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Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream Book Poster Image
Young immigrant achieves her dreams in inspiring memoir.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Arce writes vividly of her two lives as a "Dreamer." In one, while she excels academically and is a cheerleader and member of the school dance team, she also struggles to fit in. She's teased about how she wears her hair ("Pocohantas" hair) and what she brings for lunch and confronts racist assumptions from her classmates (she couldn't possibly belong in a math honors class because she's "a Mexican"). In her other secret life, she worries constantly that her undocumented status will be discovered and that she and her parents will be deported.  

Positive Messages

When times are tough, you never give up. No honest work should ever be beneath you. It's important to prepare (get a good education), so you'll be able to take advantage of opportunities when they're offered to you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Arce's grit and determination should inspire any young reader. But she credits her mother as her role model. Throughout the book, she writes of the important lessons she learned as she watched her mother work tirelessly to build several businesses and refuse to be defeated when a business fails and she has to begin again. In the "Years Since" chapter, Arce admits that at 19, she bought a fake green card and social security card, something that allowed her to move to New York City and begin work at Goldman Sachs. 

Violence

Arce writes in her journal that her father "hits me every day," but she only describes the first time, when he hits her with a wooden spoon until it breaks. While Arce, fearing her father will be deported, never calls police when he hits her, she does call 911 when he hits her mother. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

When Arce moves to the United Sates to live with her parents, she notices her father is now drinking "a beer or two" every night. During her first year in San Antonio, this progresses to even more beers and finally to her father getting drunk every night. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Julissa Arce's memoir, Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream, begins in Mexico, where Arce lives with her two older sisters while her parents spend weeks and sometimes months away, working throughout Mexico and then in the United States. When Arce comes to live with them in San Antonio, Texas, she becomes one of the millions of "Dreamers," young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. But it isn't until she begins to apply to colleges that Arce, an honor student, comes to fully realize what being undocumented means for her future. Inspired by her parents' strong work ethic, she never gives up, graduating from college with honors and becoming a vice-president at a multinational investment bank before finally becoming an American citizen in 2014. While Arce's parents were great role models when it came to working hard and valuing the importance of a good education, she writes honestly (but not graphically) about the dark side of her family life. Her father became an alcoholic who would regularly hit her.

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What's the story?

Julissa Arce begins SOMEONE LIKE ME in her hometown of Taxco, Mexico, where she lives with her parents and two older sisters. Her parents work tirelessly to be able to send all three girls to a private school, but this takes them away from home for long stretches of time, and the girls are left behind to be cared for by their grandmother and a nanny. Arce struggles to fit in, never feeling as if she belongs in the world of her wealthy classmates or with neighborhood kids who attend the local school. Always ambitious and looking for ways to improve life for the family, her parents begin spending months away in the United Sates, selling silver jewelry at trade shows. In fifth grade, Arce gets into trouble at school and her parents decide she'll come to the U.S. (on a tourist visa) and live permanently with them. She struggles once again to fit in again as she's teased and sometimes taunted for being Mexican throughout her school years. Then when she's 14, Arcane is told that her visa has long expired and she's an "illegal," an undocumented immigrant. As Arcane begins applying to colleges, it looks as if her illegal status will shatter the dreams she has for her future. Despite graduating high school with honors, all her applications are rejected because she can't  provide a social security number. Only a recent law allowing undocumented students to attend college in Texas opens a door for her.

 

Is it any good?

Julissa Arce puts a relatable face on America's Dreamers, showing readers that one of them could well be a classmate, a teammate, or even one of their closest friends. Someone Like Me is more than simply an inspiring personal story, it offers valuable lessons for young readers on the importance of hard work, not prejudging someone by where they come from or how well they speak English, and never giving up on your dreams.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the assumptions people make about author Julissa Arce in Someone Like Me. Do students in your school ever make snap judgements ("He's probably not very smart" or "I'll bet she's a trouble maker") about someone simply because of where they come from or the color of their skin?

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  • Arce's parents teach her important lessons about the value of working really hard and never giving up. What's the most important lesson you've learned from your family?

  • What do you think should happen to the estimated 2.5 million young undocumented immigrants who, like Arce, were brought to the United States illegally as children? Should they be allowed to stay and become citizens, or should they be deported?

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