Rivermouth. A Chronicle of Language, Faith, and Migration

Author: Oliva, Alejandra

Publication Date:

June 2023



Original language and publisher

English (USA) | Astra House

Territories Handled

World excl. North America


Social Justice

Rivermouth. A Chronicle of Language, Faith, and Migration

Author: Oliva, Alejandra


Mexican-American translator and immigrant justice activist Alejandra Oliva is particularly situated to tell the stories of immigration at the US southern border. She has seen the suffering, the space and the struggles of the people firsthand as she interprets their words for them and now, their experiences for us. — Karla J. Strand, Ms. Magazine

Alejandra Oliva’s Rivermouth is a document of witness and grace told with devastating clarity and beauty. A beautiful and important book. — Kate Zambreno, author of The Light Room

Rivermouth is a supremely intelligent account of a translator’s journey into the Kafkaesque machinery of U.S. immigration and asylum policy. Alejandra Oliva writes with great lucidity and empathy about the fractures at the U.S.-Mexico border and the human drama that plays out there. — Héctor Tobar, author of Translation Nation

“Our policies of offshoring and externalizing our asylum obligations are attempts to deter migrants from attempting the journey. Both policies often have the same outcome—death, whether or not we choose to recognize it as caused by the US government. In the next few weeks, amid the grief of family members and the remembrances of lives cut short, we will see blame for these 39 deaths shifted back and forth across the border by politicians and pundits; in all likelihood, it belongs in both countries. Meanwhile, these deaths will continue so long as we treat migration as a crisis rather than an opportunity to live up to our national ideals.” —Alejandra Oliva, The Nation

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.

Marketing Information

  • Recipient of the 2022 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant
  • Included in “Reads for the Rest of Us: The Most Anticipated Feminist Books of 2023” from Ms. Magazine  and in The New York Times “Newly Published” section
  • Featured in the PRH Library Marketing “What’s New in Nonfiction” , in Book Riot “The Best New Book Releases out June 20, 2023”
  • Summer/Fall 2023 Adult Indies Introduce Pick, a July 2023 INDIE NEXT pick and a Roxane Gay’s Audacious Book Club July 2023 selection, A Bookshop.org “Editors pick”,
  • Interview in Vogue.com
  • First & Second serial excerpts featured on The Cut and on Literary Hub
  • Highlighted as part of the “La Comunidad Reads” event series with Lupita Aquino in a segment for Telemundo Washington DC
  • Included in The Austin Chronicle‘s roundup of Texas Book Festival featured authors.
  • Highlighted by “The Stacks” host Traci Thomas on WBUR’s “Here and Now” segment “For Hispanic Heritage Month, pick up a book highlighting Latinx writers and stories.”
  • Featured in Kirkus: “Best of 2023: Our Favorite Nonfiction”