Illegally Yours

A Memoir


By Rafael Agustin

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Now in paperback, a funny and poignant memoir about how as a teenager, TV writer Rafael Agustin (Jane The Virgin) accidentally discovered he was undocumented and how that revelation turned everything he thought he knew about himself and his family upside down.

Growing up, Rafa’s parents didn't want him to feel different because, as his mom told him: "Dreams should not have borders." But when he tried to get his driver's license during his junior year of high school, his parents were forced to reveal his immigration status. Suddenly, the kid who modeled his entire high school career after American TV shows had no idea what to do — there was no episode of Saved by the Bell where Zack gets deported! While his parents were relieved to no longer live a lie in front of their son, Rafa found himself completely unraveling in the face of his uncertain future.
Illegally Yours is a heartwarming, comical look at how this struggling Ecuadorian immigrant family bonded together to navigate Rafa's school life, his parents' work lives, and their shared secret life as undocumented Americans, determined to make the best of their always turbulent and sometimes dangerous American existence. From using the Ricky Martin/Jennifer Lopez “Latin Explosion” to his social advantage in the ‘90s to how his parents—doctors in their home country of Ecuador—were reduced to working menial jobs in the US, the family's secret became their struggle, and their struggle became their hustle. An alternatingly hilarious and touching exploration of belonging and identity, Illegally Yours revolves around one very simple question: What does it mean to be American?



The metal bars slammed frighteningly close to my face. I stared at the immigration official on the other side of the cell, wide-eyed. I could not believe what was happening. The nightmare I’d feared as a child was now becoming a reality. I was being deported. Granted, it was not at all how I’d worried it would come to pass. There were no kids. There were no cages. I was being detained in a Spanish jail inside an airport. I didn’t even know they had jails inside airports!

I had just flown cross-country from Los Angeles to New York, and then caught a late-night international flight across the Atlantic to Spain. When I exited the plane and walked up to the customs kiosk, the Spanish officer asked for my immigration papers. He was shocked to see my Ecuadorian passport.

“What is this?” he exclaimed.

I said that was my Ecuadorian passport, but not to worry. I was a resident of the United States of America now, and quickly flashed my brand-new, shiny green card. Frustrated, the Spanish officer said, “That doesn’t matter. Ecuadorians, Colombians, and Cubans are not allowed in Spain without a special visa.” Wait—what?

“Since when?” I demanded to know.

“Since last month,” said the stone-faced customs official.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Spain had just passed a draconian law trying to cut off immigration from certain South American countries, as well as other economically struggling nations, such as Morocco and Poland. Spain opened their borders when they needed cheap labor, and then closed them just as quickly when the work dried up. It dawned on me then that all immigration policy around the world was used the same way by every country: to control labor. But I was not there to work or give a lecture about immigration policy. This was my first trip to Europe and I wanted to wild out like any young, beautiful, reckless American.

I was rushed over to an immigration officer standing nearby, who then marched me over to a hidden office at the airport. The Spanish were so secretive. A new disheveled immigration official arrived, but he refused to speak to me until a lawyer was present to inform me of my rights. A clumsy Spanish lawyer, juggling his coffee and briefcase in the same hand, showed up half an hour later. At least the Spanish legal system was serious about everyone having legal counsel. The lawyer briefly said hi before launching straight into a rapid-fire, legal language exchange in Spanish—lisp and all! I tried to follow along, but it was very difficult to make out. This was not the type of Spanish I’d grown up accustomed to in Southern California. Nodding his head, my lawyer agreed with something the official said, and then the two Madrileños turned to me.

“Why didn’t you get a special visa to come?” asked my newly appointed attorney.

Quick on my feet, I replied, “Why the hell did the airline let me fly without me having one?”

The two men launched into another comedic-sounding, rapid-fire legal language exchange in Spanish and then nodded to each other once more. The immigration official picked up the phone, let out one final machine-gun-sounding Spanish exchange over the landline, and then slammed his phone shut.

