizer and The Refugees. Photograph: AP

Luis Alberto Urrea’s The House of Broken Angels is the Latinx novel that Oprah should have picked for her book club. The novel has it all – humor, history, politics, emotions, all packaged into a highly readable account of a Mexican American family that straddles the border of the United States and Mexico. This is the Great American Novel, if by “American” we mean the greater America that is both north and south of the border. Urrea is an expert on the border and migration, having spent years and many books exploring these topics. He combines that intimate knowledge with a master novelist’s flair to pull us into a family whose struggles have historical roots but whose feelings are ones that we all know – love, loss and longing.


Elaine Castillo’s America is Not the Heart has a special place in my heart because it’s set in the 408 – the area code for the south bay of the Bay Area. The Bay is dominated by San Francisco, but the 408 is the less than glamorous land of bedroom communities including Castillo’s Milpitas and my San Jose. Castillo, of Filipina descent herself, focuses on the lives of documented and undocumented Filipina/os and traces their origins to the impact of American colonization in the Philippines and the US support for the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. While politics and revolution form the background of the novel, the foreground is all about the power, pleasure and peril of kinship and romance, set in a beautifully, intimately drawn portrait of the Filipino American community. Plus lots of hot queer sex.

Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Alberto Urrea.
Luis Alberto Urrea. Photograph: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

The crisis of representation and appropriation ignited by American Dirt has made my mind turn to scores of worthy books in every genre about this issue. It would be nearly impossible for me to suggest *the book* on this subject. But one of the books that weighs on my mind is this moving work of witness by Tim Hernandez, All They Will Call You. He tells a forgotten story about the fate of a group of migrants, deported by the US government in 1948, who died in the worst airplane disaster in California history. The thing that haunts me is his care for the stories of the dead, his refusal to allow those human beings to be forgotten. It is a quintessential migrant story, which makes it a truly American story.

  • Urrea is the author of 17 books, including Nguyen’s top pick above, the short story collection The Water Museum, The Devil’s Highway, a Pulitzer finalist in non-fiction, and several volumes of poetry.

Angie Cruz

I highly recommend Bang by Daniel Peña, Butterfly Boy by Rigoberto González, Mean by Myriam Gurba and The Moths and Other Stories by Helena María Viramontes, all of which are by Chicano writers who have dedicated themselves to researching, exploring and writing about and around the border and immigration. I read Viramontes as an undergrad. Her work was being taught in a sociology class. In my creative writing and lit classes I was taught writers like Simpson, Gaitskill and Atwood. All of whom were writers in the same generation as Viramontes but stocked on different shelves in the bookstores. And this is obviously a problem because Viramontes’ stories are innovative, acute and beautifully written and if published today, one hopes her collection wouldn’t have had to include a long academic introduction to create context and validity for her work and instead would have been reviewed and celebrated in mainstream literary spaces for the explosive content, the nuanced characters and her singular literary style.

Another work I’m excited about by a storyteller who works for the stage is Andrea Thome’s Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes). If you are in NYC you don’t want to miss the show that tells the story of undocumented immigrants coming together for a fandango on the evening of an Ice raid in New York City, as they wait for a loved one to arrive from Honduras. Inspired by interviews with undocumented immigrants from Latin America living in New York, the piece will be a community celebration where stories are brought to life through live performance, music and dance.

  • Cruz is the author of three novels, including Dominicana, about a child forced to marry in order to secure her family’s future in America.

Mohsin Hamid

Author Mohsin Hamid on Anarkali Street in Lahore, Pakistan.
Author Mohsin Hamid on Anarkali Street in Lahore, Pakistan. Photograph: Ed Kashi/Ed Kashi/VII/Corbis

I would like to suggest two very different books.

Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North is a novel about a young man going from Sudan to Europe. He studies, immerses himself in a different culture, and comes back changed, both angry and anger-inducing, but also perplexed and deeply unsettled. It’s a seminal text, not of the migrant who assimilates and achieves the so-called dream, but of the migrant who goes and comes back. There’s a very strong awareness in this book about the sexualisation of the migrant and the self-exoticisation that occurs, but also about the impossibility of return. You can go back to where you come from but the person who goes back is no longer the person who left. That is a theme we see echoing again and again across migrant fiction. It’s important to remember that we need antidotes to the idea that migrant fiction is simply people going north or going west. Very often, it’s people who willingly or unwillingly have to return, altered, to where they began.

Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic is an incredible work on multiple levels. It tells the story of a generation of women, a shipload of Japanese wives who head to California, employing a first person plural, which is very unusual. We sometimes hear about the danger in fiction of a writer depicting a group as a ‘faceless mass’, or of presuming to speak for an entire group through underhanded means. Otsuka’s book is remarkable: it does speak for a group but uses form to subvert and interrogate that critique. The narrative voice that emerges is of a group of people with constantly individualized particulars. That’s a very difficult task to pull off but I think Otsuka succeeds magnificently. I would suggest this book as an antidote to the limited imaginings of what we think a narrative can be and as a reminder of the power of literary fiction to unlock some of those puzzles. It’s truly a unique and awe-inspiring book.

  • Hamid is the author of four novels, including The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Exit West.

Matt de la Peña

Author Matt de la Peña.
Author Matt de la Peña. Photograph: ©Heather Waraksa / Penguin


99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai is so well rooted in the Afghan narrator’s voice and experience, it goes beyond empathy, transporting the reader. It ignores the western gaze and tells the story the way its subjects need it to be told. The result is funny and sharp and devastating. One chapter, a private family story, is written in Pashto – because it isn’t meant for everyone.

Catherine Chung’s Forgotten Country is gorgeously written and full of heart. And that’s another way to honor the subject matter: write it well. Bother to learn the craft (as many have failed to do). Chung’s book is about sisters, family loyalty and war. It is illuminating and sensory and the characters come alive in the care of a precise and compassionate author who has made a lifelong study of her craft.

  • Nayeri is the author of two novels, Refuge and A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, as well as the memoir The Ungrateful Refugee.

Aida Salazar

Aida Salazar, the author of The Moon Within.
Aida Salazar, the author of The Moon Within. Photograph: Photo by Lluvia Higuera

These recently published or upcoming books for children and young adults are part of a larger dialogue about immigrant realities and migrant justice that was taking place before the American Dirt fiasco. It must be acknowledged that there is no one definitive migrant story but many and must include not only Mexican voices but the many voices of migrants to the United States.

What It’s Like To Live Undocumented: An interview with Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, author of “Children of the Land.”

A very thought-provoking interview conducted by Samantha Storey for the Huffington Post.

When Marcelo Hernandez Castillo crossed the border as a child with his family from Mexico to the United States, he experienced stress-induced blindness. It’s a horrifying, parent’s-worst-nightmare detail that no one could possibly imagine without having known it.


Castillo weaves devastating details throughout his new memoir, “Children of the Land,” which publishes Tuesday from Harper. They are details that only a person who has lived without papers could know. Details like driving in a car with your mother and turning off the radio when a show about what happens to migrant bodies in the desert comes on. What it’s like to dive into the immigration system in search of a legal path to keep your mother in America, and get your father out of Mexico. What it’s like to be interviewed for a green card and have to prove your love for your partner. What it’s like to help your mother prepare to move back to Mexico — to self-deport — because that is the only way she can be reunited with her husband.


In writing from the heart of truth, Castillo paints an honest and nuanced portrait of the undocumented life. His memoir published weeks after “American Dirt,” a novel about a mother and her son fleeing Mexico after a drug cartel kills their family. It is written by Jeanine Cummins, a white woman, and was criticized by readers and the Latinx community for its cliched descriptions of Mexico. The book has created a debate over who gets to tell certain stories.


Castillo is also the author of “Cenzontle,” a collection of poetry. In an interview with HuffPost, he talks about his often painful writing process, and how he feels like his story, the immigrant story, has no ending.

