Rivermouth. An Interpreter’s Testimony
For readers of The Undocumented Americans and The Distance Between Us and fans of Anne Boyer and Maggie Nelson.
The Line Becomes a River meets Tell Me How It Ends in this book about translation, storytelling, and borders as understood through the United States’ “immigration crisis.”
Alejandra Oliva is Mexican American, her family lineage defined by a long and fluid relationship with the border between Texas and Mexico, each generation born on opposite sides of the Rio Grande. A translator advocating for Latin American migrants seeking asylum and American citizenship, Oliva knows all too well the gravity of taking someone’s trauma and delivering it in the warped form the immigration system demands.
In Rivermouth, Oliva focuses on the physical spaces that make up different phases of immigration and looks at how language and opportunity move through each of them. From the river as the waterway that separates the United States and Mexico, to the table as the place over which Oliva prepares asylum seekers for their Credible Fear Interviews, and finally, to the wall as the behemoth imposition that runs along America’s southernmost border.
With lush prose and perceptive insight, Oliva encourages readers to approach the painful questions that this crisis poses with equal parts critique and compassion. By which metrics are we measuring who “deserves” American citizenship? What is the point of humanitarian systems that dole out aid distributed conditionally? What do we owe to our most disenfranchised?
Rivermouth is an argument for porosity. Not just for porous borders and a decriminalization of immigration, but for a more open sense of what we owe one another and a willingness to extend radical empathy. As concrete as she is meditative, sharp as she is lyrical, and incisive as she is literary, Oliva argues for a better world while telling us why it’s worth fighting to get there.