“Continental Airlines has just been fined five thousand dollars for letting you fly,” the official said matter-of-factly.

“What? No! That’s not what I wanted to do,” I said, suddenly more concerned about the airline’s well-being than my own. My lawyer chimed in and tried to explain once more that I was not allowed to be in Spain without a special visa. Annoyed, I snapped and said, “Fine, just send me back home.” By home, I clarified, I meant the United States—just in case they wanted to send me back on a cheaper flight to South America.

As brave as I sounded on the outside, I was actually starting to panic on the inside. This was my greatest fear personified. In all my years in the United States as an undocumented immigrant, I dreaded one thing and one thing only: deportation. The official stated, “We have no choice but to send you back to the United States.” “Fine,” I barked back. I didn’t care anymore. The excitement to explore the Spanish countryside rocking my George Clooney Caesar haircut completely left my body. This experience could not get any worse. “Unfortunately,” added the official, “the next flight doesn’t depart until twenty-four hours from now.” It was presently 10:30 a.m. in Madrid.

“Okay,” I said, finally giving up. “Are you putting me up in a hotel?”

The immigration official gave me a worried look and then stated, “Well… it’s not quite a hotel.”

Moments later, I glared at the immigration official from the other side of the cell I was locked inside of. To be honest, I was madder at myself. I had hidden my immigration status from American authorities for so long, yet let my guard down on my first trip to Europe. Not that long ago, this would have been a real problem…

American Ninja

The first time I heard the word “America” was as a small child when my mom, grandma, and I took my mom’s youngest brother, my uncle Andres, to the José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador. My uncle was going to visit family in the United States. I watched him lovingly hug my mom and grandma good-bye.

“May God protect your path every step of the way,” said my grandma in Spanish.

My uncle waved at us as he boarded his plane, and we watched the warm headwind help lift that aircraft off into the bright blue tropical sky. I tugged on my mom’s dress and asked, “Where’s Uncle Andres going?”

“He’s going to America,” my mom replied.

I didn’t take my eyes off the Boeing 747 until I saw the last bit of its tail disappear into the clouds. As far as I knew at four years of age, heaven was the only place that existed in the sky, so I decided that America must be a place in heaven.

This impression was solidified as I got older and began to watch Hollywood action movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Sylvester Stallone adorned our South American TV screens twenty-four hours a day. I had no idea that two of those movie stars were immigrants to the United States, and that the other was a child of immigrants. I did not know any of this because I could not understand what they were saying. I didn’t speak English at the time. Luckily, you never have to translate kicking ass. Seeing Rambo go on a bloody rampage on behalf of the United States meant that America was a place worth dying for. I never saw an Ecuadorian veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder go on a killing spree to defend the honor of fried plantains! But my absolute favorite American hero was American Ninja. American Ninja was a film that starred American heartthrob Michael Dudikoff, who went on to star in other great films such as American Ninja 2: The Confrontation and American Ninja 4: The Annihilation. American Ninja was where it all began for me. I was seven years old when I realized, thanks in part to Michael Dudikoff, that I had to devote the rest of my life to becoming both a ninja and an American.

While Rambo and American Ninja were my favorites, my American role models were not limited to the muscle-bound bravado of action heroes. I was also obsessed with DC Comics, Disney cartoons, and the Lone Ranger. In other words, I watched a lot of American TV as a kid. Most days I was glued to the Spanish-dubbed version of the 1960s Batman TV show. At the time, I had no idea that the Joker was portrayed by Latino actor Cesar Romero, who refused to shave his signature Latin Lover mustache for the show and applied white makeup over it for the duration of the series. I didn’t even know what a Latino was back then. As far as I knew, I was just a white South American boy living a cozy existence in his grandparents’ relatively large house. I would ask one of our maids to make me a bowl of fresh fruit as I plopped down in front of the TV wearing my Batman Halloween costume. Watching how the caped crusader and his young ward saved Gotham City, USA, was everything to me. That and ripe mangos.

