El-Sayed, in his debut memoir, tells the story of his struggle to find a better life—and of losing what he’d worked so hard to gain.
Born to Egyptian parents in Kuwait, the author became an undocumented immigrant in the United States for a time. However, immigrants are far more than the sum of their paperwork, and El-Sayed provides a balanced portrayal of his own foundation in this engaging book. He was the fiercely smart and driven child of an alcoholic father, and ranked fifth among all students in Egypt when he graduated high school. He traveled to the United States with a tourist visa in 1993 and stayed, then put himself through college with a combination of hard work and student loans. He married an American woman in 1997 and later became a permanent resident. There was just one problem: he claimed to be an American citizen so he could apply for his loans, and although Immigration and Customs Enforcement never caught up to him, the U.S. Department of Education did, in 2000: “I counted ten law enforcement personnel....these guys acted like they hit the jackpot.” The author signed a confession right on the spot, in exchange for the promise of a quick release so he could finish the few weeks remaining before he was due to graduate from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona as valedictorian. But that release never materialized; the judge went back on the plea deal, throwing El-Sayed in jail with drug smugglers, violent bikers, and convicted murderers for more than a year. Once released, the author went straight back to school—but although the academic world may have been forgiving of his status as convicted felon, employers were not. In this memoir, El-Sayed effectively tells of his pitched struggle to provide a good life for his loved ones, including his American daughter, born in 2006. Along the way, he relates so many setbacks that it may leave readers wondering how he found the courage to keep trying. Throughout the book, the author shines equal light on his own struggles to fully realize his dreams as he does on some painful, embarrassing aspects of the United States immigration system.
An intelligent, honestly written memoir of immigration.