Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet, follows the story of Lizet, a Cuben American. She attends Rawlings, which is an elite, white college located in the northeastern of the United States. The book details her struggles, not just in school, but with her family, identity, while the whole nation is focused on a young Cuban boy Ariel Hernandez, who arrived in the United States, after drifting along a raft, by himself after his mother passed away while the journey en route to America. The nation is concerned as to whether or not the boy should be allowed to stay in the United States or should be deported back to Cuba, and stay with his father.
The book begins with Lizet, the narrator of the book, traveling home to her hometown Little Havana, after her first semester of college, for Thanksgiving break. While on her way home, Lizet encounters a young woman, who is studying in the graduate program. Upon meeting the young women, Lizet, ventures out, about how she has struggled this semester and has to face the honor convection after accidentally plagiarizing an English paper, for one of her seminar classes. The woman feels for her, and ultimately even compliments her about how amazing she is by attending an elite school. Before the woman leaves, she offers Lizet, her business card, for the future, but tears it up instead.
Lizet, eventually makes it home but is surprised to see that her sister and mother are not excited to see her home. The book describes her sister Leidy’s life and she became pregnant, with Dante, from her boyfriend Roly, after she stopped taking her birth control pills, and got pregnant, so, Roly would stay with her. Her mother Lourdes, is just as annoyed, as her sister is that Lizet is home for break. Lizet father Ricky, is not in the picture, as he does live with the family anymore, given the fact that her father and mother are divorced. Instead, Ricky lives in an apartment, where it shares with a Dominican roommate. Lizet, try to reconnect with her father but struggles with him because he sold the family home.
Throughout the book, the subject is the concern over Ariel Hernandez’s story. Lizet’s mother, Lourdes is obsessed with this and tends to focus more on this story, and even became parts of the Cuban movement to allow Ariel to stay. She spends so much time in this movement, that she spends and pays no attention to her daughter, especially that she never askes about Lizet’s grades, or how college is going. Instead, she spends all her time, over this story, and over time starts to lose interest in her job and family. This is caused, because, her mother believes that when Lizet applied and left for an out of state college, Lourdes feels that Lizet, ultimately abandoning the family to attend college.
Lizet seems to be also struggling at school. She is a first-generation student to attend college, and the first person of color to attend a white college. However, the school does recognize her and allows her to struggle. During her first semesters, she receives lows grades, as a biology major, and is even has to before the honor conical for plagiarizing an English paper. After being put on academic probation, she meets a boy named Ethan and started to connect, as he shares some similarities with her, including money, but along the lines of being white. The second semester, brings some relief to Lizet, as to takes a biology class she likes and befriends the professor, who has offered her a paid internship over the summer. At first, Lizet is excited about the internship, but to her family problems, she does not know whether to accept the internship, despite her professor not understand everything in her life.
Despite the issues with her family and at school, Lizet is dealing with her own issues of accepting her identity. She does not like being Cuban. During the winter break, Lizet joins her mother in one of the activism, hoping to understand her identity. After the winter break and the result of the Ariel story, in which he would be deported back home, because of custody problems, whether than given the chance to live in the United States. Lizet becomes the subject at college. Her roommate Juillian even ask her about her identity, but consider if she has even been there before.
Upon approaching the end of the book, we learn that Lizet decided to take the internship, despite the fact that her mother did not want her to take it and felt like she was not being herself. Yet, while her father wanted her to follow her own path in life, and allow to her make her own decisions. We learn that years later, Lizet is a marine biologist studying coral reefs, her sister Leidy has married a police officer and now has four children. We learn that Lizet is given the oppounity to study coral reefs in Cuba, but is hesitant in telling her family about her traveling to Cuba.
In all honestly, I found this book to be enjoyable. I found it very interesting that the book touches on nationalist and immigration, especially in regards to the Ariel story. I personally felt that the part in the book, where she is facing the honor council, and how they instead decide to put her on academic probation, instead of suspending her due to her family’s background and how her high school did not prepare her enough for college. This stood out to me because not every student comes from a good high school, but it gives the perspective that through their own hard work and determination, that they can make it, and that is what Lizet strived towards when she applied to Rawlings. When it came to the reason as to why the University in Georgia decided to burn the book, I can not personally stay and do not understand, why they did it. Honestly, I am against book burning, to begin with, but the fact as to why students at the school burning this book, was probably because of themes revolving around immigration, nationalist, and race attending a white college for the first time. I really enjoyed reading this book, and learning about the difficulties this young Cuban girl endurance, not just at school, but with her family, all before the start of the twenty-first century.
You summarized this novel so well! I would like to pose a few areas in the book you mentioned which I lacked clarity in. Ariel Hernandez’s tragic arrival upon U.S. shores a young boy, independent of his deceased mother was such a huge focal point of the book at one point. And as Cuban immigrants, I completely understand why Lizet’s family would be invested in the outcome of the boy’s deportation or admission to the United States; however, I was unsure as to why Lizet’s mother was so overly invested, it came to the point she was more supportive of the boy than her own children, especially Lizet.
Why did Lizet’s mother get so personally attached to other immigrant’s impersonal illegal arrival story? Also, you speak of the young woman Lizet vented her first semester struggles to, I had some questions raised as to why Crucet, the author, felt this woman was an important enough character to add into the book when her significance was simply torn to pieces with the business card just after their heartfelt encounter and personal discussion. Why would Lizet passionately disregard contact with the woman after that conversation? Was it because the woman felt sorry for Lizet based on the position her race puts her in and rather congratulated her for being admitted into an elite university as a minority at all? Did this demean Lizet’s race position even more and made her feel worse about her Cuban identity, convincing her to cut off this relation? Or was this woman truly an unimportant character and was just used as a proxy to listen to Lizet’s first semester struggles at college? What if that woman was another asset of social capital Lizet stupidly turned away because of her very confusing feelings??? I was just a little lost and disappointed in Lizet because it felt like tearing that business card was unnecessary and irrational when it might’ve led to some good.
You propose a new perspective than I had considered on the Honor Council’s decision to assign Lizet to academic probation rather than suspension. You set the precedent that this decision was merciful and considerate of her socioeconomic and race as well as class background when I had just skimmed over this part of the plot and took it as normal action executed against plagiarism rather than Lizet being a special case. At the same time, I think you present a really valid point and that actually restructures a lot of context around the university itself. As a predominantly white, elite university, this special treatment for minorities is likely very rare, so now we have a dialogue opened about why they were so accommodating to Lizet. Could this signal institutional shifting to being more accepting and understanding of those students coming into an elite school without elite backgrounds? Are they establishing pro-immigrant sentiment and was this an active of affirmative action to uplift diversity in the environment?
In addition, I really agree with your excerpt on the book burning, and I actually had not even heard of this concept until we watched that clip in class. I was completely oblivious to this and like burning the American flag, this also seems like a hate crime, it is violent and remorseless. And upon the subjects of this book, it sadly only makes sense to me that this hate crime was empowered by anti-immigrant sentiment.