My mom had to save up to buy me that Batman costume as a birthday gift, and I wore it everywhere—to the park, to my friends’ houses, to the dinner table. My mom didn’t have much money back then. She was a humanitarian at heart, so instead of following the family tradition of law and politics, she decided to become a doctor. In most places around the world, doctors make a lot of money. Not in Ecuador, where medicine is socialized. The socialization of medicine in Ecuador was not the real culprit for the nation’s economic decline. In fact, it was quite nice to know you could go to any hospital and get medical care no matter who you were. The real problem in Ecuador has always been foreign intervention and the national leaders that embrace it. In 1980, the year I was born, the democratically elected socialist president of Ecuador died unexpectedly in a plane crash before he could reorganize the hydrocarbon sector, a strong threat to US interests, or before he could nationalize the country’s petroleum—the third largest export from Ecuador; and the third largest petroleum source in Latin America. In 1981, the year of my first birthday, the democratically elected socialist president of Panama also died in a similar unexpected plane crash before he could nationalize the Panama Canal, yet another great threat to US interests. Were these “accidental” plane crashes part of Operation Condor, a United States–backed campaign of political repression and state terror involving intelligence operations and assassination of political opponents? Am I asking too many serious questions for a relatively comedic memoir? Possibly. But, YOLO!

My grandpa, on the other hand, was a very influential judge in Guayaquil. On top of that, he built commercial rental properties in front of his house so that my grandma could have an income once he was gone. From my mom’s point of view, it was bad enough that she was a single mother living with her parents; she did not want to ask her dad for more help than she deemed necessary. And getting a free commercial rental property in front of their house was not necessary! My earliest memories are of my grandma and me hanging out by the window waiting for my mom to return home from a long day of medical school classes.

After she graduated from medical school and got a job at Guayaquil’s largest children’s hospital, we continued to live at my grandparents’ house. Everything in Guayaquil was done through palanca (i.e., connections and influences), and my mom getting her first job as a doctor was no different. She and my biological father, Ronald, had gotten a divorce when I was still an infant. In an attempt to win her back after cheating on her one too many times, Ronald, who was working with the national anti-narcotics department at the time, stepped up to get my mom her first residency. He also did so to get back in the good graces of my grandfather, who had sent him to prison a few years earlier for not paying child support on time. Ronald was trying hard to achieve a level of notoriety as a young attorney, but then he met my mom and her litigious family. My mom never took Ronald back. The great irony is that my mom ended up meeting my stepdad at the same hospital where Ronald got her a job.

My stepdad was a pediatric surgeon who lived in the shadow of his more successful pediatric surgeon father. Older surgeons would rather speak to my stepdad’s father than speak to him, and this put a giant Ecuadorian chip on his shoulder. When my mom showed up for her first day of residency, she was warned to stay clear of the hot-tempered head surgeon. Based on this, she expected him to be a towering, grumpy old man. Instead, she was shocked to meet my stepdad, a younger, shorter, skinnier Latin American version of Stephen Colbert. He seemed to be the complete opposite of my biological father: honest, studious, and very direct. My stepdad had a crush on my always-optimistic mom from the moment he met her. Her presence invariably put a smile on his face. But my stepdad had three children with two different women and had just come out of a messy divorce. He figured he should just focus on his surgeries and avoid all the personal distractions.

My mom worked tirelessly through her residency at the hospital. She made time for my birthday, but then I did not see her again. I spent Christmas alone with my grandma and grandfather, wondering what gifts Santa Claus had brought my mom this year. New Year’s Eve crept up really fast. Noticing that he was overworked and maybe even in more need of a break than she was, my mom built up the courage to invite my stepdad to one of my grandparents’ legendary New Year’s Eve parties in Urdesa. He declined the invitation initially, crushing my mom, who was starting to warm up to her superior. But as my stepdad operated alone that December 31 and noticed that the majority of his colleagues had requested time off to be with their families, he thought—Why am I doing this to myself?

