Citizen Illegal By José Olivarez.

The Diverse Reader Citizen Illegal By José Olivarez Book Review

Title: Citizen Illegal

Author: José Olivarez

Genre: Poetry

Published: September 4, 2018

Publisher: Haymarket Books

Total Pages: 80 pages

Topics Include: Mexican Culture, Racism, Injustice, Family, Immigration and Life Experiences

Back Of The Book Synopsis: Citizen Illegal is a revealing portrait of life as a First-Generation Immigrant, a celebration of Chicago joy, a shout against erasure, and a vibrant reimagining Mexican American life.

Poetry has always been my favorite genre because of the emotions it evokes from a reader. I have been getting poetry books left and right from the library. I recently was able to get Citizen Illegal By José Olivarez which has been released recently. I was immediately drawn to this poetry book because of the synopsis and theme of this poetry. I decided to write a review on this book and break down what this poetry revealed to me.

My favorite poem: Mexican American Disambiguation

“my parents are Mexican who are not

to be confused with Mexican Americans

or Chicanos. i am a Chicano from Chicago

which means i am a Mexican American

with a fancy college degree and a few tattoos.

my parents are Mexican who are not

to be confused with Mexicans still living

in Mexico. those Mexicans call themselves

mexicanos. white folks at parties call them

pobrecitos. American colleges call them

international students and diverse. my mom

was white in Mexico & my dad was mestizo

& after they crossed the border they became

diverse. & minorities. & ethnic. & exotic.

but my parents call themselves mexicanos,

who, again, should be confused for mexicanos

living in Mexico. those mexicanos might call

my family family gringos, which is the word my family calls

white folks & white folks call my parents interracial.

colleges say put them on a brochure.

my parents say que significa esa palabra.

i point out that all men in my family

marry lighter-skinned women. that’s the Chicano

in me. which means it’s the fancy college degrees

in me, which is also diverse of me. everything in me

is diverse even when i eat American foods

like hamburgers, which, to clarify, are American

when a white person eats them & diverse

when my family eats them. so much of America

can be understood like this. my parents were

undocumented when they came to this country

& by undocumented, i mean sin papeles, &

by sin papeles, i mean royally fucked, which

should not be confused with the American Dream

though the two are cousins, colleges are not

looking for undocumented diversity. my dad

became a citizen which should not be confused

with keys to the home. we were safe from

deportation, which should not be confused

with walking the plank. though they’re cousins.

i call that sociology, but that’s just the Chicano

in me, who should not be confused with the diversity

in me or the mexicano in me who is constantly fighting

with the upwardly mobile in me who is good friends

with the Mexican American in me, who the colleges love,

but only on brochures, who the government calls


my parents call mijo even when i don’t come home so much.”

My thoughts:

Citizen Illegal By José Olivarez is a poetry book filled with poems about Mexican culture, life in America specifically Chicago, systematic racism and immigration. It was a quick read with 80 pages of poetry and a combination of lengthy and short poetry. Before even opening the book, the cover of the book, gives the representation of two different cultures surrounding one person including aspects of Mexican culture, Chicago and America in vivid imagery.

The title of Olivarez’s book Citizen Illegal gives the audience a piece of what the poetry would be about as well. Each poem that Olivarez created was giving a depiction of what it is like to be in America as a Mexican American, Mexican as an immigrant and a Mexican in Chicago. I was given insight on what is it like when Mexican culture mixes with American culture.

The poetry was more than stanzas and rhyme but told a story through the eyes of a Mexican American. I was able to learn about what it is like to be the first generation of a Mexican American. Olivarez uses his everyday language to talk about his experiences and what he feels like being two different cultures. While reading, I felt like I was discovering more about the Latinx culture because the poems were given me insight on what life is like for someone from the Latinx community. The poems were emotional and stimulating because of how the poet went beyond the surface by using a creative writing style and language. The words of Olivarez impacted me as a reader because I felt like he was being honest and telling his own truth.

There was a balance of poetry where the author spoke about life, love, family and jobs but intertwined those aspects with his two cultures. I think that he did an great execution on speaking about his two cultures and intense topics. While I was reading Olivarez’s poetry, I was able to read poetry that talked about racial injustice against Mexicans but also African Americans. When the topics of racial injustice were mentioned Olivarez spoke about it across multiple cultures. There were poems that talked about other topics as well such as gender, class and race alongside the Mexican and American cultures.

I felt connected to the poetry that spoke about his family the most because it spoke deeply about how immigration takes a toll on families but also how living in new culture can be a challenging path. I took many lessons from this book and think that different age groups would gain something from this poetry book as well. This poetry is a great book to read today but also for future generations to learn something from. Citizen Illegal is a book that I would recommend because of its’ attention grabbing poetry and themes. I will be looking out for more of Jose Olivarez’s poetry in the future.

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