Citizen Illegal

José Olivarez. Haymarket, $16 trade paper (70p) ISBN 978-1-60846-954-3
Olivarez celebrates his family and Mexican-American identity in his hopeful, waggish, and devastating debut collection. He has a critical eye for how Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are observed, labeled, and categorized, writing that “it’s hard for one body to contain two countries,/ the countries go to war & it’s hard to remember you are loved by both/ sides or any sides.” This concept ignites a paralyzing hyperconsciousness that offers a glimpse into the poet’s oftentimes conflicting identities and provides the inventive structure of the eponymous opening poem. “Mexican woman (illegal) and Mexican man (illegal)/ have a Mexican (illegal)-American (citizen)./ is the baby more Mexican or American?” he asks. Olivarez is sharply critical of American media portrayals of Mexican-American culture: “when i watch the news i hear my name, but never see my face. every other commercial is for taco bell.” Olivarez shines when he embraces the flaws and the grandeur of his background. His poem “Gentefication” imagines a neighborhood being reclaimed from gentrifiers and a people’s commune taking its place: “we trade tortillas for haircuts, nopales for healthcare,/ poems for groceries, & if all you can do/ is eat the food, we ask that you wash your dishes.” In the neighborhood of Olivarez’s imagination, “the whole block is alive/ & not for sale.” (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/2018
Release date: 09/01/2018
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 80 pages - 978-1-60846-523-1
MP3 CD - 978-1-7135-4399-2
Open Ebook - 80 pages - 978-1-60846-955-0
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