Winner of the 2022 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant
"Rivermouth is a great gift in a time when migrants are demonized on the shores and borders of wealthy western countries . . . Alejandra Oliva has not only written a poetic, gripping, and magnificent book, she is there, on the border, assisting the migrants in their attempts to escape hunger, deadly gangs, and dysfunctional, governments."—Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, author of "Not A Nation of Immigrants"
The Undocumented Americans meets Tell Me How It Ends in this chronicle of translation, storytelling, and borders as understood through the United States' “immigration crisis”
In this powerful and deeply felt polemic memoir, Alejandra Oliva, a Mexican-American translator and immigrant justice activist, offers a chronological document of her experience interpreting at the US-Mexico border, and of the people she has encountered along the way. Tracing her family’s long and fluid relationship to the border, each generation born on opposite sides of the Rio Grande, and having worked on asylum cases since 2016, she knows all too well the gravity of taking someone's trauma and delivering it to the warped demands of the American immigration system.
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 US 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 distribute aid conditionally? What do we owe to our most disenfranchised?
As investigative and analytical as she is meditative and introspective, sharp as she is lyrical, and incisive as she is compassionate, in Rivermouth, Oliva argues for a better world while guiding us through the suffering that makes the fight necessary and the joy that makes it worth fighting for.
About the Author
Alejandra Oliva is an essayist, translator, immigrant justice advocate, and embroiderer. She is a recipient of the 2022 Creative Nonfiction Whiting Grant. Her writing has been included in Best American Travel Writing 2020, was nominated for a Pushcart prize, and was honored with an Aspen Summer Words Emerging Writers Fellowship. She was the Frankie Fellow at the Yale Whitney Hummanities Center in 2022. Read more are olivalejandra.com
"Alejandra Oliva is a brilliant new voice of her generation, a writer of resistance with echoes of Simone Weil; her attention to immigration justice reaches us as a prayer. Translation in her hands becomes a deeper type of storytelling where bearing witness to injustices of immigration becomes not only a path of political reform but spiritual transformation. Rivermouth is a rich delta of braided essays where we are invited into spaces that break our hearts and carry us to a place of healing grace." —Terry Tempest Williams, author of Erosion: Essays of Undoing
"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
"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 great gift in a time when migrants are demonized on the shores and borders of wealthy western countries, none uglier than the scar that is the US-Mexico border that was forged through US invasion and annexation, powered by societal white supremacy. Alejandra Oliva has not only written a poetic, gripping, and magnificent book, she is there, on the border, assisting the migrants in their attempts to escape hunger, deadly gangs, and dysfunctional governments, often due to U.S. coups, invasions, occupations, and economic sanctions." —Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, author of Not "A Nation of Immigrants"
"Subtle, personal, and deeply informative, this is one of those books that catapult you to a place you have never been. Translation is the author's vocation as well as a metaphor for the in-between spaces that her personal and professional identities compel her to traverse. Alejandra Oliva stands at a literal border and contemplates the metaphorical borderlines language creates, in terms of both the immigrant crisis and her own identity as a bilingual Mexican-American. Driven by a fierce sense of social justice, she is also an exquisitely controlled journalist. Her candid, intimate voice is irresistible." —2022 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant judges's comments