My stepdad arrived at my grandparents’ house and knocked on the front gate two hours before midnight. My dashing uncle Antonio greeted him at the door. My uncle Antonio was a lawyer, my grandmother’s firstborn, and even though he was not my grandfather’s biological child, he was the one out of all his siblings who most shared my grandfather’s strong character. The way my stepdad jokes about it, he would have never gone to the party if he knew my mom already had a son. It was not love at first sight for him. It was the fear of one more child to support at first sight!

Still in his medical scrubs, my stepdad stood out in a sea of collared shirts and neatly pressed guayaberas. He walked through the large family gathering until he reached my grandfather. Of course he knew who Agustín Arrata was; everyone in town did. My grandfather did not know my stepdad, but he did like that a medical professional had come looking for his daughter, so he welcomed the young surgeon into his home. My stepdad respectfully greeted my grandfather and then proceeded to wait ten excruciating minutes for my mom to come down the stairs, but when she did, she was a sight to behold. She looked different in her nice-fitting blue cocktail dress and with her hair glamorously done. Even her makeup was striking. My mom grew up with a bunch of sisters and inherited all their best tips for properly doing the perfect smoky eyes. My mom and my stepdad awkwardly flirted for about an hour. Everything was going great until I came crying down the stairs. I was tired and wanted the party to be over already. Why wasn’t it midnight so everybody could go home? My mom took the opportunity to introduce my stepdad and me. From the second we met, my stepdad treated me like an adult. I was six years old. He firmly shook my hand, while my mom stepped away to check on my grandma and how New Year’s Eve dinner, which we usually had around midnight, was coming along. My stepdad and I looked at each other, quietly taking each other in.

I took a quick liking to my stepdad. All the Ecuadorian men in my life up to that point were deceivingly charming. One of my mom’s ex-boyfriends played with me only to convince me to tell my mom how much I liked him. The dude wanted me to be his wingman on my own mother! My stepdad was not like that. Or at least, he did not seem to be. He was stern. What you saw was what you got. I liked that. I respected that.

My mom and my stepdad started dating right after the New Year’s party. The three of us moved in together a few months later. I was excited when we went to look for new apartments together. The three of us were going to be a nuclear family. I never had one of those before. We found a nice, quaint, small apartment in Alborada. Alborada was a decent middle-class neighborhood of Guayaquil, if Guayaquil actually had a middle class. I spent a lot of time at the neighbor’s house watching the Spanish version of Batman along with El Chavo del Ocho reruns, as my parents worked their long shifts at the hospital. They usually scheduled their hours so one of them could stay with me at night. If you had money in Ecuador, you would pay a maid to raise your children. My parents did not have that kind of money. Only private doctors who had the investment capital (i.e., family money) to start a private practice in Ecuador made that kind of money. Public doctors were at the mercy of Ecuadorian bureaucrats and the state of the national economy.

One night, my mom was working the graveyard shift. I was alone with my stepdad in the apartment when he got an emergency call around 11:30 p.m. A little girl had accidentally been shot with a shotgun from behind, and the hospital needed my stepdad—as the head surgeon—to lead the very complicated surgery. Without a second thought, my stepdad told me to put my shoes on and rushed us both out of the house. We arrived at the children’s hospital in Guayaquil within twenty-five minutes. My stepdad handed me off to a nurse, who was waiting for us out front. My stepdad rushed in the opposite direction I did, as I followed the nurse to a nearby locker room. I didn’t know what was happening. The nurse helped me undress and started putting oversize scrubs on my tiny body. She covered my mouth with an operating mask and placed disposable shoe covers on my feet. She walked me down a bright hallway. Everything felt so big: the neon lights, the corridor, the cold tile floor. We entered a restricted area and stopped to let a surgical assistant run past. The nurse then opened the large operating room door and gently pushed me inside.

