Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jeannine Capo Crucet follows Lizet, a Cuban American who attends Rawlings, an elite, predominately white, northeastern college, as she struggles with her identity and family life while the nation is engrossed with the story of Ariel Hernandez, a Cuban boy found alone on a raft, his mother having died on the journey, and following immigration battle over whether he will be able to stay in the United States or will be forced to return to Cuba.
Lizet’s parents have separated and her sister is a single mother. She leaves them behind to go to college, which they view as a betrayal. When Lizet surprises her mother and sister by returning home for Thanksgiving break, her mom is more engrossed by the story of Ariel, failing to properly acknowledge Lizet, who resents that her mother doesn’t recognize her accomplishments or ask her about her life at college. Over the months, her mother becomes a part of the movement of Cuban Americans fighting for Ariel to stay in the United States, neglecting her daughters and her job. Meanwhile, Lizet struggles to reconnect with her father, who she begrudges for selling their family home, and whether to decide to continue a relationship with her high school boyfriend and close family friend Omar.
At college, Lizet struggles as a first-generation college student and a person of color at a predominately white, wealthy college. The college fails to adequately support Lizet and other students like her. In her first semester, Lizet experiences low grades and undergoes an unintentional plagiarism scandal. She finds a friend in Ethan, who is white, but not wealthy, and does not ask Lizet rude questions like other students. Lizet’s roommate and her roommate’s friends talk to her and about her with ignorance and insolence. In her second semester, Lizet finds success, taking a biology class she loves and is good at with a professor she likes and who likes her too, eventually giving Lizet a prestigious, paid internship offer. Given the situation at home, where her mother has neglected Lizet, her sister Leidy, and Leidy’s son Dante for Ariel, Lizet knows her family is relying on her, so she hesitates to accept the offer, despite its value. Her professor fails to understand Lizet’s problems at home.
Lizet has conflicted feelings about Ariel. She hates being the Cuban voice about the subject at college and initially tries distance herself from the event, even though Ariel’s house is in the same neighborhood as her mom’s apartment and her mother has become an activist for Ariel. The students at Rawlings do not understand Cuba and Ariel’s mother attempted to make the journey to the United States, or what it would mean for Ariel to be sent back to Cuba. Jillian considers Lizet Cuban when she wants to, introducing her to others as “my roommate, Liz. She’s Cuban” (88), but denies Lizet’s Cuban identity when she wants to, saying, “you’ve never actually been there yourself” (88). Over winter and spring break, Lizet returns to Miami and joins her mother’s activism a few times, striving to understand. The first time she saw Ariel, she felt “the power he held and wielded by accident” (236) but also seeing the woman looking after him, Caridaylis, as just an ordinary woman. One morning, Lizet barely manages to leave before the raid on the house to forcibly take Ariel and watches him be taken away, sees his “terrified wet face” (347), and races after the van.
I think students at Georgia Southern University may burned the book because she speaks to the realities of race, immigration, and attending college as a first-generation college student, realities that white students, especially wealthier white students, may not wish to acknowledge or recognize as legitimate. I really liked Make Your Home Among Strangers and I felt that it provided valuable insight into the difficulties of being a second generation immigrant and a first generation college student.