We Were Illegal: Uncovering a Texas Family's Mythmaking and Migration (Hardcover)

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An award-winning author's deep exploration of pivotal moments in Texas history through multiple generations of her own family, and a ruthless reexamination of our national and personal myths

Seven generations of Jessica Goudeau’s family have lived in Texas, and her family’s legacy—a word she heard often growing up—was rooted in faith, right-living, and the hard work that built their great state. It wasn’t until her aunt mentioned a stowaway ancestor and she began to dig more deeply into the story of the land she lives on today in suburban Austin, that Goudeau discovered her family’s far more complicated role in Texas history: from a swindling land grant agent in the earliest days of Anglo settlement that brought slavery to Mexican land, up through her Texas Ranger great-uncle, who helped a sociopathic sheriff cover up mass murder. 

Tracking her ancestors’ involvement in pivotal moments from before the Texas Revolution through today, We Were Illegal is at once an intimate and character-driven narrative and an insider’s look at a state that prides itself on its history. It is an act of reckoning and recovery on a personal scale, as well as a reflection of the work we all must do to dismantle the whitewashed narratives that are passed down through families, communities, and textbooks. And it is a story filled with hope—by facing these hypocrisies and long-buried histories, Goudeau explores with us how to move past this fractured time, take accountability for our legacy, and learn to be better, more honest ancestors.

About the Author

Jessica Goudeau is the author of After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America, which won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, a Christopher Award, and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice book. She has been a columnist for Catapult and written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Washington Post, among many other places. She produced short documentaries distributed by Teen Vogue and The New Yorker about young women crossing borders. She has a PhD in literature from the University of Texas and teaches Creative Nonfiction at Wilkes University.

Praise For…

“Texas occupies a complex space in the American landscape. Goudeau argues that the state's history is essential to understanding some of American society’s most important contradictions around liberty, faith, and personhood...some of the most moving parts of the book come from Goudeau finding the people helped—and harmed—by her ancestors’ choices. This is an empathic and thoughtfully told work, sure to encourage reflection on the legacies we choose to inherit.” Booklist

“This is not just a book about one family, or one state. At a time when history has become a primary battlefield in the culture wars, We Were Illegal models for us how to engage the darker chapters of our individual and collective stories, and shows us why we must. With unflinching honesty and deep empathy, Jessica Goudeau brings readers to a place of hard-earned hope. Thoroughly engrossing, this book is a gift to a divided nation.”
—Kristin Kobes Du Mez, New York Times bestselling author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation

“A riveting and honest look at the myths that become our official histories, our laws, and the stories we tell ourselves. Goudeau makes history come alive and feel more relevant than ever.” Bryan Burrough, co-author of Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth

“Clear-eyed, deeply moral and rigorously researched…We Were Illegal is a necessary corrective, and a gripping read for anyone interested in how our national myths are shaped." —Alejandra Oliva, author of Rivermouth: A Chronicle of Language, Faith and Migration

“You start turning over rocks in Texas and there’s no telling what will crawl out. Jessica Goudeau digs centuries deep into her family’s past and emerges with some astonishing tales: land thefts, murder and official corruption, but also great bravery, perseverance, and heroic sacrifice. In a state where the whitewashing of history is government sanctioned, We Were Illegal delivers the real story. This is a courageous book.” —Doug J. Swanson, author of Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers

“In this richly written epic, Goudeau deftly takes on myths so important to Texans, arguing that the way we’ve long told our stories has created the extreme political climate we see today. Beneath this enthralling saga beats, at its heart, an impassioned plea: that setting the record straight will allow Texas, and the nation, to live up to its lofty ideals at last.” —Roxanna Asgarian, author of We Were Once a Family, winner of the ALA Carnegie Medal

Product Details
ISBN: 9780593300503
ISBN-10: 0593300505
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: June 18th, 2024
Pages: 416
Language: English