Amanda George / Contributing Writer
In a novel inspired by the difficulties of immigration on families, one FIU alumna shares her story living as an American-Colombian woman born from immigrant parents.
On March 2, Patricia Engel, award-winning author and associate professor at the University of Miami, published her New York Times Bestseller, “Infinite Country,” bringing the immigration experience to light through the lens of one family.
“The experience of the family in Infinite Country is extremely common, yet I never saw it represented in literature,” Engel said. “I have known and cared for many people who’ve been challenged by everchanging immigration laws and who’ve been separated from their loved ones for extended periods as a result of borders.”
The novel takes place in Bogotá, Colombia and the states of Texas and New Jersey and focuses on a family’s major decision to leave their home country and its effects on nonnative individuals and their families.
Texas, a known immigration hub due to its border with Mexico, saw an increase in those of Colombian descent by almost 95% from 1970 to 2017, making those of Latino descent comprise 39% of the Texan population in 2017.
The former administration constructed “tent courts” within the border towns of Brownsville and Laredo in 2019 and the current Senate Bill 4 bans sanctuary cities, which are defined as jurisdictions that limit cooperation with the federal government’s effort to enforce immigration laws.
“[The story of “Infinite Country”] has been something that’s been in the state of affairs for years and decades,” Engel said during the interview. “But I do think that this moment, this year of quarantine…. has possibly given people a taste of what it’s like to be separated from the people they love for reasons that are completely out of their control.”
The novel includes perspectives on events that occurred during the Trump presidency and the 9/11 attacks. These happenings manifest the long-term effects created by the characters’ choice to leave Colombia.
The book comes during a time where presidential administrations are changing, and President Biden is being pressured to address the routine surge of immigration, the humanity of those affected by policies is forgotten in favor of reactionary politics. Engel discusses how this affects the immigrant struggle.
“Nearly everyone in the United States is here because they are either an immediate or distant descendant of someone who emigrated, though many people have dissociated from that connection,” Engel said. “The result is an objectification that often manifests in criticism, disdain, a lack of compassion, othering and a sense of criminalization.”
Engel’s writing process for “Infinite Country” began with research, leading her to imagine the story and its characters. She wrote multiple drafts before having it reviewed by her editors.
The author shares advice for writers who struggle to finish their work. She explained the importance of dedicating time to the craft.
“Prioritize your writing the way you would your health, time spent with dear friends, or anything else that is important to you,” she said. “Show up for your writing and it will show up for you.”
“Infinite Country” is named one of Reese’s Book Club’s March 2021 adult picks, an honor for the dedicated author. She shares how grateful she is for this great achievement.
“This is a wonderful surprise and honor to be chosen for her book club,” she said. “I admire everything she’s done to promote reading and specifically books that center the experiences of women.”