The book is just so vivid and anchored in scene, just like a movie. Same with the action, the back and forth across the border, the waiting to hear from immigration. It creates this enormous tension for the reader. Is that something that you played with when you were writing it? That aspect of time and when to slow down and speed up, when to go back in time, when to stay in the present?  

Being a poet really allowed me to move things around and not be faithful to a particular chronology. For me, that was far more interesting, because that is a more accurate representation of the undocumented experience. You’re not just living in the present; you’re still living in the legacy of the past and the consequences of even things that happened, say, in 1916. We’re still waiting or we’re still moving or we’re still doing this maddening back and forth that just seems to not end.


I love the historical re-creations you do for your grandfather, your great-grandfather and even when you are writing about your mother’s ancestral home. Could you talk about the research you did for that and how you re-created those scenes?

I interviewed an uncle of mine who’s in his late 80s who actually went through the whole process of delousing. I used documents that I found, too. They weren’t necessarily passports, but just little cards that said your name, the date, your physical features, occupation and port of entry and then the return. And I read a wonderful book by David Dorado Romo called “Ringside Seat to a Revolution.”


There are beautiful scenes in the book in which you describe the ruins of your mother’s ancestral home. Did she tell you about it?  

I’ve always known about it because at family gatherings, I remember as a kid the only conversations were conversations about Mexico. Issues about land. Conversations about cattle. Conversations about who was where. Conversations about who died. It was always directed that way. I grew up almost having an idea of these places and of these homes and this landscape before I ever actually went back. After 21 years away, I ended up going back because of DACA. I was able to see firsthand the places that my mother was talking about. They were abandoned and in shambles.

Seeing it for myself, it was pretty devastating to see my mother’s house the way it was. There was so much life, she explained, on that ranch, just how alive it was. How, with all of my aunts, their kids everywhere, the arroyo was still going. It’s just a very picturesque, very beautiful, quiet place.


There’s a part, I think toward the beginning of the book, where you describe watching interviews with David Letterman, old ones, ones which were staged in which the guest predetermined what questions were off the table. I love that you drew the parallel with your interview with immigration, in which immigration could ask you anything at all, no matter how intimate. Could you speak to that juxtaposition? 

It’s that level of commitment to community and paying things forward that I really admire and want to take on myself. It was just really beautiful and really touching.


So much of the memoir is about you trying not to be seen, to hide in plain sight. I was thinking about the struggle of trying to be seen and not seen and in the writing as well, like what you choose to place on the record, and what you choose to leave out. I was wondering if you could speak to the process of that. Did you try and dump everything on the page and then be judicious about what you took out?  

Yeah. It was very purposeful, because it was difficult … I didn’t enjoy writing this book. I hated it. It was probably the most difficult two years of my entire life, because I was still recovering from 2016 and there was a lot of changes going on. I had just recently been diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. I haven’t told anyone that. I wanted to not necessarily let that be something that I have to hide.


But I had to be very careful about how I presented my family because they’re very, very private to the point where they don’t want their kids in the pictures of other people’s cameras. My brother has told me, “I will never be OK with this book,” but he understands that this is my job. This is my occupation. This is what I do and this is what I’ve continued doing. I had to purposefully and very intentionally control what I could say about my experiences.


I told my editor that I didn’t want to sensationalize any of this. I wanted to instead look at the interior of what’s happening on the exterior. I didn’t want to focus on the details. I wanted to focus on the effects of those details on my personal health, on my emotional well-being, on how I understood and how I walked through the world in this body.

That was the case with my book of poems. It’s written in a way that is surreal. At that time, I was still undocumented. Writing that book didn’t jeopardize me. It didn’t put me in danger. But memoir is a memoir. You can’t do that. You have to be more exposed; you have to be more naked. You can’t hide behind imagery. You can’t hide behind symbolism. You’ve got the thing itself, rather than what something is. Something is life.

