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My Boy Will Die of Sorrow: A Memoir of Immigration From the Front Lines

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This deeply personal perspective from a human rights lawyer—whose work on the front lines of the fight against family separations in South Texas intertwines with his own story of immigrating to the United States at thirteen—reframes the United States' history as a nation of immigrants but also a nation against immigrants. In the summer of 2018, Efrén C. Olivares found himse This deeply personal perspective from a human rights lawyer—whose work on the front lines of the fight against family separations in South Texas intertwines with his own story of immigrating to the United States at thirteen—reframes the United States' history as a nation of immigrants but also a nation against immigrants. In the summer of 2018, Efrén C. Olivares found himself representing hundreds of immigrant families when Zero Tolerance separated thousands of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Twenty-five years earlier, he had been separated from his own father for several years when he migrated to the U.S. to work. Their family was eventually reunited in Texas, where Efrén and his brother went to high school and learned a new language and culture.  By sharing these gripping family separation stories alongside his own, Olivares gives voice to immigrants who have been punished and silenced for seeking safety and opportunity. Through him we meet Mario and his daughter Oralia, Viviana and her son Sandro, Patricia and her son Alessandro, and many others. We see how the principles that ostensibly bind the U.S. together fall apart at its borders. My Boy Will Die of Sorrow reflects on the immigrant experience then and now, on what separations do to families, and how the act of separation itself adds another layer to the immigrant identity. Our concern for fellow human beings who live at the margins of our society—at the border, literally and figuratively—is shaped by how we view ourselves in relation both to our fellow citizens and to immigrants. He discusses not only law and immigration policy in accessible terms, but also makes the case for how this hostility is nothing new: children were put in cages when coming through Ellis Island, and Japanese Americans were forcibly separated from their families and interned during WWII. By examining his personal story and the stories of the families he represents side by side, Olivares meaningfully engages readers with their assumptions about what nationhood means in America and challenges us to question our own empathy and compassion.


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This deeply personal perspective from a human rights lawyer—whose work on the front lines of the fight against family separations in South Texas intertwines with his own story of immigrating to the United States at thirteen—reframes the United States' history as a nation of immigrants but also a nation against immigrants. In the summer of 2018, Efrén C. Olivares found himse This deeply personal perspective from a human rights lawyer—whose work on the front lines of the fight against family separations in South Texas intertwines with his own story of immigrating to the United States at thirteen—reframes the United States' history as a nation of immigrants but also a nation against immigrants. In the summer of 2018, Efrén C. Olivares found himself representing hundreds of immigrant families when Zero Tolerance separated thousands of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Twenty-five years earlier, he had been separated from his own father for several years when he migrated to the U.S. to work. Their family was eventually reunited in Texas, where Efrén and his brother went to high school and learned a new language and culture.  By sharing these gripping family separation stories alongside his own, Olivares gives voice to immigrants who have been punished and silenced for seeking safety and opportunity. Through him we meet Mario and his daughter Oralia, Viviana and her son Sandro, Patricia and her son Alessandro, and many others. We see how the principles that ostensibly bind the U.S. together fall apart at its borders. My Boy Will Die of Sorrow reflects on the immigrant experience then and now, on what separations do to families, and how the act of separation itself adds another layer to the immigrant identity. Our concern for fellow human beings who live at the margins of our society—at the border, literally and figuratively—is shaped by how we view ourselves in relation both to our fellow citizens and to immigrants. He discusses not only law and immigration policy in accessible terms, but also makes the case for how this hostility is nothing new: children were put in cages when coming through Ellis Island, and Japanese Americans were forcibly separated from their families and interned during WWII. By examining his personal story and the stories of the families he represents side by side, Olivares meaningfully engages readers with their assumptions about what nationhood means in America and challenges us to question our own empathy and compassion.

41 review for My Boy Will Die of Sorrow: A Memoir of Immigration From the Front Lines

  1. 5 out of 5

    Miya (ugly crying thanks to the Duffer Brothers)

    This is a hard one. Enlightening, eye opening, raw, frustrating, heartbreaking, deep, honest. A read that will make you want to change everything around you. Lights a fire that needs to be lit.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cath T

    Beautifully written, heart wrenching and achingly honest. It got hard to read sometimes. The title is gripping and what intrigued me into reading, then when you understand the context it means so much more. It becomes that much more sad. Olivares’ sensitivity to this subject is so important, not only in discussion his work but his own family. This is really incredible and I think a lot of people will benefit from reading it. Thank you to NetGally and Hachette books for this arc in exchange for Beautifully written, heart wrenching and achingly honest. It got hard to read sometimes. The title is gripping and what intrigued me into reading, then when you understand the context it means so much more. It becomes that much more sad. Olivares’ sensitivity to this subject is so important, not only in discussion his work but his own family. This is really incredible and I think a lot of people will benefit from reading it. Thank you to NetGally and Hachette books for this arc in exchange for my honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kiana Stockwell

    I thought by watching the news in 2018 and being on Twitter that I knew a good bit about the Trump Administration's Zero Tolerance immigration and family separation policy, but I didn't know hardly enough. In My Boy Will Die of Sorrow, Olivares describes what it was like on the front lines, fighting to make sense of a senseless policy, document parent and child separations, and later, reunify families that the government had no intention of ever bringing back together. While it's not necessarily I thought by watching the news in 2018 and being on Twitter that I knew a good bit about the Trump Administration's Zero Tolerance immigration and family separation policy, but I didn't know hardly enough. In My Boy Will Die of Sorrow, Olivares describes what it was like on the front lines, fighting to make sense of a senseless policy, document parent and child separations, and later, reunify families that the government had no intention of ever bringing back together. While it's not necessarily surprising to hear about the cruel and coercive conditions in which government agencies separated children from their parents, it is heartbreaking. But, more than just an account of 2018 and what it was like to be a civil rights lawyer at the border in McAllen, TX, this book is also part memoir with alternating chapters that chronicle Olivares's personal experiences with immigration to the United States, and provide personal anecdotes on separation from culture and family, assimilation into white society, and belonging (or a lack thereof) in a society that rejects difference. I found this book to be incredibly moving. It took me about a month to get through, but it feels like something everyone should read at some point in their lives. The cases of specific families Olivares shares helps crystalize his message on human rights and human dignity. I also like the way he considered the history of immigration *and* forced migration to the United States, and discussed the fact that borders are politically man-made. Olivares is vulnerable and unapologetic in his storytelling. This book is both a reminder of what not to take for granted and an inspiring call to action.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Carlson

    **This book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review** 3.5 stars A well written political reflection from an immigration lawyer with memoiristic elements, clearly intended for a layman audience with no knowledge of legal practice in general or immigration law in particular. On the whole, I thought that the relation of the author’s legal navigations, conversations with immigrants and asylum seekers, and personal immigration story were well woven-toge **This book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review** 3.5 stars A well written political reflection from an immigration lawyer with memoiristic elements, clearly intended for a layman audience with no knowledge of legal practice in general or immigration law in particular. On the whole, I thought that the relation of the author’s legal navigations, conversations with immigrants and asylum seekers, and personal immigration story were well woven-together and presented a compelling perspective on the U.S. immigration system. Some of the personal stories were a tad irrelevant (the author’s memories of learning the alphabet, for example), but were usually worthwhile. One thing that got a bit annoying was how often Olivares would relate conversations with people who held more critical opinions of immigrants and asylum seekers from south of the border; he continually wrote “I did not tell them X, I did not tell them Y” (X and Y representing compelling data or arguments in favor of Olivares’ position). I continually wanted to ask why, if he felt these were important facts for the reader to know, he didn’t ever see fit to share them during in-person conversations with people he was trying to convince. I think this book will resonate with anyone who wants to learn more about just who is making up the so-called “border crisis” and what asylum seeking and “illegal immigration” actually entail. It’s not a book meant to persuasively argue about border policy, but it does make a strong humanistic plea for compassion towards those who seek entry into the U.S.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    The obvious comparison is Bryan Stevenson's amazing, Just Mercy. Mr. Olivares succeeds on many levels: in educating the reader on the history of the various immigration agencies; reporting on the 2018 Zero Tolerance Policy; placing his own story within the larger treatment of immigrants of all types in this country; persuading the reader to finish the book with contributing to restorative action. I only wish that the paper quality of this advance reader's edition was better because this is a book The obvious comparison is Bryan Stevenson's amazing, Just Mercy. Mr. Olivares succeeds on many levels: in educating the reader on the history of the various immigration agencies; reporting on the 2018 Zero Tolerance Policy; placing his own story within the larger treatment of immigrants of all types in this country; persuading the reader to finish the book with contributing to restorative action. I only wish that the paper quality of this advance reader's edition was better because this is a book I will have around for a long time.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Olivares details his experience working with families separated at the border in 2018, interspersed with his own experiences as an immigrant. He does a great job explaining complex intricacies and history of our immigration system, which provides critical context to what was happening in 2018.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    Very well written, informative and eye opening while still keeping you engaged via storytelling.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Danielle | Dogmombookworm

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dianne Hurley

  10. 4 out of 5

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  14. 5 out of 5

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  16. 5 out of 5

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  17. 4 out of 5

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  18. 4 out of 5

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  20. 5 out of 5

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  22. 4 out of 5

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  23. 4 out of 5

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  24. 5 out of 5

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  26. 5 out of 5

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