Book Review #1771
My Underground American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive (2016). By Julissa Arce. New York, Center Street. 296 pp, $27.00, ISBN 978-1-4555-40242

Reviewer: Heather Laskos
Undergraduate Advising, Mike Ilitch School of Business
Wayne State Univeristy, Detroit, MI
[email protected]

The Washington Post reports that in 2016 740,000 illegal immigrants overstayed their visas, making the topic of undocumented immigrants timely and relevant (Dinan, 2017). Julissa Arce tells her story of over overstaying her visa in My Underground American Dream. She originally came to the United States as an 11 year old to go to school while her parents had legal work visas. After her parents failed to have her visa renewed she began to live in fear of being discovered and separated from her family. Arce worked hard to help her parents in their businesses and helped to provide for her family at a young age while also striving to do well in school. She thought that college was out of the realm of possibility since she did not have a social security number. However, House Bill 1403 in Texas allowed “undocumented students to attend public universities, pay in-state tuition, and receive financial aid” (p. 104).

Arce excelled in business school at the University of Texas. After helping her parents’ entrepreneurial efforts, she enjoyed learning the best practices of business through her coursework and student organizations. But she began to meet more diverse people whom she had more in common with. Her college experience also exposed her to a diverse group of people who she had more in common with than her high school. When she began to work on Wall Street, Arce felt she had achieved her dream and yet she still was fearful of being deported.

While this story has a happy ending, Arce first received a green card and then eventually became an American citizen, there are many tense moments that highlight the fear she lived in. Not only does this book shed light on the myriad of problems associated with being an undocumented immigrant, but Arce also points out other issues she struggled with, including: absent parents, domestic violence, an alcoholic father, and parenting a sibling. Advisors may never know what is below the surface of what their students tell them because Arce hid these problems from most people in her life. Afraid of being deported, she did not let anyone but close friends in on her secrets.

While My Underground American Dream is ultimately a story of triumph, it also reminds readers to look beyond appearances and realize that everyone has issues that cannot be immediately seen. Arce brings attention to undocumented immigrants through her own voice and experience and leaves us with this truth: “Americans today often view immigration as a political issue and forget that immigration is, in fact, about human beings who have dreams, ambitions, and aspirations” (p.276).


Dinan, S. (2017, May 22). Staggering number of visa overstays now biggest problem in illegal immigration. Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/may/22/visa-overstays-biggest-problem-illegal-immigration/

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