I think that’s why I turned to prose in the first place, because I finally came to a point where there were things I had to say that I couldn’t in poetry. You have to say it in prose. This narrative that I have built, I did it very carefully. I excluded my brothers and my sister, in part, to respect them, but also because this is a story of my relationship to my parents and my relationship to my wife and my relationship to my son and my relationship to my grandparents and great-grandparents and ancestors. All the intersecting voices of all of those.


You speak about going from writing in cryptic form, when you were waiting for your mother to go back to Mexico, to giving yourself permission to write about your life in a less cryptic way. Could you speak about that moment? Is that where you maybe figured out you wanted to write a memoir?

I think it was the fact that I stopped writing poetry. And I couldn’t handle not writing. I ask a lot of friends of mine if they enjoy the actual ride of writing or do they enjoy the lead up to the writing or do they enjoy once they finish. A lot of my friends all say, yeah, I really like the writing. For me it’s very difficult. I like the end result of once it’s all done. The actual working of it, it’s very, very difficult for me. I wasn’t writing poetry. I was super depressed because my mom was leaving. Then I started writing prose just to make myself … fake it until you make it, right? And just make myself believe that I was doing something with my hands.


And then also by that time I had already gotten my green card and I felt a tiny nudge toward being able to say a little bit more. I had a little bit more protection. That was in 2015 and so the current administration wasn’t in place. Had it been 2016, ’17, ’18, it would’ve been a very different work. I had to consult both of my lawyers, plus Harper’s lawyers, to make sure that we were good and that there wouldn’t be anything that would really jeopardize me. It would be a very different book if I had written this in the Trump era.


Were there other memoirs that you turned to while you were writing for inspiration or just to look and see how they did it?

Yeah. Being mostly a poet and not a nonfiction writer, I had to really do my research in the genre. I read a lot of memoirs, seeing the conventions that people do. Some of the memoirs that I really liked are “The Distance Between Us” by Reyna Grande, in which she documents the tale of how her parents came to the U.S. and left her in Mexico for a long time. I really enjoyed other folks that played with genre and played with form and played with fragments. There are the works of Anne Carson or some poets who have also written memoirs, like Mary Ruefle’s “Madness, Rack and Honey,” which is just stunning and beautiful. And then the classics, Joan Didion. I lived for Joan Didion.

I bought a Kindle and I just started getting as many because they were a lot cheaper on Kindle so I could go through a bunch of them and I would just be on a plane and I would just be at home and really thinking about how to approach it. But the wonderful thing is that I don’t have an MFA in nonfiction, and I didn’t have the pressure of these are the conventions and this is how it works. If you don’t do this, it might be a failure. I was very free to just fail, just wonderfully fail and not really care about failing because I knew that I didn’t have much experience with it. I knew that I could really just go ahead kind of like take the dive into the blue. Let’s see what happens.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Review: ‘Children of the Land’ shows the trauma of growing up undocumented

Talented writer Gabino Iglesias did this marvelous review for Datebook. Please give them some clicks and check it out there


Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s “Children of the Land” is a harrowing, heartfelt memoir about life in the interstitial spaces between countries, languages, cultures and identities.

Hernandez Castillo grew up undocumented in the United States after entering the country illegally as a child. As a result, his early life was shaped by his status, the deportation of his father and a subsequent decade of separation. What we learn in this memoir is that fear and anxiety blossom in the absence of security and citizenship, but crippling guilt flourishes when you get citizenship and those you care about don’t.

The beauty of “Children of the Land” is that it’s a unique, personal narrative that is also universal. Hernandez Castillo writes candidly about his struggle to get a green card, the process of learning to cope with perpetual displacement and the sense of agitated stagnation undocumented families feel. We learn about the author’s family, get an in-depth look at his mother and father’s relationship, and travel with him back to Mexico after almost 20 years away to vicariously experience his reconnection with his history and heritage. While these are all deeply personal events, the memoir also tackles common sentiments among undocumented immigrants, like resentment, the worry caused by having to hide a part of their lives and how hiding creates a sense of invisibility:

“When I came undocumented to the U.S., I crossed into a threshold of invisibility. Every act of living became an act of trying to remain visible. I was negotiating a simultaneous absence and presence that was begun by the act of my displacement: I am trying to dissect the moment of my erasure.”

