cover image Malaya: Essays on Freedom

Malaya: Essays on Freedom

Cinelle Barnes. Little A, $24.95 (204p) ISBN 978-1-5420-9330-9

Barnes’s stirring follow-up to her memoir, Monsoon Mansion, which recounted her childhood in the Philippines, continues her life story by sharing her life in America while undocumented. After arriving in the U.S. at age 16, Barnes learns she is too old to gain citizenship through, as planned, adoption by a family member. While enduring this disappointment and her subsequent depression over being unable to attend college, she cleans houses for $6 per hour, explaining that “cleaning resuscitated what becoming undocumented killed.” A few years later, she is still undocumented, but with help from a skilled immigration lawyer has managed to enter college and, while bitterly aware of the divisions between herself and most of her classmates, finds community with fellow undocumented employees at her workplace, a cafe in gentrifying Harlem. The repercussions of living under the threat of arrest and deportation are long-lasting, as poignantly conveyed in an essay addressed to her now-grade school-aged daughter, explaining why she only travels by bike and largely within a two-mile radius: “Your mother can’t drive because when all her high school friends were getting permits, she was an undocumented teen with a MetroCard but no ID.” Some of the writing can be prosaic, but Barnes’s story is unforgettable, and highly relevant to 2019 America. (Nov.)