Alone, I looked around the operating room. There was what appeared to be a spotlight directly in front of me. It illuminated a surgical bed, where I could make out a few figures hunched over it. I slowly walked toward it and realized they were a bunch of adults in scrubs and medical masks and in the bed lay a child. I could hear my stepdad. I knew he was the man ordering everyone around because of his signature Coke bottle glasses over his surgical mask. I looked over at the person administering the anesthesia and instinctively recognized my mom’s kind eyes. I knew she was smiling at me despite her mouth being covered by the surgical mask. She was smizing before Tyra Banks could even coin the term! Then I looked at the patient. She was a little girl. Six years old. My age. Her chest was fractured and held open by four large steel tongs. I could see her organs pumping to stay alive. My dad was working as fast as he could to ensure she remained so. This entire event could have been a traumatic experience for me, but it wasn’t because my parents were there. I was not scared. I was not disgusted. I was simply amazed. My parents were working frantically to save a child’s life, and because they did not have any money for child care themselves, I was there to witness the entire thing. The whole experience, from where I was standing, felt like twenty minutes. Many years later, my mom laughed, remembering how I stood in that OR for seven hours with no break through one of the most complicated surgeries she and my stepdad ever tackled together. The little girl survived. In my eyes, my parents were real-life superheroes.

My stepdad and I had become close in such a short period of time, but we were close in the same way that a drill sergeant is with a new recruit. Like in the OR, my dad was used to barking orders, and as a young child, I was good at following them. There was never any leisure time with him. He was not the type of dad who would take you to a soccer game. He was the type of dad that mostly complained about why soccer players did not have real jobs. So it surprised me when he invited me to the movies one day. It turned out, my stepdad loved American films just as much as I did. Opening this particular weekend: American Ninja. You already know how this movie changed my life. But what you do not know is that my real dad never took me to the movies. In fact, I had started seeing him less and less in those days. As it was, Ronald was only a part-time dad, but with my stepdad around, he made a point to distance himself even more. Perhaps he was too busy with his blossoming law career. Perhaps he was trying to send my mom a message. For this exact reason, I looked over at my stepdad as he drove and asked, “Can I call you dad?” My stepdad looked over at me with the same austere look I had grown accustomed to. I could see my hopeful face reflected back at me in his thick lenses. He looked back at the road and simply replied, “Yes.” I was ecstatic to finally have a full-time dad. I never called him my “stepdad” again.

One morning, I asked my mom if she could please buy me a ninja costume. I still reserved a special place in my heart for Batman, but American Ninja was on a whole other level. My mom was uncharacteristically silent that morning as she looked out our small kitchen window. I shrugged it off and went back to eating my fruit salad, knowing that I could always beg my grandma or her maid to sew me one. After a few moments, my mom turned to me and asked, “How would you like to live in America?” I stared up at my mom and wondered if she was serious. She smiled, relieved to finally share what she had been holding on to this whole time. I took a deep breath. Forget the costume, I was about to be a real American! I finished my mangos with visions of the American flag adorned with ninja stars dancing through my head.

