Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet follows the story of young Cuban woman, Lizet Ramirez, including her constant struggle with her cultural identity, her new home in Little Havana, Miami, her persona at Rawlings College, the Ariel Hernandez crisis, and her own crumbling family dynamic. The book begins by detailing Lizet’s return home from Rawlings for the Thanksgiving break, an event that drained most of her savings, just to see her family as a surprise. On her ride back to her mother’s new apartment in Little Havana, Lizet meets her “imaginary la profesora,” a young woman a few years older than her studying in a post-graduate college program. She seemed to pity Lizet for her poor status at Rawlings, after being caught accidentally plagiarizing part of her English paper, but complimented her ability to attend such an amazing school; Lizet was surprised, because she did not realize that many people knew of Rawlings’ existence, even though the school only accepted the intellectually elite. She appeared to be angry at “la profesora,” and ripped up her business card after she gave it to her, urging her to make contact in the future. Upon arrival home, her sister, Leidy Ramirez, was not exactly excited to see her, but rather annoyed and surprised. She and her son, Dante, lived with Lizet’s mother, Lourdes. Leidy was only twenty years old; her son Dante came from a relationship with a man named Roly, who essentially abandoned her after finding out she purposefully stopped taking her birth control to get pregnant. As a result, Lourdes and Leidy worked together to raise Dante, who at the beginning of the novel was still a baby. Lizet’s father, Ricky, no longer lived with the family or made regular contact in any capacity; the two were divorced, and as a way to hurt Lourdes, Ricky sold the family home, forcing them to rent an apartment in Little Havana. Lourdes, Lizet, and Leidy were of course extremely angry and confused by his decision, but only Lizet made a true effort to connect with him throughout the novel, with Leidy calling her a traitor because of it.
The central, underlying political theme within this novel centered around a young boy named Ariel Hernandez and his status within the United States. His mother had died bringing Ariel to America, Miami specifically, making the ultimate sacrifice for her son to have a better life than his previous one in Cuba. Ariel’s father wanted to bring him back to Cuba, but this decision was influenced by Fidel Castro’s interest in the situation itself; his father did not actually care if Ariel came home, but appeared as though he did to appease Castro. Lourdes began playing an extremely active role in Ariel’s case to stay in America, because she lived only two blocks from the house where he was staying with his uncle and cousin, Cari. She became enthralled by the activism surrounding Ariel Hernandez, and even became the president of Las Madres para La Justicia, an organization which supported Ariel’s naturalization in the United States as opposed to returning to Cuba. Leidy and Omar, Lizet’s boyfriend for many years, refused to tell Lizet over the phone how intense Lourdes’ activism had become for fear of causing her greater stress; Lizet did not see the point to this, other than blaming her for leaving them, but as a reader, I can understand the reasoning. Even though Lizet’s family did not know about the plagiarism case Lizet faced at Rawlings College, she was almost expelled from the school, if not for the mercy of the one woman on the board. Lizet managed to raise her grades all to B minuses as a result of scheduling meetings with the various centers on campus that help with specific subjects; she saw these grades as an accomplishment while her parents of course would not feel the same way, not knowing about her almost failing grades prior.
Lizet roomed with a girl named Jillian, who always introduced her as “my roommate Liz, she’s Cuban,” which she wasn’t necessarily offended by, but didn’t understand the need for her to specify. The girls on her hall were covertly racist on many occasions, Jillian included, who told Lizet not to get all ghetto” when she even remotely raised her voice. One instance when Lizet saw her mom on the television, introduced as the leader of Las Madres Para La Justicia, she became extremely enraged; a few of the girls from her hall witnessed her devolution. One girl in particular, Tracy, make extremely racist comments, causing another girl, Caroline, to have to hold Lizet back in fear of a physical fight. The girls also accepted Lizet’s portrayal of Omar as rough and abusive, which Lizet knew was not true; she only said this to satisfy the white girls’ qualifications of how they believed a Latino boyfriend should act. Upon applying to Rawlings College in the first place, neither Lourdes nor Ricky knew about her decision, and were both rather expressive about their disappointment towards her and their idea that she was selfish for leaving them to go all the way to New York. Lizet did not know this until later in life, but her father was actually very proud of her; he kept leaflets about Rawlings College in his apartment and showed them to his roommate, Rafael. After Lizet saw her mother on television while away at Rawlings, she decided to come home and see for herself the extent to which her mother would go to protest for Ariel. Leidy was jealous of Lizet because she had the ability to gain her mother’s attention, even when she was at the riots. After a long night of praying for Ariel to stay in Miami, a raid occurred in which Ariel was taken from his family; Lourdes and Lizet were present during the four minute long attack. When Lizet found Lourdes comforting Cari, she realized that her mother saw her perfect, impressive child through Cari, not through Ariel himself.
In Lizet’s next semester at Rawlings, she decided to take a biology with lab class that introduced her to a very influential science teacher who recommended her for an internship in California over the upcoming summer. Lizet initially refused, because she promised Leidy she would come back home and help their mother, who had been fired from her job because of the protests, and take care of Dante so that Leidy could work. Upon further reflection and time at home, she decided to take the internship offered by her teacher which would lead to exponential opportunities in the future, as she wanted to study and eventually work in biology. Her mother believed she was selfish for taking this opportunity, as she never understand why Lizet made decisions to benefit her own wellbeing. Conversely, her father encouraged her to go in his own, subtle way that provided necessary validation of her decision. As the book came to a close, it was revealed that Ariel was officially deported back to Cuba. Leidy had married a police officer and now had four children in total, and Omar had married a girl they both knew from middle school. Lizet herself was a Biologist who was set to travel to Cuba in the future to study the immaculate Coral reefs; she would not tell her family about her trip, for she knew their disappointment and anger would be evident.
Why do I believe a school in Georgia burned this book? Personally, I think this occurred because of the students’ closed-minded attitudes towards immigrants and nationalist perspectives, which I do not and could not possibly agree with in the slightest, but the school is in the south after all. Crucet exposed white privilege through Jillian, Caroline, Tracy, and the Rawlings administration on a college campus nonetheless. Lizet represented millions of oppressed immigrants within America, who some racists wanted to “go back where they came from,” as mentioned by Tracy while confronting Lizet in front of the television. Crucet simultaneously pointed a finger at the common citizen who did not even attempt to understand the plights of an immigrant, but rather made ignorant assumptions like Caroline, being that Ariel’s family could “call the police” to deter poor living conditions in Cuba. The students in Georgia burned this book because of their own ignorance to a harsh reality they are blessed by not having to experience because of their race and socioeconomic status. In my opinion, this book was burned possibly because of the truthful and almost too accurate portrayal created by Crucet that the students either did not understand or refused to accept.