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, author of the memoir “Children of the Land,” arrived in the U.S. illegally as a child.Photo: Kenzie Allen

“Children of the Land” shows readers a border that’s not unseen. Instead, the border is a very visible thing whose function is not only to “keep people out,” but also to be something that’s visible, undeniably present, something that is “carried in the imagination of migrants deep into the interior of the country, in the interior of their minds.”

This memoir is as timely as it is uncomfortable to read. Hernandez Castillo places readers on unstable ground and keeps them there. He writes bluntly and poetically about his fears and struggles, his shattered relationship with his father, his sexuality and even the uncertainty of his future children’s connection to their roots:

“I wondered what my children would think of Mexico. What it would mean to them, born in the U.S.? Would they feel that rope tugging at them like I did? Would they spend their lives trying to help someone cross, still trying to get somewhere? I wondered when we’d ever get there.”

“Children of the Land” bravely and honestly illuminates a world rarely written about with such liveliness. It works as a biography of an undocumented citizen who gets to stay in the U.S., but also as a journal of the traumatic journey to that destination, a chronicle of what happens to those who are left behind or get deported, and a reminder that humans are at the center of the migration debate.

“Children of the Land”
By Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
(384 pages, $28.99)

New Book: Cristela Alonzo’s Music to My Years

Article by Kristen Cabrera for KUT

In 2014, she was the first Latina to create, produce, write and star in her own network sitcom. And in 2017, she debuted her Netflix special Lower Classy. Now San Juan, Texas, native Cristela Alonzo can add author to her list of accomplishments.

In her new book, Music to My Years: A Mixtape Memoir of Growing Up and Standing Up, Alonzo writes about the songs that formed and shaped her years.

‘It Was A Good Day’

After listening to Ice Cube’s 1992 hit “It Was A Good Day,” a young Alonzo’s imagination filled with dreams of her own good day. These fantasies ranged from having her own room to a luxury of eating three meals a day.

When we talked recently, my fellow Rio Grande Valley native said if there’s one thing that could help guide anyone through a book about her life and experiences, it’s music.

“I didn’t want people looking at me and just thinking that it was going to be a Latino book,” she says. “So I wanted to come up with a way that could connect everybody. And I started thinking about it and you know, everybody has a song. Songs for some reason are so moving that they can always take you to a place in your life. They’re all little bookmarks in your head and I started thinking that’s the book.”

Throughout her memoir, in place of numerals, Alonzo uses songs to signify the important chapters in her life – building a track list instead of a table of contents.

“The book is remembering these songs that I still listen to, that take me back to that time,” she says. “And how much better could I do than actually describe these songs and how they feel to me. And that allows me to talk about my life.”

Growing up below the poverty line, Alonzo often found herself alone after school, waiting for her mother and older siblings to get off work.

“My friends were TV shows and movies and music that I listened to,” she says. “I had to forge these friendships – I had to create these friendships with whatever I had available.”

‘Lose Yourself’

Alonzo likes to tell people that based on the way she grew up, she’s not supposed to live the life she’s currently living, or have the opportunities she does. But she goes on to clarify, “I don’t believe that. But that’s how people talk to me.”

Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” struck a particular chord with Alonzo.

“You know for me, I’ve always treated everything like it’s the only chance I’ll have to do it,” she says.

She explains that when you grow up in an environment with limited opportunity, sometimes the people who love you the most try to take you down a peg –  in order to protect you.

“It’s so weird how they protect you by hurting your feelings. So for me, “Lose Yourself,” when I heard it… It really kind of encapsulated everything I felt,” Alonzo says.

‘Dreaming Of You’

Alonzo felt a moment of joy when MAC Cosmetics partnered with the Quintanilla family to release a special Selena makeup collection.