It turned out my aunt Teresa, my mom’s oldest sister who had been living in the States since I was born, had petitioned for us to come to America via the family reunification program. My parents were excited by the prospect of becoming doctors in the United States and making a good living at it. It seemed that all you needed to get ahead in the States was to be good at your job and be willing to work long, hard hours. In Guayaquil, a city nearly five hundred years old that was founded and looted by Spanish conquistadors, English and French pirates, and international merchants alike, you had to be slicker and more opportunistic than my parents ever cared to be. The United States seemed like a good change of pace for them. This country’s family reunification program, by the way, is something we are familiar with today as “chain migration,” a disparaging term that gained popularity when it became more closely associated with Black and brown people. Nobody seemed to care when the immigrants arriving on American shores were Northwestern European. Since Congress restricted naturalized citizenship to “white persons” in 1790, and then passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, as the first general immigration law in the United States, measures (i.e., quotas) restricting immigration from Asia, Africa, and Latin America have been long-standing in the land of liberty. Talentless landscape artist Adolf Hitler wrote about his admiration for the American immigration system by marveling: “The American Union categorically refuses the immigration of physically unhealthy elements, and simply excludes the immigration of certain races.” With that frightening cheerleader of the American immigration system, and on the heels of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the United States’ immigration quota approach was rightfully attacked for being racially discriminatory. And in 1965, family reunification became the basis for the reform legislation that allowed my parents and me to come to this country.

In the following weeks there were a lot of international calls with my aunt Teresa. My mom had a revolving door of in-person conversations with my grandparents, my uncles, and my aunts. My grandfather looked particularly sad to lose his daughter to the Yankees. He was very solemn. I’m sure he was sad to lose me as well. The two of us had been inseparable since my birth. To me, he was “Tata,” which was the noise I made as an infant when I first saw him: “ta-ta.” Tata was one of the first people to move into Urdesa, the town I grew up in, and was a Supreme Court justice for all of Babahoyo, which is the equivalent of a California State Supreme Court justice if the California State Supreme Court were run by a bunch of drunken Ecuadorians. My grandma loves to tell the story of the time when I was three years old and I protected Tata from her wrath. My grandfather had come home drunk one night and she was furiously confronting him about it when out of nowhere I ran in between them, pushed her away, and said, “Leave my Tata alone!” She was still angry, but being shoved by a three-year-old boy made her laugh, and she had to leave the room to compose herself. Moments later, she came back with my mom, and the two of them could not believe that my grandfather and I were jabbering nonsense to each other, deep in conversation—confident that the other knew what we were each saying.

I was torn over how to feel about moving to America. I did not want to leave my grandparents, but I did want to live there. I had dreamed about becoming an American ever since I saw Rambo tie that red bandanna around his head. And the bonus was I would get to see my aunts and uncles and meet all my cousins, some of whom were my own age! I could not wait to play cops and robbers with them, but the American version, which I assumed was just a constant police state from the American action movies I watched. That’s when my mom pulled me aside and whispered, “But you can’t tell your father.” She added poignantly, “This has to be our secret, or else he won’t let you go.”

My biological father would pick me up from time to time and take me out with my other half siblings. I was the youngest of his four children. We were not close, but I knew I was special to him because I was the only one of his children who looked like him. To him, this was important because he grew up not looking like anybody in his family and he was treated differently than his siblings as a result. His earliest memories as a child were of his dad pushing him away when he asked for a hug, and he was eventually sent to live with his aunt and uncle at a large hacienda far away from the city. His uncle, Rafael, who I am named after, became his real father figure. Years later, when my biological father was in his mid-twenties and opening his first law practice, a stranger walked through his new office door and announced himself as his biological father. In an instant, everything made sense. He was the by-product of an affair.

I felt uncomfortable not telling the man who had given me life that I was leaving the country. My mom taught me never to lie, but then here she was asking me to keep this major secret from him. I felt anxious around my biological father. I tried not to speak unless spoken to. He figured I was having a bad time with him so he bought me some yogurt and yuca bread, and then dropped me back off with my mom shortly thereafter. I let out a big sigh of relief when I got home. I ate my yuca bread and wondered if the American yuca bread tasted as delicious. Spoiler alert: there is no yuca bread in the States! When would I have yuca bread again? When would I see my grandparents again? Was Gotham City even a real place? I questioned if I even wanted to leave Ecuador at all. I started to realize that life was pretty good for me in the middle of the world. Not only did my grandma have maids that could cook for me whenever I was hungry, but my grandfather was a big deal in Guayaquil. His brother was an admiral for the president of the Republic, which meant that my Tata had a lot of palanca


