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Citizen Illegal

(BreakBeat Poets)

4.46  ·  Rating details ·  1,093 ratings  ·  185 reviews
Citizen Illegal is a revealing portrait of life as a first generation immigrant, a celebration of Chicano joy, a shout against erasure, and a vibrant re-imagining of Mexican American life.

In this stunning debut, poet José Olivarez explores the stories, contradictions, joys, and sorrows that embody life in the spaces between Mexico and America. He paints vivid portraits of
Paperback, 69 pages
Published September 4th 2018 by Haymarket Books
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Average rating 4.46  · 
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 ·  1,093 ratings  ·  185 reviews

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May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2019
A moving collection of autobiographical poems, Citizen Illegal offers a wide-ranging exploration of Chicano identity. The experience of immigration, the thrills of romance, the trauma of racism, and the love of family are but a few of the many subjects of Olivarez’s debut collection, which centers on the question of what it means to find belonging in America as a child of Mexican immigrants. The poet laces his accessible work with wry wit, and while the opening poems are a bit bare, most of the ...more
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this collection of powerful poems that frequently made me smile--even laugh--while simultaneously moving me to tears. About being the child of immigrants who fled here without papers, about belonging--and not belonging. About the conflict between being a son and fitting into the larger society one is a part of. About moving on yet staying connected.

These poems are lyrical but at the same time highly accessible. I could hardly put it down--if it were fiction, I'd call it a "page turner".
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars rounded up. The son of Mexican immigrants, Chicago poet/author/educator wrote a collection of poems that reflected his first generation's realities and their rage, dreams, losses, grittiness, and tensions. His poems ranged from what makes a baby born in the U.S. of illegal parents Mexican or illegal to many variations of Mexican Heaven. He demonstrated why bother to hide your ethnicity when it's transparent in your dress, accent, foods, mannerisms, and denials that you are Mexican. He ...more
Nahid Soltanzadeh
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I just finished this book in one sitting and I'm in awe. I learned more than I have ever learned from a poetry book, in terms of both craft & content. Like, if we each had an empathy score for the lives we haven't lived but have listened to, mine just sky-rocketed. ...more
Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My review for the Chicago Tribune:

The word “ode” gets thrown around a lot in relation to poetry, so it’s worth taking a look at Merriam-Webster’s definition of the term: “a lyric poem usually marked by exaltation of feeling and style, varying length of line, and complexity of stanza forms.” A cross-check with the Poetry Foundation adds that an ode is “a formal, often ceremonious lyric poem that addresses and often celebrates a person, place, thing, or ide
Mar 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
there are more ways to put lead in a body
than pulling a trigger. what do you think
a food desert is but a long sip of poison?

~Excerpt "Poem in Which I Become Wolverine"
Loring Wirbel
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
One of Chicago's most vibrant young poets, Jose Olivarez, came to Colorado Springs for a reading last fall, and it was immediately apparent why his fanbase grows almost daily. There was not a trace of the melodramatic "poet's voice" in his reading. It was more akin to a hip-hop concert meeting a stand-up comic's gig. Olivarez speaks of many grave and challenging topics about life as an immigrant, yet his poetry is never bogged down. Like his persona itself, the poems here overflow with joy.

Never Without a Book
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Citizen Illegal is a beautiful piece of artwork. This collection of poetry explores what it means to be a first-generation Mexican-American. José paints a vivid portrait of family, love, gender, class, immigration and traditions of Latinx. Highly recommend.
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: academic-books
This was fantastic. I couldn't put it down--i laughed out loud several times. Olivarez had me swinging between feeling good, sad, and with righteous injustice over the course of a few lines. Then repeat. And repeat again.
Haymarket Books has brought me back to poetry.
Karen (idleutopia_reads)
May 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Poetry used to scare me. I tried so hard to read the language written in between the spaces of its lines that I paid no attention to the experience. I didn’t allow myself to experience it. That all has changed thanks to bookstagram. The rhythm and resonance I felt in Citizen Illegal are unparalleled. I have loved immersing myself in a world where I can read so many thoughts my soul has sung but I’ve never been able to translate. When I was reading this book I truly felt a vibration inside of mys ...more
Oct 10, 2018 rated it liked it
I don't know a lot about poetry, but there's a lot of good shit in here.
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"on gray days, i wear the sun, but
it falls off my shoulders. if you catch my mom
in good light, it's impossible to tell where the sun ends."

"...bones worn thin
as thorns to terrorize blue agents,
bones worn thin as guitar strings,
so when the wind blows
we can follow the music home."

"where is your home?

the house i grew up in was foreclosed.
there is a small note taped to the door.
i still have the key, but the key opens nothing."
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wowowowowow I love José Olivarez and this book just understands what it means to be an immigrant child. It’s like eating KFC with Maggi sauce, like your mom’s homemade ‘pasta’ that still tastes like curry, like love that sometimes feels like hate because it’s so strong and so scared, like love that doesn’t get said.
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Amazing! I'll be recommending this book over and over.
Beanslover Jacob
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
(citizen) (illegal)

Mexican woman (illegal) and Mexican man (illegal) have
a Mexican (illegal)-American (citizen).
Is the baby more Mexican or American?
Place the baby in the arms of the mother (illegal).
If the mother holds the baby (citizen)
too long, does the baby become illegal?