“That makeup line sold out immediately,” she says. “It flew off the shelves and that was because she is the legacy of so many Latinas, especially in Texas.”

Selena’s crossover song “Dreaming of You” is the track title of the book’s fourth chapter. For many young Tejanas in the 90s, Selena proved anything was possible. It’s a power that a generation grew up with, and that extends beyond it.

“She is what we are capable of being,” Alonzo says of the Mexican-American icon. “That is what happens when people are allowed to be themselves. That is what happens when a Latina gets the power to be herself and thrive. And that’s how she influences an entire culture.”

‘Thank You For Being A Friend’

When it comes to pop culture, Alonzo proclaims her super-fandom to a sitcom following the shenanigans of three widowers and a divorcée – Blanche, Rose, Sophia and Dorothy. The Golden Girls‘ theme song, “Thank You For Being A Friend” gives chapter three it’s name. It’s a song Alonzo quickly memorized at a young age.

The idea of – as Alonzo puts it – a little brown girl living on the South Texas border, part of a mixed-status family, identifying with four older white women in Florida might seem odd.

“But to me, Dorothy Zbornak and Sophia Petrillo were my mom and I,” she says. “My mom had grown up in this little ranch–in this little rancho in Mexico in the middle of nowhere. No electricity, no running water, no anything. And she would tell stories like Sophia did. And you could never beat my mom and her stories. If you thought you struggled, she would give you a story a hundred times worse, where she struggled worse. So you could never win.”

‘Shape Of My Heart’

The close relationship between Alonzo and her mom mirrors those found in many in minority communities. So when she got a phone call from her brother, while she was living in Los Angeles, saying her mom was on her deathbed, Alonzo didn’t hesitate to fly home to say goodbye.

“When I went there and saw her, she got better,” Alonzo says. “So she told me that she got better because I was there. Like no pressure, but hell of a lot of pressure. Like no big deal but you saved my life. You know so she’s like ‘hey don’t leave.’ And I’m like ‘oh so if I leave, I kill you? Got it. Like no big deal.’ So I had to call my roommates in L.A. and I told them to get rid of everything I owned.”

Alonzo had effectively taken on the role of caretaker for her mother.

“It was a responsibility that I chose because I knew if I didn’t, if I hadn’t accepted it, I would regret it for the rest of my life,” she says.

As Alonzo weighed the options for songs she wanted to write about in her book, she knew that this chapter about her mom would be titled “Shape of My Heart.”

“First thing I thought was, ‘Really? A Backstreet Boys’ song? This makes no sense,’” she says. “But the truth is that’s the song. And the truth – that’s where you get to feel emotions right? So for me the Backstreet Boys’ “Shape Of My Heart” was one of, if not the most traumatic parts of my life.”

It was tough on Alonzo to be her mother’s mother – to put family and duty over her own hopes and dreams. But family is family, she decided.

“My mom and I, we had a special bond,” she says. “It reminds me of this strange specific relationship that so many people that I grew up with have. The least I could do. Is give her back the love and attention that she gave me as a child.”

Alonzo starts her nationwide stand-up comedy tour, “My Affordable Care Act,” Tuesday, to coincide with the release of her book. A Spanish-language version of the book is set to come out Dec. 10. You can listen to Alonzo’s curated track list on Spotify.

New Book: Volver: A Persistence of Memory

Order here: http://unmpress.com/books.php?ID=20000000006484&Page=book

Author: Antonio C. Márquez,  professor emeritus of English Language and Literature at the University of New Mexico

Born on the eve of World War II into a family of Mexican immigrants in El Paso, Antonio C. Márquez remains a child of the border, his life partaking of multiple cultures, countries, and classes. Here he recounts his life story, from childhood memories of movies and baseball and friendship with his Chinese Mexican American neighbor, Manuel Wong, to the turbulent events of his manhood. Márquez recalls the impact of immigration and war on his family; his experiences of gang conflict in El Paso and Los Angeles in the 1960s; enlisting in the Marine Corps; his activism in the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era, and the Crusade for Justice; and his travels to crisis-ridden Latin American countries. From a family where no one had the luxury of higher education, Márquez became a professor when universities hired few Chicanos. His is a story of survival and courage.

