Shortlisted for the Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize
Winner of the Pacific Northwest Book Award
Winner of the Washington State Book Award
When Aida Hernandez was born in 1987 in Agua Prieta, Mexico, the nearby U.S. border was little more than a worn-down fence. Eight years later, Aida’s mother took her and her siblings to live in Douglas, Arizona. By then, the border had become one of the most heavily policed sites in America.
Undocumented, Aida fought to make her way. She learned English, watched Friends, and, after having a baby at sixteen, dreamed of teaching dance and moving with her son to New York City. But life had other plans. Following a misstep that led to her deportation, Aida found herself in a Mexican city marked by violence, in a country that was not hers. To get back to the United States and reunite with her son, she embarked on a harrowing journey. The daughter of a rebel hero from the mountains of Chihuahua, Aida has a genius for survival—but returning to the United States was just the beginning of her quest.
Taking us into detention centers, immigration courts, and the inner lives of Aida and other daring characters, The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez reveals the human consequences of militarizing what was once a more forgiving border. With emotional force and narrative suspense, Aaron Bobrow-Strain brings us into the heart of a violently unequal America. He also shows us that the heroes of our current immigration wars are less likely to be perfect paragons of virtue than complex, flawed human beings who deserve justice and empathy all the same.
"Searing . . . A rich, novelistic tale of a young woman whose life spans both sides of the United States-Mexican border . . . [Aida's] a radiantly optimistic character in a relentlessly bleak, unlucky world . . . The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez is an illuminating work of literature, not an ideological tract."—Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times Book Review
"Bobrow-Strain writes like a journalist and sociologist, with clear information on history and policy, along with plenty of narrative tension. Hernandez is not a perfect immigrant (she has a criminal record), but she’s a real one, and her story provides insight into how the larger immigration machine actually works."—Adriana E. Ramirez, Los Angeles Times
“In his deeply researched, captivating book, The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez: A Border Story, Aaron Bobrow-Strain illustrates the complexity of human experience that sometimes accompanies migrants because, like the rest of us, they are people . . . The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez is no fairy tale. It’s not an uplifting story of plucky migrants and isn’t the handbook for congressional immigration-law reform efforts. That is precisely why it is such a powerful testament to migrants that deserves a more central role in immigration law debates . . . Bobrow-Strain hasn’t written a story limited to current debates about immigration law and policy. Rather, like other great storytellers, he has written what is better described as a story about people who happen to be migrants. It’s the people who animate his account, and not the circumstances that convince us to care about the people.”—César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA)
“It’s not a stretch to say that Bobrow-Strain has written a Grapes of Wrath for our time—a deep, situated, complex study of a mass migration in conditions of a fundamental economic and political violence that goes far, far beyond the question of the contingent suffering of one woman and her family.”—Journal of Narrative Politics
“The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez manages to seamlessly weave together the very personal true story of an undocumented Mexican-American woman while also providing readers a sense of how her many misfortunes are interconnected with the U.S.’s border policies over the past 30 years . . . A beautiful introduction to anyone interested in the subject of immigration”—Seth Combs, San Diego City Beat
“Aida’s story—of border flight, immigration court, for-profit detention, and family separation—is required reading in the age of Trump.”—Rosa Furneaux, Mother Jones
"[A] lyrical and intimate account . . . Hernandez is never reduced to a lecture prop. She is the protean American, in search of herself, re-inventing as she must."—Oscar Villalon, Lit Hub
“A professor combines his academic research with his decades long U.S.-Mexico border activism to brightly illuminate immigration realities by focusing on the struggles of one young woman . . . [A] powerful saga . . . This potent, important work, which 'occupies a space between journalism and ethnography, with a dash of oral history and biography,' adds much to the continuing immigration debate.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Bobrow-Strain, an academic and an immersion journalist of conscience in the mode of Alex Kotlowitz, tells the dramatic true tale of a woman he calls Aida Hernandez with extraordinary clarity and power . . . In this caring and unforgettable borderland saga, Bobrow-Strain reveals the profound personal toll of the immigration crisis.”—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
Reviews from Goodreads
GIRL IN A LABYRINTH
AIDA AWOKE TO THE SMELL of homemade flour tortillas and the sound of her mother singing. Luz always sang the same song while she cooked—“Triste recuerdo” by Antonio Aguilar. Aida thought her...