  • “Agustin’s memoir cements its place in a growing collection of personal literature about the immigrant experience written in recent years.”—USA Today
  • "This award-winning TV writer's immigration journey is an astonishing take on the American Dream told with wit, grit and inspiration."—People Magazine
  • "[Agustin's] memoir puts a comedic and pop cultural spin on a classic American coming-of-age tale."—The Hollywood Reporter
  • “Agustin offers poignant musings on the difficulties of existing in a country where the notion of race “is mostly understood as a Black and white paradigm.” What emerges is an inspiring and often hilarious story that echoes Agustin’s mother’s refrain: “Dreams should not have borders.” Funny as he is, Agustin is a serious talent.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • "The blissful joy of full American citizenship and a successful career form the satisfying coda to this thoughtful, inspiring memoir. An enthusiastic and motivational self-portrait."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "[A] comedic and heartfelt memoir. . . Agustin writes with a deft humor that juxtaposes poignant memories with wry observations, highlighting the people who showed him kindness and helped him carve out his successful career. Under its breezy tone, this memoir is an honest exploration of the stamina and sacrifices it takes to dream in spite of the violence of borders. “—Library Journal
  • "Funny is where the heart is. But this book is more than just funny––it’s candid, discerning, and truthful in the most specific and humane ways about what it means to be an immigrant, undocumented or not, in America. A writer of immense heart, Rafael Agustín pierces through these pages." —Jose Antonio Vargas, founder of Define American and best-selling author of Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen
  • “I really would’ve preferred more poop jokes or a more intense exploration of the deleterious effects that the immigrant experience has on one’s bowels, but even in their absence, Illegally Yours manages to provide a bighearted and unforgettable look at the real experience of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Buy this book because he bought mine.”—Eddie Huang, bestselling author of Fresh Off the Boat
  • “I love when I read someone’s story about their past, their present, and their future. In Illegally Yours, Rafael does a fantastic job of painting pictures and experiences with words. You realize that regardless of who the reader is or where they come from, they can connect with his book. It simply displays a full range of emotions from joy to struggle—exactly what life is. It does a great job of showing what one is capable of when given a fighting chance.”—Cristela Alonzo, comedian, writer, and first Latina to create/write/star in a network sitcom
  • "In this poignant memoir, Rafael Agustin welcomes us into his life, his home, and his heart. Fluctuating between witty humor and tender vulnerability, he shows us how he became the amazing human being that he is today. This book is equal parts an act of rebellion and an act of celebration—rebellion against a society that thinks immigrants should keep our stories quiet instead of sharing them with the world, and a celebration of the resilience of the immigrant spirit."—Reyna Grande, bestselling author of The Distance Between Us
  • “You cannot change someone’s mind before first changing their heart. Rafael Agustin's Illegally Yours does that with one of the most divisive issues in America today: immigration.”—Alyssa Milano, activist, actor, producer, and bestselling author of Hope

On Sale
Jul 11, 2023
Page Count
304 pages

Rafael Agustin

About the Author

Rafael Agustin was a writer on the award-winning The CW show, Jane The Virgin, and is a past Sundance Institute Episodic Fellow. 
Agustin currently serves as CEO of the Latino Film Institute, where he oversees the Youth Cinema Project, the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF), and LatinX in Animation. In 2018, LA Weekly named Agustin one of the fifty most essential people in Los Angeles. Also in 2018, the United Nations invited Agustin to speak at their 70th Anniversary Celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 2022, the LA Times declared Agustin a “Power Player” in their inaugural LA Vanguardia class.  
Agustin is a Board Member of Mother Jones, the oldest nonprofit investigative newsroom in the United States, and of the National Film Preservation Board at the Library of Congress. 
Agustin received his AA from Mt. San Antonio College, which awarded him Alumnus of the Year in 2015, and his BA and MA from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television.

Learn more about this author