When her Mom was pregnant with her younger brother Julissa made what seemed to her a relatively reasonable offer. A compromise. She would not kill him but she would take him out and put him in the trash so he would be taken away. Her Mom was not pleased. (Neither was Julissa.) As a teenager, she snuck out to a friend’s party (a party that had to scatter when the police arrived). In high school, she rebelled a bit and dyed her hair red and pierced her tongue. And she had crushes on guys that were completely wrong for her. All while working really hard, getting excellent grades, battling emotional and physical ailments, working to pay for her tuition and rent, and supporting her family. Her hard work paid off and Julissa landed a job as an analyst at Goldman Sachs straight out of college. (She eventually made VP.)
This story would have been impressive all by itself but for Julissa there was more. Julissa’s parents brought her to the US when she was 11. Julissa’s parents started a business selling silver and, as most of their clients were American, they lived (for all intents and purposes) in the US. Julissa’s Grandmother raised Julissa and her sisters in Mexico. From the very beginning, the somewhat rebellious Julissa worried her family—and when she tried to give a Playboy magazine to a boy she had a crush on (this at a strict Catholic school) her parents decided to bring her to America. They were determined that Julissa buckle down, not get into trouble, get a great education, and career. There would be no boyfriends or Playboys.
And that part of it worked out. Julissa was an amazing student, one of the first students who was allowed to go to a Texas university under House Bill 1403. That, in turn, enabled her to become an executive at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch and then become a social advocate. It allowed her to meet the man who became her best friend and husband and who, even though their marriage failed, helped her get her green card and then citizenship. It enabled her to support her family and later to bring her little American-born brother to America when the family grew worried about him. It also made her into what we would now call a Dreamer. It meant that Julissa didn’t get a driving license until well into her 20s though she had been driving since she was a teenager. She could not open a bank account. She paid her tuition, rent, utilities, everything in cash. When she had to close down her food stand and find another way to make money, she had to get a fake ID. When she went out with friends, she waited till someone else ordered beer and paid them back. It was a precarious existence. She made it anyway.
Her story, at once so normal (I recognized myself in her more than once) and so abnormal and yet always inspiring is definitely worth the read. I say this even though she should (in my opinion) either left out the last several chapters altogether or cut them down considerably. Those chapters deal not so much with her life but with The Issues and with how big a mess the immigration system is. And don’t get me wrong: she makes good points. She explains, for example, that it would take her 20 years to bring her 60-year old Mother over to the United States. But that is not a story of her life. It is a story of a broken immigration system and I read this book for her story. So if I had one minor grumble about this book, that’s it.
Other than that though, it is a well-written book about a remarkable young woman. I recommend it.
Product Name: My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive