A boy almost loses his life when a horse is startled, a man discovers he is bisexual long after marrying his high school sweetheart, a man wishes to wait a while before getting his papers because he is afraid that people will think he only married his love to fix his immigration status, a boy’s dream of being safe at home is shattered when ICE comes knocking at his door, a man discourses about loving a country that’s constantly pushing against him and hating that country for all it's done to his family, a boy discovers his body, a boy loses his sight as soon as he crosses the border into the United States—and so many other fragments come together to give us a nuanced perspective of the life of Marcelo Hernandez Castillo.
If you want to put a face to the headlines, Castillo vivisects his entire life for your voyeurism. It is a consensual look at what this country does to people that are simply seeking a better life and opportunities that are not afforded in their home country. It isn’t a story, this is his real life. There is tons of trauma and relentless survival in a country that’s constantly treating you like a criminal. It is an introspection about what it means to be othered, to be criminalized, and the energy that’s expended to be invisible so that you have a chance to keep on living your life.
Generational trauma, colorism, violence, questioning, guilt, domestic abuse, and toxic masculinity are just a few of the themes that Castillo splices from his life, presents the strands, and guides us as he interweaves them. He revisits each strand and examines how they have affected his life, his actions and the journey that he has undergone.
“When I came undocumented to the U.S., I crossed into a threshold of invisibility. Every act of living had been 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.”
In response to a review in which a reader lamented that the memoir “focuses on the years of breakage and not healing”—there is no healing in this book because there is not a moment of respite allowed to people that cross the border. How can there be healing when the wound is constantly reopened? This is the book that lets you know that no, the United States isn’t the good guy. The United States persecutes people, dehumanizes them, and then makes it impossible to right a legal wrong in order to try to keep the life that you have already built.
The trauma of displacement is thoroughly investigated in this book. It’s disorienting to realize that you’re unable to find yourself neither here nor there. Castillo wastes no imagery, scenes, or words, because even if something seems random he pulls everything back together in such a brilliant way. You can tell that this man is a poet based on his prose. I am completely in awe of the pieces of himself that he shared with his reader. Please treat this memoir with the delicacy it deserves. He’s not trying to represent a mass of people, but allows you to witness one life and the trauma that comes when crossing the border.
Children of the Land : A Memoir
By Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
384 pages. 2020.
Buy it here.