I didn’t mean to read two memoirs in a row but NetGalley got my attention with this one too—about an undocumented woman who ends up earning six figures on Wall Street. [I’m not giving anything away. All that information is in the subtitle, “My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive”]. Working at a community college and living in town that is about 70% Latino, I am very aware of the issues that undocumented folks, especially students, face and I was curious to hear Julissa Arce’s story.
Julissa does a good job in this memoir of explaining and exploring her experiences as an undocumented person growing up in the U.S. As a child, Julissa’s parents owned and operated a successful silver business that involved them working both in Mexico and across the border in the United States. They had documentation, that at that time, allowed them to move legally back and forth between countries, to pay business taxes in the U.S. and even to get Texas driver’s licenses. As a matter of fact, they lived much of the year in San Antonio while Julissa remained in Taxco with her grandmother, Mama Silvia. However, an incident in grade school (involving a Playboy magazine and a crush) led to Julissa’s parents bringing her to the U.S. and putting her in private school. Since Julissa came in on a tourist visa that decision already put her in danger of deportation but the problem was compounded when her parents let her tourist visa expire. Of course, like most DREAMERS, Julissa had no idea that she was breaking the law and she suspects her parents assumed that their business would continue to be successful and they would move back to Taxco and live in the beautiful three-story house they were having built there. However, as you might guess, things didn’t turn out that way.
Julissa describes her experiences in high school and college and how her growing realization about her undocumented status causes stress on numerous levels. Yes, she can’t apply for federal financial aid so she has to work multiple jobs to pay for her college education. However, she also has to live in fear that one mistake—being pulled over by a cop for speeding or for having a broken tail light—could end in her being sent back to Mexico. She is lucky and she works hard but even as her efforts pay off and she begins to work on Wall Street, she is so very, very afraid that her secret will be revealed.
Though being undocumented drives Julissa to strive hard for material and professional success, it also shapes her life in troublesome ways and this memoir does a good job of showing both dynamics at play. At first, I was a little turned off by all the talk of high powered work on Wall Street (basically Julissa did a lot of work with derivatives and I had flashbacks to The Big Short) but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that financial success provided a sense of safety and allowed Julissa to help her family. Also, as you might guess by the fact that she wrote a book, Julissa doesn’t stay in Wall Street for long and she eventually takes on a professional role closer to her heart.
Though the writing here is not amazing, it’s solid. Julissa’s story is compelling and well worth reading. Amidst all the election vitriol, this memoir reminds me of what we will lose by not continuing to welcome immigrants into our communities and what we will gain by supporting the DREAM act.
*I received an ARC copy of this from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.