3 out of 4 stars
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I've always had issues with realizing just how lucky I am. Chairs might be uncomfortable, the internet is often laggy, and sometimes it's hard to balance the temperature in my room. But there's so much that I take for granted! I've never worked for a sharecropper an entire season and not earned a single penny, for example, and I'm happy to report that I've never had to pee out of a moving train!
The Biography of Jose G. Ocampo - The Life Story of an Undocumented Worker in the Salinas Valley (a title that doesn't include the accent mark over the "e" in "José" for some reason) details the life of author Robert Ocampo's father. José didn't have it easy in Mexico: only the rich were able to be educated, and he worked his butt off from the day he dropped out of third grade.
Eventually, José decided that things would never get better for him in Mexico. After buying the birth certificate of a dead boy, José takes off for the glory of America. But when he gets there, he's often forced to travel from state to state, chasing down work with no guarantee that he'll have a place to sleep or food to eat.
The Biography of Jose G. Ocampo - The Life Story of an Undocumented Worker in the Salinas Valley tells José's story from his childhood through his death. It's a touching, funny, sad, and eye-opening book. José is an incredibly hard worker with a relentless work ethic, but his naivete sometimes leads to humorous circumstances. My favorite story is about one of José's trips to the hospital before he knew about indoor toilets. He was at a loss for where to go to the bathroom, so he used a vase in the room. The smell built over days of use and the hospital staff couldn't find the source. It was so bad that they worried it was an outbreak of some new disease and quarantined the place where he worked!
The entire book is full of anecdotes, stories, and memories from José himself. Robert wrote that he often spoke with his father about his past, and eventually started recording the conversations. In a way, José created this book himself and Robert merely put it down on (digital) paper and created a cohesive story out of it. I appreciated that the book flows chronologically, so there was no confusion over when an event was taking place.
Unfortunately, the writing needed some work. I found over 40 grammatical errors, ranging from simple typos like using "can" instead of "cane" to more obvious things like "we ate beans 1111that were old." Many errors were issues with homophones, such as multiple uses of "daily bases" instead of "daily basis." There were also quite a few sentences that were written in Spanish, none of which were translated into English. I took a few years of Spanish in school so I knew some of it, but there were words and phrases that even Google Translate couldn't help with. This is a shame because there are some very poignant things written in Spanish, and readers who don't want to seek out translations will miss out on them! Also, while I liked that Spanish words and phrases were typically in quotation marks, it was funny to see words we often use in English like "tacos," "burritos," and "plaza" in quotation marks.
I really enjoyed The Biography of Jose G. Ocampo - The Life Story of an Undocumented Worker in the Salinas Valley, but the grammatical errors forced me to give it a score of 3 out of 4 stars. Anyone interested in the challenge of immigrating (illegally first and then legally later) into America, a man's struggle to make the future better for his family despite the odds being stacked against him, the power of determination and hard work, or honest, genuine biographies should enjoy the book despite its flaws.
The Biography of Jose G. Ocampo - The Life Story of an Undocumented Worker in the Salinas Valley
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