Children of the Land : A Memoir by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo


This “courageous” memoir (Los Angeles Times) 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.

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“‘She said, ‘Welcome to America,’ as if I hadn’t already been here for twenty-two years.'”

What is at the core of a citizenship interview? What’s it like to know so little of your father, except by phone? How do you live between countries, and what is a border but a dotted line? Here, Castillo journals the daily experience of his fracture family: his father, deported; his mother, on the other side of the country, growing more and more distant by phone; Marcelo’s own son and wife uncertain for their future, as U.S. law reaches its fingers into every aspect of their life. Dreamy and expansive, uncertain and searching alongside the reader, Castillo writes to locate a place of origin, leaving no myth or spec of broken adobe brick unexamined. Everything is intertwined, inseparable. But this isn’t just an immigration narrative, it’s a small window into Castillo’s life: masculinity, sexuality, marriage, money, class, academia, and domestic violence—all with a poet’s touch. Already, one of the most important books of the year, and it’s only January.”

– Mason

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.

Children of the Land : A Memoir by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo