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My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  865 ratings  ·  127 reviews
For an undocumented immigrant, what is the true cost of the American Dream? Julissa Arce shares her story in a riveting memoir.

When she was 11 years old Julissa Arce left Mexico and came to the United States on a tourist visa to be reunited with her parents, who dreamed the journey would secure her a better life. When her visa expired at the age of 15, she became an undocu
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by Center Street
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Aug 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
I was excited to have access to this memoir by a successful American woman who happened to be undocumented (thanks NetGalley!). I'm giving it the two star rating (which in the Goodreads scheme means "it was ok") not because of the story, which was fascinating, but because it needed serious editing.

The basic narrative of Julissa Arce's life is summed up in the publisher description of the book, which I'll quote here:
When she was 11 years old Julissa Arce left Mexico and came to the United State
A coming-of-age memoir that captures the challenges and triumphs of reaching one's dream while leading a double life. Arce is a true testament that with some smarts, hard work, perseverance, and a little luck, one can achieve their dream. The odds were surely against her at times. This honest story telling captures her inner thoughts, feelings and more as well as the different cultures she encountered. I was familiar with one - San Antonio. I probably bumped into Arce without knowing. Highly rec ...more
Julissa Arce's Mexican parents brought her legally to the U.S. when she was 11; when she was 14 her visa expired and she began living with the constant pressure of being an undocumented immigrant in a country she'd mostly grown up in and felt was her home. Arce powerfully makes the case for why undocumented immigrants deserve a path to citizenship -- as with the oft-stalled DREAM act. Arce herself only eventually gained legal status because she was able to marry someone who had money and had mon ...more
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
Brutal. Writing was like that of a freshman in high school. For someone who spends pages and pages talking about her thoughts and feelings, she is totally lacking in self-awareness. Her sense of entitlement was offensive. She insisted upon using quotes to describe her status as "illegal," when it was precisely that: illegal. It was one long humble-brag. I have been an advocate for immigrants' rights for decades, and found this book to be a boring, poorly written waste of time. ...more
Magdalena Whisler
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I begun reading this book yesterday afternoon at 2:30 pm to be exact. It was very captivating from the very beginning: Julissa going through an anxiety attack fresh out of college and going into a very desirable job as a financial analyst for a very profitable firm on Wall St, in N.Y. while she was undocumented! She finished college with a high GPA, extra curricular activities and landed an excellent job opportunity with no legal papers. The whole book is so captivating describing her hardships ...more
Nov 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Arces' story is unique and some parts were interesting however the underlying element of breaking the law and engaging in criminal activity clouded a lot of her history and accomplishments for me. I cannot go to her country and presume that Mexico has a responsibility to pay, feed, cloth, and give me me me everything I desire even if I work hard. I have to get proper Visas and follow proper protocol set by her government. I am soooo tired of illegal millenials thinking that they are justified in ...more
Aug 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
I didn’t mean to read two memoirs in a row but NetGalley got my attention with this one too—about an undocumented woman who ends up earning six figures on Wall Street. [I’m not giving anything away. All that information is in the subtitle, “My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive”]. Working at a community college and living in town that is about 70% Latino, I am very aware of the issues that undocumented folks, especially students, face and I was curious to ...more
Vale Suarez
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I know immigration is a hot topic for many but as an "illegal immigrant " , undocumented is more acurate, I am able to connect to Julissa in so many ways. I devoured the pages, whether you agree or disagree this book will give you an inside of our lives.
I am now an American citizen and I would die for this wonderful country but the struggles of many people have been kept in the dark due to fear and ignorance. I definitely recommend this book.
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Started off impressed that she was able to write in her eleven year old voice, but then it never really changed!

It was disturbing to continuously read (very repetitive) her version of the American dream being making big money. Even when she leaves that behind to give back she mentions that it's only possible because she had money (which is absolute crap).
Jan Cole
Nov 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Julissa was brought to the United States as a child and then caught in red tape, leaving her undocumented--having lived in the US for her formative years, being schooled in the US, but undocumented. At the point she realized she could be deported, her life was just beginning. She was very bright, hard working, and college bound. The only way to continue her life was to go forward and continue her plans with false papers. The burden of guilt followed her all the time, causing her to live guardedl ...more
Emi Yoshida
I commend Julissa Arce for her drive and intensity, she has every right to be very proud of her accomplishments while under constant stress and at risk of deportation. Since she mentioned her intention to write a follow-up book, I wish she would have stuck to the roadmap indicated by her subtitle here; but instead she continued past her Wall Street career when the story became as all-over-the-place as her life struck me as being (multiple failed startups, weird religion involvement, random and s ...more
Irene Rendon
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Julissa Arce is an inspiration. I found the book especially interesting because of the Dream Act that is now being debated. Amazing how politics can dehumanize and complicate matters. Julissa will be a speaker at the 2018 BookFestival in San Antonio. I can't wait to see her. ...more
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I highly recommend this book. Facts and figures are interspersed throughout her sharing of her journey.
DEvelyn Kaburu
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, work-related
I absolutely loved this autobiography! If you are looking for self-help books to becoming a successful wallstreet executive, there are better books out there (which the author even mentions in this one). However, if you simply love hearing others' stories, this is an excellent choice. Julissa's life perfectly aligns with the up and down arcs of a novel and each chapter, each paragraph, each sentence leaves you wondering what will happen next. The suspense she creates is not artificial but borne ...more
Carolyn Morales
Feb 04, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I mean, the title is a spoiler... This is another IMPORTANT read, a must-read, really. I can't imagine the anxiety that comes with being undocumented. Thank you Julissa for sharing your story. I am blown away. I am only a year or two younger than the author and am cannot begin to fathom how much harder she worked (than me) than those around her with so many advantages. And even then, so many circumstances had to line up just right. What an amazing story ...more
Sep 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: a-team
I highly recommend this book. Julissa does a great job of really making you feel her story. She helps to humanize the undocumented experience. I feel that often times people can't empathize when they don't feel a direct connection or don't know an actual story that they can reference. There's so many amazing nuggets in this book and so many situations that all Latine and none Latine undocumented people in general can connect with and relate with. ...more
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this detailed account of a young Mexican immigrant making her dreams come true in America.
Cindy Leighton
Julissa Arce's story of being brought to the US at age 11 on a tourist visa to be with her parents who were working legally in the US, but then overstayed her visa and discovered, as so many children of immigrants do when it is time to apply to college, that their status is undocumented, is powerful, and an excellent illustration of why the DREAM act and other paths to citizenship are so critical. And of how Mexico pays all the costs of the "reproduction of the work force" while the US reaps the ...more
Nov 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Can you tackle the tricky politics of Wall Street head-on, and win?
Can you do the above, as a woman? As a Latina?
Well, how about as an undocumented immigrant in the United States?
Seems almost near to impossible, doesn't it?

Not for Julissa Arce.

Living in Taxco, Mexico with her family, Julissa felt the pangs of separation from her parents, as they worked in the US to provide for their family. Reunion would seem the easy solution to such a predicament. However, even with her parents by her side, Ju
Harry Brake
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recently acquiring a list of texts that deal with immigration from our local Barnes & Noble supplier, this was in the suggestions. As an educator, I was drawn to her story - and certainly to the moments of living on the edge of losing everything or making one's way with just a simple correct or wrong turn. Add into that equation the aspects of one's family also being at stake, and you have experiences that only individuals that are struggling to find a way to improve their life based on a solid ...more
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018-reads
My (Undocumented) American Dream, Julissa Arce's story of making her way through life as an undocumented immigrant after the visa her parents brought her into the country with when she was eleven expired, is undoubtedly an important own-voices narrative of experiences that speak to one of the major issues of our times.

It's also really hard for me to relate to.

When Arce talks about the shock and betrayal of suddenly discovering upon applying to college that she's not actually a citizen, I was the
May 27, 2016 rated it liked it

Julissa Arce's parents were working legally in the United States while she and her older sisters lived with her extended family in Mexico.  Her younger brother was born in the United States.  When Julissa started acting out in school at age 11, her parents brought her to live with them.  She had no idea that it was illegal for her to go to school.  She didn't know that she had outstayed her visa until her mother explained that she couldn't go back to Mexico for her quinceanera because she would
Julissa Arce came to the United States with her Mexican passport when she was a little girl to be with her parents, who worked and ran a business in Texas. When her visa ran out, her folks failed to renew it for her, which prevented her from traveling back and forth between Texas and Mexico. Julissa started to learn what her undocumented status meant when she was unable to have her quinceañera with her family back in Mexico. In fact, she didn’t have a party at all. Her parents had fallen on hard ...more
Jan 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting story. Lots of interesting points to discuss.
Jan 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Bogged down by unnecessary details and far too much uninteresting info about her romantic relationships but the last third was inspiring and what I went into the book hoping for. We have got to start having civil discussions about realistic ways to reform immigration laws and practices.
I'vbe been doing the "Unpresidented reading challenge" for 2017... pretty much a series of 12 challenges to read books from cultures outside of the traditional "American". By a coincidence, driven by time, schedule, and Overdrive loans, I ended up finishing the first challenge (A story about immigration or refugees to the United States) yesterday.

Which meant that I read the chapter written as "Build a WALL and make Mexico pay for it" Trump was campaigning gets read while he gets inaugurated as p
Aug 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, usa, arc, nonfiction
As an undocumented immigrant, Julissa Arce climbed to the upper echelon of the finance world, making waves at Goldman-Sachs. It's an amazing story, and one that ran in dozens of newspapers around the globe. Her full-length autobiography is no disappointment.

Detailing her life from her early childhood in Mexico through her teen years in Texas, Arce describes her long struggle to succeed, from getting into college without a social security number to landing enviable internships and job opportuniti
Aug 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is a memoir about Julissa Arce's life story. It discusses her childhood on how her parents brought her to the United States as an undocumented immigrant. Her parents did it in the best intentions to provide the American Dream for their children. It is what she had to overcome in living with this status. On how she climbed the ladder to be an executive working on Wall Street for Goldman Sachs.
Overall I rated this book four stars out of five. This was an amazing story. It is hard enou
Dec 10, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 23, 2018 rated it did not like it
I finished this book a couple of weeks ago, but I had to let it sit with me - and not in a good way. The story is the author's own about how her parents brought her here illegally when she was 14 years of age due to concerns about her behavior while living with her grandmother in Mexico. Julissa is then forced to struggle with her illegal immigration status as she navigates through college and later work.

The problem I had with this book, however, is that while Julissa eventually obtains a green
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