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The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
Genre: Non-Fiction | 175 Pages | Published: 2020
Book Jacket Synopsis:
One of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard reveals the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans in this deeply personal and groundbreaking portrait of a nation.
Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she wrote her immigration lawyer’s phone number on her hand in Sharpie and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants–and to find the hidden key to her own.
Looking beyond the flashpoints of the border or the activism of the DREAMers, Cornejo Villavicencio explores the lives of the undocumented–and the mysteries of her own life. She finds the nation of singular, effervescent characters often reduced in the media to political pawns or nameless laborers. The stories she tells are not deferential or naively inspirational but show the love, magic, heartbreak, insanity, and vulgarity that infuse the day-to-day lives of her subjects.
In New York, we meet the undocumented workers who were recruited into the federally funded Ground Zero cleanup after 9/11. In Miami, we enter the ubiquitous botanicas, which offer medicinal herbs and potions to those whose status blocks them from any other healthcare options. In Flint, Michigan, we learn of demands for state ID in order to receive life-saving clean water. In Connecticut, Cornejo Villavicencio, childless by choice, finds family in two teenage girls whose father is in sanctuary. And through it all we see the author grappling with the biggest questions of love, duty, family, and survival.
In her incandescent, relentlessly probing voice, Cornejo Villavicencio combines sensitive reporting and powerful personal narratives to bring to light remarkable stories of resilience, madness, and death. Through these stories we come to understand what it truly means to be a stray. An expendable. A hero. An American.
Book Format & Source: Paperback copy purchased
Review & Thoughts: The Undocumented Americans was part memoir, part investigative journalism but it read at a slow pace and I didn’t feel engaged.
The book contains important topics, interesting perspectives, and some very eye-opening details. It’s incredibly sad how poorly undocumented Americans are treated, almost as if they’re not human in some regards. I read this with my book club and we had mixed reviews. Although the topic of the book is so incredibly important and overall I’m glad I read it, I don’t know that I would recommend it.
The writing style was a bit all over the place for me and it contained so many stories about different people’s lives. I think I would have preferred more of a memoir style and then smaller essays of the people she interviewed. It was a bit mashed up for me and I got lost in the combination of interviews and her own family’s experiences.
One thing that really hit me was the fact that the second wave of first responders during 9/11 were undocumented Americans and the lack of financial support they’ve been given in the aftermath of the health issues that resulted.
A quote that stood out: ‘In times of crisis, day laborers are often the first responders.’
Recommend for: those looking to gain perspective and learn more about the topics
My Review Rating: ♥♥♥.5
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