A TV writer chronicles his youth growing up unknowingly undocumented in the U.S.
In an affecting book he admits was “incredibly painful to write,” Agustin depicts his early life in the 1980s as the son of a mother and stepfather who were both doctors in economically challenged Ecuador. He grew up obsessed with DC Comics, Disney, the Lone Ranger, and “the Spanish-dubbed version of the 1960s Batman TV show.” One day, he found out his aunt had asked the family to relocate to America via the family reunification program. Once ensconced in Southern California, where his classmates “just assumed Ecuador was a state in Mexico,” culture shock set in. Agustin and his family believed they would live “our vision of Americana,” but that disappointingly entailed his anesthesiologist mother walking miles to a cashier job at Kmart. While the author animates these episodes with robust pride, there is a lingering sense that this is not just a memoir about culture shock. The author eventually realized that his family had overstayed their tourist visas and planned on living in America as undocumented immigrants indefinitely. This oversight prevented his parents from enlisting in the military in an attempt to “rectify the immigration mess they found themselves in,” and the family anxiously scrambled to make ends meet and skirt authorities. Agustin’s struggles also encompassed aspects of racial identity as he sought to comprehend how being Latino fit into America’s rigid “Black and white paradigm.” It was only when the author tried to get a driver’s license without a Social Security number that his family’s status began severely jeopardizing their life in America. Balancing out the tense moments are heavy dollops of humor: recalling his grandmother’s use of Saran Wrap as a girdle, his first kiss in middle school, and exploring his love of theater throughout college. The blissful joy of full American citizenship and a successful career form the satisfying coda to this thoughtful, inspiring memoir.
An enthusiastic and motivational self-portrait.