Make Your Home Among Strangers follows the convoluted story of first-generation college student Lizet Ramirez. The book also follows the story of five year-old Ariel Hernandez, who survived a raft trip from Cuba only to be deported roughly a year later after his father, still in Cuba, claimed custody. I think this is definitely the most complicated reading we’ve had so far in terms of the story, following it, and being able to connect it back to class. I really liked the story in the beginnings, but quickly found myself frustrated by Lizet’s refusal to confide in anyone when she really needed to. I felt that the story was unresolved (especially Lizet’s relationships with Ethan and Omar, and the fact that her relationship with her Dad improved so quickly and basically out of nowhere) and the last chapter happened much too fast, without any lead up to it. I was also confused by the style and/or the genre of the book because it felt like it was memoir until I realized the author’s name was definitely not Lizet, that Ariel Hernandez was not a real person, and that Rawlings College was also fictional. I almost wished it had been a non-fiction memoir, rather than autobiographical fiction, because I find that it’s easier for me to connect to real people and their actual stories. I’m way more interested in Jeannine Capo Crucet’s story than Lizet’s.
I definitely thought it was super sad the way Ariel Hernandez was used as a political prop, but I also found it hard to sympathize with his family and Caridaylis simply because of the way Lizet’s mother’s character was written. It was definitely over the top, and I feel like it prevented me from really connected to the politicization of his story. It was interesting to me how Lizet navigated being Cuban, but also not Cuban (according to her dad), at Rawlings. She defended Ariel’s mother’s decision to bring him to the US without actually having been to Cuba, and she relied completely on the stories that had been passed down to her from her parents and the rest of her family. This isn’t to say that I think her defense of Ariel’s mother was illegitimate, I just think her perception of things would have been different if she had visited or been brought up in Cuba.
Finally, I don’t understand why Georgia Southern students burned Crucet’s book at all. Book burnings in general are really terrible and harken back to the Holocaust, so I’m immediately wary of anyone burning books, but if you’re going to burn a book ….. make it something better than this. Apparently Crucet’s talk at Georgia Southern was about white privilege, but white privilege doesn’t even seem like a major topic of the book, and it seems to me that she prioritizes class stratification with Ethan’s character since he was both white and poor over race issues. To that end, I was really glad Ethan was characterized the way he was, since it made him a great foil to Jillian and all her friends, and I’m always a fan of exposing class stratification over race issues since I believe people are more divided by class than by race.