“Make Your Home Among Strangers”
“Make your Home Among Strangers” is nonetheless a thought-provoking, emotional novel where Lizet, a daughter of Cuban immigrants attempts to make her home among strangers, but chasing alternative values than her parents did when they did so, so on top of facing prejudice and hardships at school, her family is also be disconnected in her journey.
Lizet pursues marine biology at Rawlings University in New York, leaving her family in Miami. In the meantime, her parents, Ricky and Lourdes divorse, her father is distant after extreme betrayal of the family’s property and belongings, her sister is invested in pregnancy-trapping a boyfriend, and Lourdes, her mother, is extremely invested in Ariel Hernandez, a young girl who was put into the custody of U.S. immigration when her mother passed immigrating from Cuba as well. Lizet was already pursuing her education hundreds of miles away without the support of her family, so her efforts to revisit home and rekindle their family bonds failed over and over again which was so heartbreaking. I think it’s just because perhaps the value of education in college may not have been treasured as highlight in Cuba, or that it was a far-fetched ambition in Lizet’s parents’ eyes after their back-breaking immigration journey, but they were extremely critical of Lizet’s decision to go to school and constantly illustrated it as a conscious attack by Lizet to divorce herself from the family, their values, being present with them. Lizet was under constant pressure to quit, she was shamed for her decisions, her mother even stopped showing general care and curiosity for Lizet’s pursuits, so Lizet was struggling to navigate the higher education experience in America as a descendent of recent Cuban immigrants all alone. Then, when she did return to her family, it was almost as if the bonds they used to have were diluted every time she visited.
There is a collection of different hardships Lizet faces and still, doesn’t overcome many at Rawlings University. Example are prejudice, culture shock, lack of social capital, and academic plagiarism charges. Jillian, Lizet’s roommate is not necessarily accepting of having a minority roommate, and the reaction to her Cuban existence was not uncommon at a predominately all-white school nearly. Like Lizet, much of the social life could not separate Lizet’s identity from her own race as she stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the demographic dynamics on campus. In a couple cases, Lizet even expresses her deep desire to deface her race for an opportunity to build an identity that could be normalized and not so announced on campus as she felt being Cuban was a great root of her problems In her university life. Even apart from her race-concentrated roommate, Lizet simply does not feel like she can fit in at social events and outings. It seems as if she struggles to grasp how to act in front of people, how to socialize without exposing her race too much, how to be real and build real relationships at this white campus as she’s trapped in a Cuban body. This was such a sorrowful experience because I too have been in a position like Lizet where I would spend hours getting ready for big social outings just to feel like there’s inevitable distance between you and building connections. However, I obviously did not have my race to blame as a element of my identify that I can’t hide, which so sadly defined Lizet before she could even get to know others at the school. Then, Lizet faced every college student’s worse fear: accidental plagiarism. After all the covert discrimination and general challenges Lizet had already faced, her position at the University was in the air with legality issues in one of her papers. Luckily, a professor actually did take on mercy for her and although she denied their business card, Lizet made a self-sufficient decision to take up the opportunity of an internship later on studying coral reefs. This was a huge, hopeful step towards building social capital and it seems like a dream come true for any immigrant to make success for themselves as Lizet was finally on a professional path to pursuing what she wanted, overcoming all the odds pinned against her. However, taking this internship also gave Lizet the opportunity to travel elsewhere than giving home another chance, so just as her mother accused Lizet of doing many times before, putting her education and herself first and subsequently abandoning her family, she finally chose to do so and did not return home because she truly felt there was no welcoming home to try to return back to again. So yes, she pursued the American dream in climbing to success through her education and internship across the country, but it was all at the cost of her family of Cuban immigrants, so now she is a lone-standing Cuban facing the world alone, which is seems she had already been doing for so long without her family’s support. This final decision of hers, to commit to not returning home was so brave but really took me by surprise. In typical stories, I seem to always here of immigrants sticking together, coming In groups and fighting assimilation efforts together, similar to the story of Bread Givers, but then I realized it was both Lizet and Sara Smolinsky both defied this norm and broke away from immigrant family ties.
After reading this book, I was more confused as to why that University had decided to burn the book because when Professor Moon had first introduced the hate act against the book being committed in that video clip, I had assumed this book would’ve have been extremely radical, perhaps arguing a country solely for immigrants and against American republican and conservative values, in which I figured the University pertained because of their southern location and history. However, this book was not nearly as radical as I had presumed, in fact, it was heart-felt, a story of personal struggle for equal opportunity and a battle for Lizet, the main character to balance her origins of race with her pursuits to success in a higher education and the professional world in America. She, herself, had wished away her race affiliation, she herself had abandoned her family partially because they refused to accept American values Lizet was pursuing such as that of higher education. In a way, the audience could see this as Lizet, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, stepping away from her own Cuban heritage to ultimately assimilate to American life and best focus on her journey here, which was such a patriotic self-sacrifice. Therefore, it does not make sense to me that nationalists’ groups at the university had the nerve to publicly burn such a beautifully written narrative when this was such a huge overarching theme that you’d think might be supported in their own agenda. Obviously, their actions were motivated by blunt, anti-immigrant, racist sentiment since they seemingly didn’t care to consider the sentiment and meaning behind the plot. Similar to the students at Rawling in Crucet’s story, these book-burning students didn’t care to see this book as anything more than Cuban-immigrant affiliated.