Have you ever met a book and fallen so deeply in love that finishing is a kind of regret? Welcome to Make Your Home Among Strangers, which gave me a major book hangover and inspired me to plan my fall semester courses, a task that had me dragging me feet for a few weeks. The book is moving, but it had special poignancy for my profession, and it inspired me to do and be better for my students.
Jennine Capó Crucet’s novel is set in two locations: a Cuban-immigrant Miami neighborhood, and a northern East Coast college (something along the lines of Brown or Amherst college). Our protagonist is Lizet, who went to a poor high school, decided to apply to a bunch of colleges, and miraculously got into an Ivy League-type school. The problem is, she is overwhelmed by the assumptions of her knowledge, racial stereotypes, and the sense that she doesn’t belong. When she goes back home for vacations, however, she doesn’t fit in there, either. Her neighborhood is caught in the crossfire of an immigrant conflict: Ariel Hernandez is a small boy whose mother died getting him to the United States, and how his father is suing for custody back in Cuba. Lizet watches the struggle unfold on a national stage, just as she tries to find her own footing between her old home and the new.
This story hit home for me, because I see Lizets every day. At my community college, I see students all the time who are trying to figure out their lives. Many are struggling to connect their home life with their own ambitions. And I cannot over-emphasize the importance of empathy towards these kinds of students. I was so fired up by this book that I’ll be teaching it in my Comp. 1 class this fall and pairing it with Beyoncé’s Lemonade and the film Moonlight. I’m really looking forward to the discussion.
Cross-posted to my blog.