Rev. of Papi: My Story

David Ortiz, Michael Holley
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – May 
[from the publisher]
An entertaining, unfiltered memoir by one of the game’s greatest, most clutch sluggers and beloved personalities.David “Big Papi” Ortiz is a baseball icon and one of the most popular figures ever to play the game. As a key part of the Boston Red Sox for 14 years, David has helped the team win 3 World Series, bringing back a storied franchise from “never wins” to “always wins.” He helped them upend the doubts, the naysayers, the nonbelievers and captured the imagination of millions of fans along the way, as he launched balls into the stands again, and again, and again. He made Boston and the Red Sox his home, his place of work, and his legacy. As he put it: This is our f*&#ing city.

Now, looking back at the end of his legendary career, Ortiz opens up fully for the first time about his last two decades in the game. Unhindered by political correctness, Ortiz talks colorfully about his journey, from his poor upbringing in the Dominican Republic to when the expansion Florida Marlins passed up a chance to sign him due to what was essentially tennis elbow. He recalls his days in Peoria, Arizona, his first time in the United States; tense exchanges with Twins manager Tom Kelly in Minnesota; and his arrival in Boston. Readers go behind the scenes for the many milestones of his Red Sox career— from the huge disappointment of the Red Sox losing to the Yankees in 2003, ending the curse in 2004 with the infamous “band of idiots,” including his extraordinary clutch hitting to overcome a 3-0 series deficit against the Yankees, to earning a second title in 2007 and a third in 2013. Along the way, he was tainted by the infamous banned substances list in 2009; he used his passion and place to fortify a city devastated by the Boston Marathon bombings; and he dominated pitchers right up through his retirement season at age 40. Papi, as he became so affectionately called, gave his fans big hits when they needed them most. He was an even bigger presence: He was a champion who rallied a team, a city, and a sport in a way that no one will ever forget.

In Papi, his ultimate memoir, Ortiz opens up as never before about his life in baseball and about the problems he sees in Major League Baseball, about former teammates, opponents, coaches, and executives, and about the weight of expectation whenever he stepped up to the plate. The result is a revelatory, fly-on-the wall story of a career by a player with a lot to say at the end of his time in the game, a game to which he gave so much and which gave so much to him.

David Ortiz, nicknamed “Big Papi,” is a ten-time major league All-Star, three-time World Series champion, and the all-time MLB record holder for home runs, RBIs, and hits by a designated hitter. In 2015, Ortiz was voted as one of the four greatest players in Boston Red Sox history—along with Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Pedro Martinez—by Red Sox fans. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts. 
 Michael Holley is the New York Times best-selling author of Patriot Reign, War Room, and Red Sox Rule. A former reporter and columnist for the Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune, Holley has also appeared on ESPN’s popular show Around the Horn and on Fox Sports Net’s I, MAX. He is currently a host of WEEI’s popular radio show Dale & Holley.

A Review of Brooklyn Dreams: My Life in Public Education

Brooklyn Dreams: My Life in Public Education is the memoir of a diasporican scholar who is one of our most respected and beloved teacher/educators in public education. Sonia Nieto’s memoir is also unusual because much of it draws on a personal diary she kept over the course of her life. Thus, the memoir is remarkably detailed in terms of names of people she was with and activities she engaged in, unlike those of us who piece together personal recollections with visual and written fragments to craft a story. The book is organized into three major parts that correspond to her development: Growing Up, Becoming an Educator, and Research and Writing; each section comprised of several chapters rich in details and historical context, with the theme of social (in)justice running across all chapters. The experiences she describes are unique because of who the author is, a Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican, the circumstances of her parents’ journey, arriving separately by boat and meeting subsequently in Brooklyn, in the early Depression years. However, some of the challenges the family experienced are common to other diasporican migrants, such as dealing with poor housing conditions and a special needs child.

