I could not put We Are Not From Here down while reading it. This story about immigration, family, sacrifice, and the American Dream is full of adventure, hope, and heartbreak.
We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez follows the story of three young Guatemalans who leave home to seek refuge in the United States. Fueled only by dreams and hopes, the three face countless dangers on their journey.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that earn me a small commission, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products that I personally use and love, or think my readers will find useful.
This Story About Immigration Is One That Needs to Be Told
I have been looking for a book like this for a long time.
Years ago, I began the unending process of trying to add diversity to both my classroom library and my curriculum. Luckily, the young adult world has been publishing a ton of really great books the last few years from black authors.
I was having a hard time, however, finding books from Latinx authors that felt “teachable.” At least, until I received a recommendation for Sanchez’s novel.
The three protagonists in this story are each escaping a man named Rey from their hometown in Guatemala. Rey has victimized Pequeña, who even gives birth to his child. Rey has been tormenting Chico and Pulga, forcing them to participate in his cartel activities.
The three decide to follow the stories and dreams that they’ve heard from others who attempted to reach America, even though it means breaking their mothers’ hearts.
This story about immigration pulls no punches when it comes to the hardships that the children face. For example, Pequeña disguises herself as a boy to avoid more sexual assault in her life.
Together, they face adults who would steal from or deceive them. They jump train cars and cling to the tops of them, sitting awake for days at a time in the hot sun. They cross borders, sometimes with help and sometimes alone.
While many of our students know all too well these hardships, so many of our students. Worse, they don’t understand why some people choose to immigrate illegally or the conditions that these immigrants are leaving behind them.
We Are Not From Here can help students empathize with those who choose to immigrate illegally.
This Is More Than a Story About Immigration
We Are Not From Here deals with more than just immigration.
It is about family, too. Chico, orphaned after his mother is shot in the market, is adopted by Pulga and his mother. Pulga and Pequeña are cousins, but they become closer through the journey.
We Are Not From Here is also a story about the American Dream.
While growing up, Pulga and Chico listen to adults talk about the journey to America or their relatives who made it to the United States and now send money home. Pulga listens to cassettes his father–an American–made, dreaming of one day living a life like his father had.
Each main character dreams of American–and what it would mean to arrive–in their own way. I can definitely see this novel become part of an American Dream unit!
Hardship and sacrifice also play an important role in Sanchez’s book. Each character makes his or her own sacrifice along the way–some greater than others. No character emerges at the end of this book unchanged by the experience of crossing borders.
This novel, however, isn’t all a downer. Pequeña, Chico, and Pulga encounter genuine good human beings along the way. They encounter other travelers like themselves who long for a life of safety and opportunity.
Tips for Teaching This Story of Immigration
We Are Not From Here would be a great novel for a literature circle themed around hardships, the American Dream, or multiculturalism.
I could also see this being used as a whole class novel, but it is a little long, so keep that in mind. You may need students to use some time outside of class for reading. Otherwise, a large chunk of your teaching time will be spent just reading.
There is some Spanish woven throughout the text, but it’s always immediately translated or made obvious by context clues.
The ages of the main character vary. Chico and Pulga are younger teens while Pequeña is a little older. You could teach this novel at the middle school level. The Lexile is right and, considering how adult the situation is, the story is told in a way that is very appropriate for younger readers.
However, while not very graphic, We Are Not From Here does deal with rape, death, and murder. These issues are handled delicately and in good taste, but you may want to run this choice by admin first, just in case.
Because some of the content could be considered mature, you could also teach this in high school (especially with lower-level readers who don’t want to be babied).
Prior to reading this novel, you’ll definitely want to cover some background information.
Make sure you show where Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States are in relation to one another.
You’ll also want to front-load students with information about illegal immigration into the United States and the dangerous journeys that some people are willing to take for a chance at a better life.
A Final Word on We Are Not From Here
We are Not From Here, ultimately, is just a good story.
You empathize with the characters and you want them to make it. Their adventure is dangerous enough to provide tension throughout the story.
If you’re looking for other novels like this for yourself or your classroom, check out Internment by Samira Ahmed. I think the two would pair together wonderfully.