Julissa Arce is a contributor to CNBC and Crooked Media, and a speaker and social justice advocate. She is the cofounder and chairman of the Ascend Educational Fund, a college scholarship and mentorship program that assists immigrant students, regardless of their immigration status, ethnicity or national origin. Prior to becoming an advocate, she built a successful career on Wall Street, working at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch. She has adapted her adult book,
|photo: Vincent Remini
My (Underground) American Dream, for young readers:
Someone Like Me is available now from Little, Brown.
On your nightstand now:
On my nightstand at home is The Latino Reader: An American Literary Tradition from 1542 to the Present, edited by Harold Augenbraum and Margarite Fernández Olmos. It is a great collection of poetry, fiction and memoir from some of the best writers in history. I love learning about Latin America from the perspective of beautiful works of literature. I travel a lot, so on my virtual nightstand is A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernández and Why We Can't Wait by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls was the first book I read in English that I understood, and that made me cry. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment to be able to read a book in English after struggling to learn the language in sixth grade. I fell in love with the characters and with animals. I knew then that love transcends language, borders and even humans.
Your top five authors:
Reyna Grande, Sandra Cisneros, Paulo Coelho, Malcolm Gladwell, Gabriel García Márquez, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know that's more than five, but I couldn't narrow it down any more than this.
Book you've faked reading:
Every book I "read" in sixth grade! I didn't speak English and my mom didn't want to enroll me in bilingual education because she thought I would fall behind. I tried to read every book, but I didn't understand a single word that was on the page. Luckily, by the time I was in seventh grade I knew enough English to enjoy reading.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande. It's a book that every person needs to read. It is beautifully written, and Reyna tells the story of her childhood with pain, love and triumph on every page.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin is a book I can remember buying for the cover. It turned out to be a very fun and light read. But there have been many. I love picking up a book I know nothing about and seeing what story I find in it.
Book you hid from your parents:
I didn't so much hide a book from my parents as much as I told them I needed it for school, when I really just wanted to have it. It was a book about Nirvana and Kurt Cobain.
Book that changed your life:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I read it at a time when I wondered where life was leading me. I was undocumented with no solution to fix my immigration status. Reading The Alchemist made me realize that our biggest treasures are within and not having a legal status didn't have to define me.
Favorite line from a book:
I don't remember the exact line, and I am on the road so I can't look it up in the book. But it's a line from The Distance Between Us where Reyna describes her grandmother, who is hunchbacked, as "walking with a sack of corn on her back." The line took my breath away.
Five books you'll never part with:
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, this book also changed my life. It taught me that in order for people to care, you have to care about them first. My copy of The Odyssey by Homer; I've read it about 10 times in my life and every time I read it I fall in love with it all over again. My Bible--whether you are religious or not, each book in the Bible is a beautiful piece of literature. All the rest of my books I could part with because I love sharing them with others.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros because it was the first book I read written by someone like me, a Mexican woman. I had read many books by the time I picked up Sandra's work, and I could relate to many of them, but this book was different. It spoke of experiences I had lived through, and it validated feelings I thought I was crazy for having.
Why do you like to read?
For a long time, I couldn't travel outside the United States because of my immigration status, and books gave me a sense of freedom I did not find anywhere else. Books transported me to faraway places, and they let me imagine a different future for myself and my family.