The baby is a boy (citizen). He goes to school (citizen).
His classmates are American (citizen). He is outcast (illegal).
His “Hellos” are in the wrong language (illegal).
He takes the hyphen separating loneliness (Mexican)
Violet Muhle Bruce
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Just beautiful. This poetry is so real and vibrant and honest that it left me speechless. The way this book has so many of my favorite types of poetry is truly incredible. I believe there is something for everyone in this book, take a couple hours out of your day and read it.
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
i will throw this book at anyone trying to figure out the nuances of being a first gen ANYTHING.

the poems covered a huge range of topics including anxiety, male body image, micro/macro-aggressions and sterotypes of Chicano/Mexican-American/Mexican peoples.

some poems weren't as strong as others, but the titular poem "Citizen Illegal" is by far one of the most amazing pieces of writing i've come across in a long time.
Jul 26, 2018 added it
Shelves: poetry
I'm so glad this collection of poetry exists in our world today. Jose Olivarez writes beautifully with love, humor and wit, about his experience growing up Mexican-American, the child of immigrants, about the many intersections of his life & his identity, about his complicated and deep love for his mother, his brothers, his father. Thank you Haymarket for sending me an advanced review copy! ...more
Casey Eccles
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is the best collect of poetry I’ve read in years. The language is beautiful and the pain is palpable.
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Citizen Illegal by Jose Olivarez is a collection of poems that represent his experience growing up as Mexican-American. He addresses issues of citizenship, boarders, immigration and education. The collections have themes of identity, family, love, acceptance, and culture. Jose Olivarez is a collaborating artist with Young Chicago Authors and offers an authentic perspective that are similar to many of my students’ experiences. Citizen Illegal also includes narrative poems in traditional form that ...more
Shannon (That's So Poe)
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019-books
These poems were filled with the love and frustration of being Mexican-American, the pull Olivarez feels between both parts of his identity, his fears and worries about not being enough, and his anger and pain at the injustice and difficulties faced by his community. I really connected with this collection emotionally and got so much out of it, finding it both moving and amusing, as well as always heart-felt. I especially loved the recurring Mexican Heaven poems. I felt that the rhythm and flow ...more
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is fresh hot new out the frying pan poured over a Mexican border that should not exist because the south I live in is Tejas, well bit is Mexico. There are so many Mexican people here coming across lines Americans drew because they just trying to get home. The South where I live is Mexico. Just because a war was fought doesn't mean generations lose their way.

Okay well this is not in the book but I felt it truly is.
Raunel Urquiza
Great! I resonated strongly with the works and my favorite poems touched a deep nerve about what assimilation or integration looks like in our culture. We are at odds not only in our society, our homes but even ourselves.

I'm left wondering, how do I reconcile my seemingly contradictory identities. I hope Jose Olivarez keeps on writing!
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
New favourite poetry collection. Olivarez certainly has a way with words that makes them touch you deeply. I learned more about the Mexican American experience than I ever knew before. I can't really find the words to express how much I loved this collection. It's a must-read for anyone that loves poetry.
Meagan Cahuasqui
Had the pleasure of hearing some of these poems read live at a Miami book fair panel. As I read the collection I could still hear his voice clear as day in my head. His words are so powerful and even though our experiences are not the same there's still a line of truth that runs through. Excellent set of poems
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I don’t read much poetry, honestly.

But this? Beautiful. It pokes you right in the heart and the brain. It makes you want to read more poems and write poems and hear more poems read aloud.

Good good good.
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: latinx, poetry
Loved every minute of it. Going to read it 57 more times starting... NOW.

ETA: just read it again. Wowza.
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Tender — like loving and affectionate, but also painful to the touch. A wonderful collection, earnest, thoughtful, funny, and moving.
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José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants. His debut book of poems, Citizen Illegal, was a finalist for the PEN/ Jean Stein Award and a winner of the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize. It was named a top book of 2018 by NPR and the New York Public Library. Along with Felicia Chavez and Willie Perdomo, he is co-editing the forthcoming anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNEXT. He ...more

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There are many ways to take action against racism. Reading in order to learn more about oppression and how to oppose it is just one of those ways...
570 likes · 341 comments
“my parents are Mexican who are not
to be confused with Mexican Americans
or Chicanos.

i am a Chicano from Chicago
which means i am a Mexican American
with a fancy college degree & a few tattoos.

my parents are Mexican who are not
to be confused with Mexicans still living
in México. those Mexicans call themselves mexicanos.
white folks at parties call them pobrecitos.
American colleges call them international students & diverse.

my mom was white in México & my dad was mestizo
& after they crossed the border they became diverse. & minorities. & ethnic. & exotic.

but my parents call themselves mexicanos,
who, again, should not be confused for mexicanos
living in México. those mexicanos might call
my family gringos, which is the word my family calls
white folks & white folks call my parents interracial.
colleges say put them on a brochure.

my parents say que significa esa palabra.
i point out that all the men in my family
marry lighter-skinned women. that’s the Chicano
in me. which means it’s the fancy college degrees
in me, which is also diverse of me. everything in me
is diverse even when i eat American foods
like hamburgers, which, to clarify, are American
when a white person eats them & diverse
when my family eats them. so much of America
can be understood like this.”
“my enemies aren’t ugly-faced crooks, they don’t laugh
while innocent die.​ they point & say how
tragic then go home to pet their cute dogs.”
More quotes…