Sonia assumed responsibilities as a young child that are common to im/migrant children. She served as the official family translator, and assisted her mother with the care of her physically and intellectually challenged younger brother. It was during those early years that Sonia’s journey into teaching began informally, but also formally as an undergraduate at St. John’s University, where she majored in elementary education. However, near the end of the semester she applied for and was awarded a scholarship to study in Madrid, where a casual encounter on a train would change the course of her personal life. Returning from her year abroad, Sonia was sent by the Board of Education to teach in a middle school in Ocean Hills-Brownsville, in the midst of its struggle for decentralization. Assigned to a 7th grade class due to a high attrition rate, Sonia confronts the unimaginable, that she is an ill-prepared novice teacher of 7th graders who have learned not to respect teachers because teachers have not respected them. It took about a year for Sonia to let the students teach her how to teach them, and while she eventually was successful, the experience taught her life lessons she would bring to her work as a teacher/educator. It so demoralized and exhausted her that she was determined to leave teaching, when she was offered a teaching position as a bilingual teacher in an experimental, bilingual elementary school in the South Bronx, where the majority of the students were Puerto Ricans. Assigned to a 4th grade class she was prepared to teach, and surrounded by supportive colleagues who shared in the excitement of being pioneers in a program where Spanish was as important as English, was a dream come true. After four years, now the mother of a toddler, she sought a position closer to home, and so she applied for a position as “curriculum specialist” and instructor in the Puerto Rican Studies Department at Brooklyn College. However, as she admits, her stay at Brooklyn was more about “political struggle and activism,” and less about teaching. Even so, she realized that she wanted to stay in higher education, but it required a doctorate. She applied for and accepted scholarships to study at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, an institution that offered a nontraditional, innovative interdisciplinary program she could not pass up. She completed her doctorate and worked briefly with state agencies until she was offered a full-time faculty position in the school of education. Once again, she was surrounded by a supportive community that included several New York Puerto Ricans, and so began that next phase of a scholarly life.

In the act of reading this memoir, it was inevitable to reflect on the trajectory of my own life, to gain a better understanding of it, and to learn from our similarities and understand our differences. That is the power of the memoir genre, and why Sonia’s memoir now serves as an inspiration to others who need to tell their own stories as community-conscious educators and scholars. Reading the chapter on studying in Spain, I paused to take in compelling insights, for example, that living in Madrid, Sonia became comfortable with and even “proud of” her Puerto Rican identity; and moved by reading about how she met, fell in love with, married and became equal partners in the struggle for social justice with her Angel. I could not help thinking about Che Guevara and what he says about the revolutionary being guided by great feelings of love. Sonia is a revolutionary compelled to do social justice work through her writing, inspired by her love for her community, with the inspiration and support of her life partner. As she says: “Teaching … is about commitments, service, courage and love” (pp. 130–1).

When I began to read Brooklyn Dreams, I thought I knew Sonia Nieto. She has been a mentor, a colleague and a friend since we met in the early 1990s. At the time, I was a new assistant professor, and she an established scholar. However, after reading Brooklyn Dreams, I realize how much I did not know. This 254-page memoir makes for substantive reading, with a distinctive style that is both pleasurable and informative reading. The narrative is interspersed with humorous anecdotes and poetry. The anecdote about Sonia’s mother seeking directions to the Borofel provides comic relief. Poetry is also interspersed throughout, allowing the reader access to the meaning conveyed through the economical use of words that evoke powerful imagery and emotions.  I recommend this book to all who think they know Sonia the human being, as well as those who only know her scholarship. You will walk away with new admiration and appreciation for the wonderful human being within the scholar.

The book:
Brooklyn Dreams: My Life in Public Education
By Sonia Nieto
Cambridge, MA: Hardvard Education Press, 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-61250-856-6