Best Weller's Pick
Every other month the staff of Weller Book Works nominates and then votes on books we deem worthy of extra attention, our Best Weller's selection. We discount these books to you by 20% during the months for which they're chosen because we believe in them.
Review by Tamsen
I tend to be a sensitive person but even so, it’s not often I find myself openly sobbing while reading a memoir. If you’re alive in the United States, the opening scene in Once I Was You won’t be a surprise, but it will grab your heart. Reporter Maria Hinojosa’s interaction at the McAllen airport in Texas with immigrant children who have been separated from their parents by the U.S. government puts the children’s fear and confusion--the utter cruelty--right in front of you, demanding you look. Hinojosa wrote the introduction as a letter to one of the children she spoke to. She tells the 10-year-old girl from the airport, “I see you, because once I was you.”
Hinojosa immigrated to Chicago as a baby. Her family left Mexico so her dad could take a job as a professor and researcher at the University of Chicago. The story of her family’s journey across the border includes a customs agent who tried to separate baby Maria from her mother because of a small rash on her arm. This was 1962.
In telling her own story, Hinojosa tells the story of immigration in the United States. She doesn’t limit the story to immigration from Latin America, but contextualizes each wave of immigration in the American story. American immigration policy has always been--and continues to be--about maintaining a “white” society. While what defines whiteness has shifted over time (Italian and Polish immigrants were not always considered white in America), the ideal of keeping the “other” out has stayed the same, despite that white America inhabits land stolen from Indigenous people.
Of her own story, Hinojosa describes her experiences breaking into news as a Latina--often as the first or only Latinx person in the newsroom--and her personal heartaches and joys. Once I Was You includes stories behind her reporting such as Hinojosa living in New York City and covering 9/11, traveling to Louisiana to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and her 2011 PBS Frontline documentary Lost in Detention in which she reports the living conditions for immigrants in detention centers.
Throughout her recollections Hinojosa describes policy changes and how they affect immigrants, as well as cultural and historic moments at state and national levels. She beautifully connects her own life and reporting career to immigration in the United States.
Once I Was You is essential reading because understanding immigration policy and history in the United States is necessary for understanding America itself. The cruelty of detention and anti-immigrant policies; the beauty and greatness immigrants bring to this country; all of it forms the structural threads in the fabric of American history, culture, and everyday life.
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“Anyone striving to understand and improve this country should read her story.” —Gloria Steinem, author of My Life on the Road